Death in What Dreams May Come and Dante's Inferno

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Death in What Dreams May Come and Dante's Inferno

Death and what comes after has always been a subject of great interest and uncertainty. Many have tried to depict their own vision of the afterlife, be it heaven or hell, paradiso or inferno. Here, I will discuss the similarities and differences in the hell represented in the movie What Dreams May Come and the Inferno of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.

What Dreams May Come is a movie about two soul mates, Chris (Robin Williams) and Annie (Anabella Sciorra). After Chris' death in a car accident coupled with the death of her two children four years earlier, Annie commits suicide. While Chris has gone to heaven and discovered that his heaven is living in a world of Annie's paintings, Annie has gone to a hell also of her own making because of her suicide. When Chris learns of Annie's death and her place in hell, he vows to go there and bring her back. The main theme is that soul mates exist and love goes on after death.

One of the main differences between the hell that Dante paints and director Vincent Ward creates in the movie is the idea of the afterlife being objective or subjective. In the Inferno, Dante paints a hell of fire and brimstone, carefully divided and subdivided. Everything is meticulous and standardized. A place and punishment is dished out for every crime. For example, circle seven, depicted in Cantos twelve through seventeen is the designated place for the violent but has many subdivisions including

violent against neighbor, self, God, nature, and art; each with their own punishment. Although Ward's vision of hell draws much from the traditional thinking of Dante's version, perhaps only for the sake of painting a picture of hell on the screen, the major diff...

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Compared to Dante's depiction of suicides, this is a horribly politically correct and nineties Hollywood concoction. In the Inferno, the suicides are located in Circle seven among the violent against self. Their punishment is not self inflicted, it is decided by Minos. Just as careless as the sinner was with his own life, so is Minos in flinging the soul down to the seventh level, sprouting roots where it lands and becomes a tree destined to be fed on by Harpies and mangled by hounds for eternity.

While many of the resemblances of the Inferno and What Dreams May Come seem mostly for cinematic effect alone, it is a testament to Dante's literary talent that his portrait of hell has been so enduring. The Inferno created by Dante indeed puts a face on hell and has influenced almost every look into the subject over the centuries since it was finished in 1321.

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