Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

What Dreams May Come (1998)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

What Dreams May Come (1998)

In director Vincent Ward's artistic, visually-astonishing, supernatural fantasy and after-life drama (a cross between Ingmar Bergman's films and Stairway to Heaven/A Matter of Life and Death (1946, UK)) - an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel:

  • the opening scene of vacationing pediatrician Dr. Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) meeting and falling in love at first sight with future wife Annie Collins (Annabella Sciorra) in Italy when they shared a picnic together: ("When I was young, I met this beautiful girl by a lake")
  • and after their marriage, the tragic scene in which he and artist wife Annie lost their two children Marie (Jessica Brooks Grant) and Ian (Josh Paddock) in an off-screen car crash after he waved goodbye, with his melancholy voice-over narration: "It was the last time Annie and I saw them alive"
  • later, Chris experienced a flashback to his son Ian's funeral and his own moving and emotional eulogy delivered for him: "There's a man Ian never got to know - the man he was growing up to be. He's a good-looking, clear-eyed young fella, about 25. I can see him. He's the type of guy that men want to be around, because he has integrity, you know? He has character. You can't fake that. He's a guy women want to be around, too, because there's tenderness in him, respect, 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 sees him, he sees who he is. Then that child knows that he is an amazing person. He's quite a guy that I'll never get to meet. I wish I had." - there was shot of his son Ian inside his coffin
  • and then four years later, the scene in which Chris died in a multi-car crash in a tunnel; he had safely stopped his own vehicle, and rushed ahead on foot to find cars ahead of him turned upside down. When he was asking questions of a survivor needing help, he was smashed into by a white automobile catapulting toward him, before the screen turned black; now, he was also deceased and in the afterlife but lingering on Earth
The Instant After Chris' Death in a Tunnel
  • the next shot was "the mythical light" at the end of the tunnel, and then a top-shot as Chris' body was placed on a stretcher by ambulance paramedics. A voice asked: "Chris, do you know what's happened?" He replied, jokingly: "Yeah, I had a bad piece of fish before bed"; the screen turned to a blinding white light - as he lingered on Earth in a hospital bed. Although Chris didn't want to accept it and thought he was dreaming, he had died and couldn't be seen by his family members, relatives, and friends at his home, who were mourning his passing. His blurry spiritual guide Albert Lewis (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) told him: "You've died, Chris."
  • Chris attended his own funeral and comforted his still-living wife Annie; he attempted to force despondent Annie to acknowledge his continued existence (after whispering in her ear: "This is Chris. I still exist," he made her scrawl the words: "ISTILEXST" in her diary, and then later tried to contact her at his gravesite: "Don't worry, baby, I'm not leaving you alone. I'm not goin' anywhere") -- and her violent sobbing reactions, forcing Chris to reluctantly leave her and Earth and journey to the afterworld to prevent any more harm: (Albert: "The reality is it's over when you stop wanting to hurt her")

Chris Attending His Own Funeral

Scrawled Words In Her Diary: "ISTILEXST"

Attempting to Comfort Annie
  • the scenes of an Expressionist painting world in Chris' imagined heaven (using surreal Oscar-winning CGI effects) were modeled after Annie's paintings; Chris' concept of the great afterworld was manifested in his wife's art; there were very imaginative vistas and scenarios of Heaven: (Chris noted: "Nice place you got here") and an imprisoning dark Hell; Albert told him: "You're making all of this. See, we're all pretty insecure at first, so we see ourselves somewhere safe, comforting. We all paint our own surroundings, Chris, but you're the first guy I know to use real paint"
  • his mentor-guide Albert also told Chris: "We're seeing what we choose to see" and helped him create a "real" afterlife by carving a hole in his dreamhouse's wall to see out ("This is your world now. Thought is real. Physical is the illusion. Ironic, huh?")
  • a second guide then accompanied Chris named Leona (Rosalind Chao), a stewardess whom Chris once admired in the presence of his daughter Marie - and Leona came to represent her
  • despairing Annie (his "soul-mate" - "sort of like twin souls tuned into each other") committed suicide due to overwhelming grief and devastation, foreshadowed by the death of her purple-flowered tree in the 'heavenly' painting, and because she had killed herself, she journeyed to her afterlife in Hell: ("You never see her. She's a suicide. Suicides go somewhere else...The real Hell is your life gone wrong")
  • Chris risked taking a journey from Heaven to Hell in the afterlife to rescue his beautiful wife Annie's soul; he made a desperate quest to bring her back - to rescue her tortured and lost soul from the torment with the help of the dark-cloaked Tracker (Max von Sydow), and the view of a vast and dark Hell (Tracker: "In Hell, there's real danger from losing your mind"); he encountered the Sea of Faces where dozens of pale and tortured souls were buried up to their necks in sand
The Vision of Hell - The Sea of Faces
  • when Chris discovered the location of Annie in Hell, he delivered a sentimental apology to her for all the things he couldn't give her: ("I'm sorry, babe, but there's some things I have to say. I've only got a few moments left. I'm sorry for all the things I'll never give you. I'll never buy you another meatball sub with extra sauce -- that was a big one! I'll never make you smile. I just wanted us to be old together, just two old farts laughin' at each other as our bodies fell apart, together at the end by that lake in your painting. That was our Heaven, see? There's lots of things to miss: books, naps, kisses, and fights! God, we had some great ones. Thank you for those. 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. You were my life. I apologize for every time I failed you. Especially this one.")
Annie's Suicidal Death and Hell

Annie's Suicide

The Dark-Cloaked Tracker (Max von Sydow)

Chris' Apology to Annie in Hell
  • he decided to share his wife's insanity rather than abandon her in Hell (she had earlier told him: "Sometimes, when you lose, you win")
  • due to Chris' self-sacrifice, he was reunited with wife Annie and their dead children in his heavenly afterlife during the tear-jerking 'feel-good' Hollywood finale: ("Travel here is like everything else, it's in your mind. All you have to do is close your eyes if you know where you're going. Looks like we did")
  • she vowed to Chris: ("I want us to grow old together. Can we do that here? I want it all. As long as it's with you"), and they experienced a spiritual reawakening or reincarnation in the bodies of two young children by a lake: ("When I was young, I met this beautiful girl by a lake") - similar to their first meeting in Italy

Dr. Chris Nielsen's Future Wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra)

Waving Goodbye Before Car Crash

Chris' Eulogy For His Dead Son Ian

Son Ian Inside Coffin

Chris' Own Death 4 Years Later in Tunnel

In Chris' Imagined Heaven

Chris' Spiritual Guide (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)

Hole in His Dreamhouse's Wall

Chris' Second Guide Leona (Rosalind Chao)

"When I was young, I met this young girl by a lake"

Spiritual Awakening or Reincarnation as Two Small Children


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