Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving death, some disturbing images and language
There are lighthearted romances, filled with scenery flooded with sunshine, beaches, or summer dresses; then there are soul-deep love stories, touching on the deepest emotions and fears that engage you completely. This movie is the latter.
Annie & Chris Nielsen (played by Annabella Sciorra and Robin Williams) are soul-mates. Together, there's an interdependence that seems as necessary to them as oxygen, but when that connection is threatened, the pain is every bit as intense.
A couple living their dream - she's a talented and beautiful artist; he's a pediatrician, and together they are parents to Ian and Marie. Tragedy strikes this couple when their children are killed in a car accident and Annie can't seem to get past her feelings of guilt. If only she'd made a different decision on that fateful day, her children wouldn't have died. Depression leads to Annie being institutionalized, while Chris struggles to bring her back to him.
He realizes she's most hurt because she is alone in this incredible pain, and he's unable to be her companion in this despair – instead he tries to pull her back to a life with him. They reach a point of considering divorce before she finally holds tight to him as her delicate connection to sanity and survival.
Still fragile, she clings to him for strength and support when stresses of daily life threatens to overwhelm her. One of those threats is the preparation for a gallery showing, and Chris is on his way to help Annie when he's killed in a car accident.
He finds himself in what he understands as heaven, meeting his children again. They appear to him as people he knew while alive, and it takes a bit of time for him to recognize their true identity. He learns there are no boundaries to what he can do – jump great distances, walk on the bottom of a lake, and he even finds himself inside a piece of art he recognizes from Annie's studio. Annie still makes changes to this painting and Chris is able to see the results as the beautiful landscape begins to reflect the broken heart of its artist.
Chris can't leave Annie. When her therapist recommends she journal her emotions, Chris attempts to communicate to her that she isn't alone; he is still with her. Her hand writes the words he says to her in her journal, and the intensity of her loneliness is more than she can bear. She takes her life.
When he learns of Annie's suicide, he feels relieved that he'll be able to reach her and she'll see her children again. Then Chris is told that those committing suicide enter a hell of their own making because they can't accept the reality of what they've done.
Chris is devastated to think she's enduring any more pain or heartbreak. Regardless that it has never been done before, Chris sets out to find her – promising his son that he won't give up until he finds her. His son introduces him to a guide, played by Max Von Sydow, to help him find his way.
Hell has it's own dangers for Chris, though, and he has only a few moments with Annie before he's told that her reality – a dilapidated version of their home where she's trapped in her own mind, unable to recognize him or her own situation – will become his. He's told to say his goodbyes and get out, but he refuses to make the same mistake as before. He'd rather join her in hell, oblivious to one another's identities, than to leave her there alone.
The effects of true selflessness are never insignificant. I'll leave it at that.
Vincent Ward directed both a visual and emotional wonder in this film. The imagery and emotional depiction of the afterlife were unexpected and delightful. Williams and Sciorra were wonderful in these roles and their interaction with one another. The youthful passion and maturity level was well played by Cuba Gooding Jr., in his portrayal of young Ian in heaven.
If you've read the book, you'll need to put it out of your mind – it has a completely different story to tell. The book was less a love story and more the result of in-depth research by the author, Richard Matheson, of philosophical and metaphysical theories.
This is one of my favorite films.
Theater Release Date: October 2, 1998
DVD Release Date: February 1, 2005
I own a copy of this DVD which I purchased with my own funds. I was not compensated for my review.