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What Dreams May Come

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincent Ward
Produced by Stephen Deutsch
Barnet Bain
Written by Ronald Bass
Richard Matheson (novel)
Starring Robin Williams
Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Annabella Sciorra
Music by Michael Kamen
Cinematography Eduardo Serra
Editing by David Brenner
Distributed by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Release date(s) October 2, 1998 (1998-10-02)
Running time 113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $85 million
Gross revenue $71,485,043

What Dreams May Come is a 1998 drama film, starring Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Annabella Sciorra. The film is based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, and was directed by Vincent Ward. The title is taken from a line in Hamlet's To be, or not to be soliloquy.



Soulmates Chris (Robin Williams) and Annie (Annabella Sciorra) have an idyllic marriage together. However, following the death of their two children in a car accident, Annie becomes isolated and mentally unstable from guilt, and is institutionalized. After four years, the couple reconciles, but on the anniversary of the event Chris is killed in a car accident, finding himself in a Heaven derived from his wife's paintings.

Despite the paradise he now inhabits, Chris is unhappy without Annie. When she commits suicide in guilt over Chris' death, the act consigns her to Hell. Determined that they belong together, Chris commences a quest through Hell to rescue her, in the process discovering a number of characters from his past.


Plot summary

After meeting on a lake in Switzerland, Chris Nielsen and Annie Collins marry, having two children: Ian (Josh Paddock) and Marie (Jessica Brooks Grant).

Years later, after Ian and Marie are killed in a car accident, Annie becomes mentally unstable and attempts suicide. She is institutionalized, and although the couple nearly divorce as a result (Chris wanting the divorce much more than Annie, not sharing the depth of her grief at their loss), they reconcile and she eventually recovers. However, on the anniversary of the day the couple decided not to divorce (which they call their "Double-D" anniversary) Chris is involved in a car accident, dying a short time later. For a time, Chris attempts to influence life on Earth, specifically trying to communicate to Annie that he's still there, watching over her. However, after seeing that being around her as a ghost only causes her pain, he gives up and heads for the afterlife.

Chris awakens in Heaven, adjusting to his new self-manifesting fantasy environment with the guidance of a man (Cuba Gooding Jr.) whom Chris believes to be Albert, his friend and mentor from his medical residency. Both are surprised when a Blue Jacaranda tree appears in Chris's personal section of Heaven, which matches a tree in a new painting of Annie's. Albert indicates the couple are soul mates, receptive to each other's thoughts even after death.

Later, Chris meets a woman named Leona who shows him a children's realm in Heaven. Chris recognizes her as Marie, after realizing the location is a diorama she loved in life, and Leona explaining that she took the form of an Asian woman because when they travelled to Singapore, her father smiled at an Asian stewardess with name tag writing |Leona|. He told the daughter that Asian women were lovely, graceful and smart. Since then the daughter always wanted to be like that.

In parallel to this, Annie, distraught at the loss of her entire family, kills herself with poison. Albert breaks the news to Chris, whose initial relief that her suffering is over quickly turns to anger when he learns that suicides are sent to Hell. Albert claims no judgment has been made against her by God; it is simply the nature of suicides to create "anti-fantasy" worlds based on their psychological pain, similar but opposite to Chris' fantasy world in Heaven. This is a reference to Dante's Inferno, where the seventh level of Hell is reserved for sins of violence — including violence against oneself.

Chris is adamant that he will rescue Annie from Hell, despite Albert's insistence that no one has ever succeeded in doing so. Chris is undaunted, and Albert eventually agrees to find Chris a "Tracker" to help find Annie's soul.

Journeying to Hell and encountering hundreds of damned souls (one of which is a cameo by German director Werner Herzog) Chris finds himself recalling memories of his son, Ian. Chris had been disappointed with Ian's underachievement but eventually, after an earnest conversation, told him "if I was going through fucking hell, I'd only want one person in the whole goddamn world by my side." Seeing Albert about to confront a violent group of damned, Chris realizes Albert is actually Ian. Ian explains that he chose to appear as Albert because he was the only person Chris would ever listen to. Ian returns to Heaven, while Chris and the Tracker continue the search.

Arriving at what the Tracker calls their "private deck", Chris finds a field full of the faces of the damned (a further reference to Dante's Inferno). Chris sees Annie's face but as he runs towards her, the ground gives way and he falls into a vast, upturned cathedral. Chris recognizes his and Annie's house at the bottom. The Tracker warns Chris that if he stays with Annie for more than a few minutes, he may become permanently trapped too. The Tracker then reveals that he is Albert, who has been waiting for many years to do Chris a favor. He fears, however, that all he can do is allow Chris to tell Annie goodbye, and "give up" on saving her.

