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What Dreams May Come
When mortality is contemplated, issues of life, death, and the hereafter are usually the first of a myriad of topics to spontaneously arise as if they are from the dark depths of a person's soul. I believe that this is most eloquently stated by Hamlet:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. (III. i.)
This passage served as inspiration for Richard Matheson, the author of the novel, What Dreams May Come. This essay is in two parts: discrepancies between the book and the movie, and views of life/death in the movie and book.
Part I: Discrepancies
The first noticeable discrepancy between the book and the movie is that the movie is a movie (meaning that the movie progresses with the characters for the most part except for the occasional flashback) while the book is a retrospective by Chris of his life and escapades written after he is dead. The first chapter of the book opens with a medium at Richard Nielsen's (Chris's brother) door. It appears that after rescuing Annie in her very own, limited edition, private hell, Chris finds a medium, and he pesters her until she agrees to transcribe his journal (it took her six months) and hand deliver it to Richard.
Another major discrepancy between the movie and the book is that in the book the children do not die. In fact, the children are they way that Chris can find his way back to Annie; through their thoughts and prayers. Before Anne dies, Chris gets Albert (not his son in the book) to look up how long Anne is to naturally live. Albert comes back and reports that it is twenty-four years. Chris becomes devistated and worries about it. Then, Anne kills herself. In the book, Anne would not be in her own patented hell forever but for the time she was to live (she still committed suicide). So she would be in her desolate hell for twenty-four years. That doesn't seem too bad but Chris would not hear of such, and then proceeded to persuade Albert to help him get in touch with Anne again.
Richard Matheson became a new-age metaphysical expert in order to write What Dreams May Come. He wanted the book to be as realistic as possible, so he acquired dozens of books (all listed in the Bibliography) and first hand Near Death Experience accounts from people from all walks of life.
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Overall, I would have to say that the book is much better than the movie, as usual, but the movie does add vivid imagery that few people would visualize by just reading the book.
Part II: Views of Life and Death in the movie and book.
In the movie, physical life is seen as a renewable finite object. No one knows when the fragile object will break, fall, crack, or go through any number of other mishaps. The message is essentially treat each moment as if it is your last, because you never know. When someone says good-bye or walks out the door, they should make sure it will suffice as a last word or comment if worst comes to worst.
The book carries the same message except that in the book there is an underlying sense of the physics behind life and death. The characters also mildly converse over how souls come to be born, how reincarnation works, and why people are diseased and in pain. The afterlife aspect in the book is more vivid because it is not limited to merely what is on the screen, but it is open to the vast expanses of the mind. The book places emphasis on the so-called soothsayers of the physical world too. First with the medium and then with one of Richard's friends that can see what he calls "disincarnates," or ghosts. Richard's friend does see Chris and Chris tries to communicate but Anne does not believe him and dismisses it as heresy.