When I saw the trailer for “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” with Robin Williams playing Theodore Roosevelt and being his usual funny, exuberant self, I had to wonder how many wonderful, new moments we had left with him on film before he was gone forever. Someday explaining to my kids who Williams is will require me dragging out a bunch of movies they’ve never heard of.
The first film that came to mind when I learned Williams had committed suicide was “What Dreams May Come.” When the movie came out in 1998, it taught me more about the power of love than anything before it. I was 14 years old at that time, and I had already attempted suicide twice.
Based on a novel by the iconic genre storyteller Richard Matheson, “What Dreams May Come” tells the story of a couple whose son and daughter died in a tragic car accident. When the husband, played by Williams, also dies in an accident, his widow, unable to cope with her grief, takes her own life.
In heaven, reunited with his kids, Williams’s character believes he will finally be reunited with his wife, too. He is relieved her suffering has ended until he learns that “suicides go somewhere else,” a place where they are truly forever trapped within their own misery — they are unreachably sad. Williams’s character would never be able to see his wife again. He won’t accept this and decides he will risk everything, including his sanity, to save his wife from what is, essentially, hell.
It’s a powerful image of love and sacrifice, and Williams is wrapped up in many of my feelings about the power of love. I often feel my love knows no end. When my brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2006, it often felt like a test. How much can you watch your oldest, dearest friend change, lose his grip on reality before it breaks you? The answer is, apparently, never. I’ve often thought that schizophrenia messed with the wrong little sister because I’ll never give up no matter what it throws at us.
When Williams’s character decides that he will rescue his wife from the depths of hell, other people tell him it’s impossible, it’s never been done before. His reply is, “Stick around, chief. You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I try to take that approach with my depression and my grief. It’s what I have to say to my brother’s schizophrenia.
I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life. “What Dreams May Come” dealt with that sensitive subject in a fairly traditional Christian sense. I don’t believe that “suicides go somewhere else,” but it’s significant to think about how it’s a different way to die — as sudden and unexpected as an accident, but it’s decided. Nothing can compare.
After I lost my close friend Don to suicide earlier this year, I have often compared suicide to a bomb going off. A hidden sadness exploded and got all over everyone, and no one knows what to do because this sadness and grief doesn’t make sense. It’s not rational. This was a wonderful, valuable person, deserving of love and most of all life. How could he not know? How could he be gone?
I feel like those same thoughts will flash in my mind as I watch the new “Night at the Museum,” but I’ll do my level best to make something positive out of it. Williams had a penchant for making people happy the world over. Even though he’s gone, this movie will do that one last time. They say we need to remember the way a person lived, not the way he or she died, and I am determined to make positive change come from tragedy and pain.
That love I remember so well from that drama-fantasy movie from the 1990s is about strength and devotion, not about loss or weakness. What I remember about the film is love, not death, not tragedy and not hell.