Chris enters the house to find Annie pale and withdrawn, still tortured by her loneliness and her surroundings. Chris is unable to make Annie recognize him and decides to "give up", but not in the way Albert had expected. He chooses to join Annie forever in Hell, even if she will never know who he is. This is the antithesis of his behavior when Annie was institutionalized, and his final words to her echoing that time enable Annie to finally "wake up" and recognize Chris (who is succumbing to Annie's hellish reality), and carry him with her to Heaven.

Chris and Annie are reunited in Heaven with their children, but Chris suggests being reincarnated, so the pair can experience meeting and falling in love again, hopefully without the tragic ending. The film ends with Chris and Annie meeting as young children, in a rough parallel of their original meeting. The last line is a repetition of the opening line by Chris: "When I was young, I met this beautiful girl by a lake."

Alternate ending

The special edition DVD shows an alternate ending — which is the ending from the novel — in which the reincarnation is not a choice, but part of the natural order. Chris and Annie will meet again in their new lives, but Annie must atone for killing herself — her new incarnation will die young, and Chris will spend the remainder of his new life as a widower before the two are once again reunited in Heaven. The film then goes to Sri Lanka where a woman is giving birth to a little girl, presumed to be Annie. In Philadelphia, a little boy is born, presumably Chris. This ending was left roughly edited and unfinished.

Differences from the novel

The novel has significant differences from the film, in both its plot and its vision of the afterlife. Its approach to the love story is considerably less sentimental, its tone more scientific than fantastic.

There are far more references to Theosophical, New Age and paranormal beliefs.[1] Indeed, the author Richard Matheson claims in an introductory note that only the characters are fictional, and that almost everything else is based on research (the book contains an extensive bibliography). Story elements that do not show up in the film include astral projection, telepathy, a séance, and the term "Summerland" (the name for a simplified Heaven in Theosophy, and for Heaven in general in earth-based religions such as Wicca).

The details of Chris's life on Earth also differ strongly in the novel. Only Chris and his wife (called Ann) die. Their children, who are grownups rather than youngsters, remain alive, as minor characters. Albert and Leona are exactly the people they appear to be, and the character played by Max Von Sydow does not appear in the book at all. Albert is Chris's cousin and not African American as in the film, while Leona's ethnicity is not divulged. Chris and Ann are rural, country types rather than the urbanites portrayed in the film, and he is not a pediatrician, nor is she a painter. He's a Hollywood screenwriter, and she has a variety of jobs.

The afterlife imagery is based on natural scenery rather than paintings. The Heavenly environment doesn't automatically mold itself to people's thoughts, as it does in the film; some practice and expertise is required to build things. The novel's depiction of Hell is considerably more violent than in the film. Chris finds it difficult to move, breathe, or even see, and he suffers physical torture at the hands of some of the inhabitants. He does not encounter ships, thunderstorms, fire, or the sea of human faces that he must walk upon in the film. Instead, he and Albert climb across craggy cliffs and encounter such sights as a swarm of insects that attack people's bodies.

Ann is consigned to Hell for only 24 years, not eternity. At the end, which resembles an alternate version of the film but not the standard version, she escapes from Hell by being reincarnated, because she is not ready for Heaven.


The soundtrack for What Dreams May Come was composed and conducted by Michael Kamen and produced by James Seymour Brett. Ennio Morricone completed and recorded a full score for the film. After editorial changes were made, his score was rejected, and Kamen was hired to do the film score.[2] Dawn Soler, the musical supervisor for the film, has said in an interview that Axl Rose intended to have the then-unreleased Guns N' Roses song "This I Love" in this movie, but Ward did not use the song. It was later added to the band's album Chinese Democracy.


