One cannot be struck, if you have followed Robin Williams’ film career, at a parallels between an aspect of one of his movies, What Dreams May Come, and his own death. In the movie (spoilers), Williams portrays a man who lives through the tragedy of the accidental death his children. He too later dies from a different accident. But in this movie death is not an end to anything (as I believe it is in real life).
His character awakes in Heaven, which is initially drawn from his own dreams. He finds family there (his children), friends, and all sorts of new people to meet. But his wife, however, is not there. This is not because she is still alive on earth. It is because she could not cope with the loss of both children and husband and has committed suicide. Those who commit suicide do not end up in heaven – according to the film. They are in hell (also largely devised by their own imaginations). Williams’ character heroically decides heaven can’t be heaven if his wife isn’t there – and he goes to get her.
In looking today at the reviews, of which there are many, on the Internet Movie Database – they vary between the great majority of folks loving the movie but about twenty percent giving it the worst rating ever. Their reason? Too sappy. Too melodramatic. And, I suspect, a target of the neo-atheists who seem to be everywhere on the internet these days poking at anything that has to do with faith.
My reaction to the movie was mixed but for completely different reasons. It is visually stunning, I liked the characters, and the acting was super. But theologically I had a big problem with heaven seeming to center on us. God is not a big part of heaven. The characters do not focus on God much at all really. And that, beautifully portrayed or not, is a gaping whole when presenting the “Kingdom of God.”
By contrast, though, what I was intrigued by, was the movie’s implicit critique of hell. How can we be called to love people in this life and then in the afterlife dismiss them? How does God love creatures he has created and them send them to torment forever? The film does underscore that people in hell choose to be there (and stay there by their own choice). This was largely C.S. Lewis’ concept of hell. Nevertheless, an underquoted verse in Scripture says that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Wouldn’t that mean that by there being some permanent hell that we can thwart God’s will? That, in itself, would be most odd.
I suspect that hell, as presented in the movie, is largely what crushing depression feels like – not in the world to come, but in this world right now. It appears that is what Williams was dealing with. It is tragic, not only for Williams, but for any human being to deal with this alone. Just as Williams’ character was willing to go into dark places out of love for his wife in the movie – there are lots of people today willing to take that journey to help people out a mental and spiritual dark hole they find themselves if they are willing to let someone in. There is a way out.
I do believe our lives are a gift. I think the last thing God wants is for us to take away the precious gift this life is. An often unspoken aspect of suicide is that when someone we love or admire commits suicide it raises the threat of future suicides of those they have influenced. I always consider suicide like a mental and social deadly virus. It is a permanent “solution” to problems that most often are not and it is a virus that is contagious. We have to be diligent in fighting this threat. Who is to say what possible futures are closed with each suicide?
At the same time, I trust in God when it comes to what will come after this life. I think it is going to be even more stunning than we can dream of in our most wonderful moments of inspiration. God loves us. And I trust in our Creator that what will be – should be.
If you find yourself in a dark place, as Williams must have yesterday, please find someone to talk it through with. You are not meant to be alone when you find yourself in a dark place.
And know that you are loved by your creator, and very likely, by many many others.
Thank you God for Robin Williams – his wit, his talents, and the gifts he brought all of us. It is my hope that he will be a soul we all encounter in Your Kingdom. And may our memory of him not exist in the dark place where it ended by in the great light he lived.
Until next time,