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In basically chronological order (spoiler alert):

1.  Wow, Robin Williams looks like a real dork with that haircut and outfit.

2. Why is he walking his bride down the aisle?

3. And here we go with the old gnostic tropes about the body being a prison-house, you are what you think, etc., etc., etc.

4.  This cinematography is really pretty stunning.  The whole business of making it look like he's in a painting is done really well, especially for 1998.

5.  Strong overtones of C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce with this idea of heaven as a sort of hyper-real place.

5. I really just don't like Cuba Gooding Jr. much as an actor.  He reminds me of Lamar Burton-- not in a good way.

6. I really like this actress that plays Annie.  What's her name again?

7. Maybe my "gnosticism" concern is overblown.  Maybe that's not the point.  The mind-control of surroundings seems to be more of a plot device than anything.

8. Oh wow, this was already heavy, but the suicide really introduces a new seriousness to the film.  And it's interesting that it is being taken so seriously by the characters.  No easy universalism here.

9. Wow a journey into hell.  Strong evocation of the Orpheus and Eurydice legend.  I'm really appreciating the nods to classic literature.

10. And now he's walking through a field of people buried up to their necks.  Dante would be proud.  This is really smart film.

11. Got me all three times.  After I realized the Asian woman was his daughter I was on the lookout.  Then Cuba Gooding Jr. as his son (which made me almost not mind Cuba Gooding Jr.) really put me on the lookout.  But I confess I hadn't even thought of the old German tracker as Albert Lewis.  Clever.  And not just for cleverness sake.  There were good reasons for each person being who they were; both for Chris' sake and for their own sakes.

12. The scene in the house is brilliantly done.  The flashbacks are really important.  I find the emotions expressed and interactions between grieving spouses/parents very compelling.  The point about "being strong" as a way of hiding is well taken.  Sometimes when you win you lose.  I thought these two quotes especially poignant:

"That's when I (Chris) realized I was part of the problem.  Not because I remind you, but because I couldn't join you.  So I left you alone..."

"He (Chris) was a coward.  Not giving up; that was just his place to hide.  He pushed away the pain so hard, he disconnected himself from the person he loved the most.  Sometimes when you win you lose."

13. Man this woman playing Annie is really good.

14. What a beautiful picture of marriage, and hence of Christ and the Church.  The only way he was able to save her was to become like her, and to ultimately lay his life down for her.  He came down from heaven and was 'incarnate.'  He resigned himself to the death she had brought upon herself, and in so doing brought about resurrection not only for himself but for his bride, and indeed for their world.  The film ends with a new heavens and a new earth full of innocence, life beauty and glory.

15. Getting hung up on the "gnostic" and/or re-incarnation elements is a good way to miss the fundamentally Christian shape of this film.  Imagining afterlife requires a certain amount of creativity and artistic license.  It would be like getting hung up on the fact that in Lewis' classic you have folks traveling from purgatory/hell to heaven.  One could easily object on theological grounds that such does not happen or, for that matter, on ecological grounds that even if it didn't it almost certainly wouldn't happen via bus.  But that would be to miss the point.  Likewise here.  The point is about love, and about someone who spends himself for the sake of another and brings about new life in so doing.  That's the right story to tell.

Erica
3/29/2014 09:03:03 pm

So strange, the happenstance in which I came across this blog... I really enjoyed your thoughts on this film. Particularly coming from someone so well versed in the innumerable interpretations of a Godly religion and those which lack thereof. I especially appreciate your attention to the quote on how strength is cowardly. It is so scarcely realized and even more scarcely admitted. It was very refreshing to know that thought came from someone other than myself and the writer.
I don't think many people realize that giving up is the brave thing to do. To literally throw yourself into the unknown, the feared and fantasized. Imagine being told from infancy that you will burn in Hell eternally if you do (insert endless list of sins here) and then consciously and purposefully pull that trigger. Just thinking about it is scarey. And the ironic thing is, when people die, we should rejoice! From the religious standpoint, they are being called home! They will no longer suffer or know pain! But we on earth, the selfish and corrupt, we need them. We need the company. We don't want to be left alone. We want to suffer; together. We want to be joined. And so we build up this pain around death.
I believe that the gnosticism was the undertow for the development of Chris's character as well as the development of plot. Without the ability to look back, not only on his memories with Annie but also with their children, he would not have had the means to bring her back. The fact that he died on their DD anniversary has a lot to play with this, especially since we, the audience, do not know what this "DD" anniversary is until the climax between Chris and Hell. The instant bombardment of spirituality and God, heaven, hell and everything in between is why we are so blown away by the fact that Chris is able to bring Annie back. Because there are "rules" but there aren't any actual rules. Just things that have never happened in the synecdoche of the Universe.
We are left with this feeling that we truly do have a soul mate out there and that we would travel through hell to bring them to our everlasting blissful paradise. We believe in true love, we believe the "great beyond" has green pastures that stretch as far as the eye can see and that life IS the greatest gift. We believe all these things in the midst of paint, heroic children, loving mothers, skeptic fathers, kindred spirits and that lovely crescendo perfectly scored.
But dreams... They're not real.

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Matt
9/1/2014 07:32:14 pm

"Sometimes when you win, you lose".

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