The film won an Academy Award for its visual effects awarded to Kevin Mack, Joel Hynket, Nickolas Brooks, and Stuart Robertson. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. It won the Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave a highly positive review, awarding the film three and a half stars out of four, remarking:

I have my disappointments with it. But I would not want them to discourage you from seeing it, because this is a film that even in its imperfect form shows how movies can imagine the unknown, can lead our imaginations into wonderful places. And it contains heartbreakingly effective performances by Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra."[3]

James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave What Dreams May Come three stars out of four, saying:

Many movies have offered representations of heaven and hell, but few with as much conviction and creativity as What Dreams May Come. The plot, which focuses on the sacrifices one man will make for true love, is neither complicated nor original, but, bolstered by the director's incredible visual sense, it becomes an affecting piece of drama.[4]

Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post disliked the film, which he felt was "overproduced and underpopulated, with either characters or ideas" and "lacks ... drama."[5] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+ rating, saying that

if the film's morose sentimentality sidesteps ludicrousness, it's also not very dramatic. We feel as if we're stuck inside a two-hour dream sequence. There's a central contradiction in a fairy tale like this one: the film may preach to the audience about matters of the spirit, but its bejeweled special-effects vision of the afterlife can't help but come off as aggressively literal-minded."[6]

When asked his thoughts on the film, Richard Matheson said, "I will not comment on What Dreams May Come except to say that a major producer in Hollywood said to me, 'They should have shot your book.' Amen."[7]


  • It is one of the few movies to be shot largely on Fuji Velvia film, known among landscape photographers for its vivid color reproduction.[8]
  • Annette Bening was originally cast to play Annie, but extricated herself in advance of production.[10]
  • The original prints of the film were lost to a fire at Universal Studios' backlot on June 1, 2008. A worldwide search was launched for a copy, which was subsequently found in Europe.[11]


  1. ^ Julien R. Fielding, Discovering World Religions At 24 Frames Per Second, published in Journal of Media and Religion Volume 8, Issue 4, Oct. 2009.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger. What Dreams May Come review, Chicago Sun-Times, 2 October 1998.
  4. ^ Berardinelli, James. What Dreams May Come review,, 1998.
  5. ^ Hunter, Stephen. What Dreams May Come review Washington Post, 2 October 1998.
  6. ^ Gleiberman, Owen. What Dreams May Come review Entertainment Weekly, 9 October 1998
  7. ^ Richard Matheson interview at The I Am Legend Archive
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

What Dreams May Come is a 1998 film about a man who dies and finds himself in a heaven more amazing than he could have ever dreamed of, but without his wife, who killed herself after he died. He decides to risk eternity in hell for the small chance that he will be able to bring her back to heaven.

Directed by Vincent Ward. Screenplay written by Ronald Bass, based on the novel by Richard Matheson.
After life there is more. The end is just the beginning.taglines


Chris Nielsen

  • When I was young, I met this beautiful girl by a lake.
  • [After meeting his dog in the afterlife] Boy, I screwed up. I'm in dog Heaven!
  • [to his dog] A place where we all go can't be bad, can it girl?
  • Annie, I'm here. I still exist.
  • Is that a kind of occupational hazard of soul mates- one's not much without the other?
  • What some folks call impossible, is just stuff they haven't seen before.
  • A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in Heaven. Then we'll all be together forever.
  • That's when I realized I'm part of the problem. Not because I remind you. But because I couldn't join you. So I left you alone. Don't give up, okay?
  • Thank you for every kindness. Thank you for our children. For the first time I saw them. Thank you for being someone I was always proud to be with. For your guts, for your sweetness. For how you always looked, for how I always wanted to touch you. God, you were my life. I apologize for everytime I ever failed you. Especially this one...
  • There's a man Ian never got to know, the man he was growing up to be. He's a good-looking clear-eyed fella... about 25. I can see him. He's the type of guy men want to be around, because he has integrity, you know ? He has character. You can't fake that. And he's a guy women want to be around, too. Because there's tenderness in him... respect... and loyalty, and courage. And women respond to that. Makes him a terrific husband, this guy. I see him as a father. That's where he really shines. See, when he looks in his kid's eyes and that kid knows that his dad really, really sees him... he sees who he is. Then that child knows that he is an amazing person. He's quite a guy... that he'll never get to meet. I wish I had.
  • [to Ian] If I was going through fucking HELL, I'd only want one person in the whole goddamn world by my side.
  • What's true in our minds is true, whether some people know it or not.
  • Good people go to Hell because they can't forgive themselves. I know I can't. But I can forgive you.
  • I found you in Hell, don't you think I can find you in Jersey!?

Annie Nielsen

  • Well, that's my role. To bring adventure to your life.
  • A whole family lost to car crashes. Enough to make a person buy a bike.
  • Sometimes, when you lose, you win.
  • Dear Diary, I am writing in your bullshit pages because my shrink is crazier than I am. He thinks you're therapy. He figures if two babies can hammer me into a Psycho ward, what will I do with this? He is so stupid. He's so stupid that he thinks he pulled me through the breakdown when it was Christy. Always. Only Chris. I was looking through his postcards. Paintings were his obsession. He used art as another way to love me, to help me. To keep us always together.

Albert Lewis

  • Chris, "here" is big enough for everyone to have their own private universe.
  • Thought is real. Physical is the illusion. Ironic, huh?
  • Your brain is meat, and rots and disappears. Do you really think that's all there was to you? Like you're in your house right now. You're in your house, that doesn't mean you are your house. House falls down, you get out and walk away.

The Tracker

  • You were expecting physical danger? What could it do, kill ya, huh? No, in Hell there's real danger. Of losing your mind.
  • Elevator to Hell. Going up.
  • This is the guy who doesn't give up?


Annie: Can I sit here?
Chris: Actually, no. Two years ago, I reserved this specific area.
Annie: What if I say please?
Chris: That's the one exception.

[flashback; Chris and Marie are playing chess]

Marie: [looks at a cardboard cutout of Heaven] Is this where we go when we die?
Chris: It's a dream baby, it's a beautiful one, but you know dreams...
Marie: I know, aren't real. I know.
Chris: [glances at his watch] It's after midnight.
Marie: I haven't won yet.
Chris: It's your first time.
Marie: No, I like that I haven't won yet. Means you're not cheating. And when I win, I win. I just want to play 'til I do. Unless you want to stop.
Chris: No. Let's play 'til you win.

[back to the present]

Chris: She died three months later. We played every night. Meant the world to me. But she never won.

Leona: Where were you just now? You're mind's been wondering all afternoon.
Chris: Thinking of someone.
Leona: Your wife must have loved her children very much.
Chris: Very much. But you don't have to break in half to love someone.

Leona: Do you wanna see others? Perhaps the city?
Chris: I would, but travel makes me nauseous.

Albert: So what is the "me"?
Chris: My brain I suppose.
Albert : Your brain? Your brain is a body part. Like your fingernail or your heart. Why is that the part that's you?
Chris: Because I have sort of a voice in my head, the part of me that thinks, that feels, that is aware that I exist at all.
Albert : So if you're aware you exist, then you do. That's why you're still here.

Chris: I need Annie.
Albert : That'll change in time.
Chris: Oh, come on Einstein! Time's not on my watch anymore. Time does not exist here. And wherever it went, it's not going to make me need Annie any less.

Albert:Each of us has an instinct that there is a natural order to our journey. And Annie's violated that. She won't face it. She won't realize, accept, what she's done. And she will spend eternity playing that out.
Chris: You're still saying she's in Hell...
Albert: Everyone's Hell is different. It's not all fire and pain. The real Hell is your life gone wrong.

Albert: You don't understand.
Chris: It's not about understanding- it's about not giving up!

Chris: Where is God in all of this?
Albert: Oh, He's up there. Somewhere... shouting down that He loves us. Wondering why we can't hear Him. You think?

The Tracker: Anyone ever tell you too much persistence can get kind of stupid?
Chris: Constantly.
The Tracker: I hear the same thing.

The Tracker: We'll find her. But when you find her, nothing will make her recognize you. Nothing will break her denial. It's stronger than her love. In fact, reinforced by her love. You can say everything you long to say, including goodbye, even if she can't understand it, and you'll have the satisfaction that you didn't give up. That has to be enough.
Chris: You just get me there, I'll decide what's enough.

The Tracker: You called your son Albert. Who is that?
Chris: First doctor I interned under. He was like a father to me.
The Tracker: Ah. His words were gold. A brilliant mind. Do you recall what he practiced before he turned to pediactrics?
Chris: Child psychia-...
The Tracker: ...psychiatry. Yeah. And he always was a slow reader. But these... [indicating his glasses] used to be rimless, and the rest of me... used to be black. Do you know why we choose to look so different, me and the children?
Chris: Package doesn't count? One's as good as the other?
The Tracker: Oh, no. The old baggage, old roles of authority, who's the teacher, who's the father, gets in the way of who we really are to each other.

Annie: So you reconciled. That's very romantic. But she still killed herself. In the end she gave up.
Chris: There's nothing wrong with that.
Annie: Her husband didn't think so.
Chris: He was a coward! Being strong, not giving up, it was just his place to hide. He pushed away the pain so hard he disconnected himself from the person he loved most. [pause] Sometimes when you win, you lose.


  • After life there is more. The end is just the beginning.


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