The Colors of What Dreams May Come
How the color scheme of the Robin Williams film lends to its storytelling
It makes sense that a movie focusing on a man killed in a car crash who discovers his own personal heaven would want to focus on the colors of his supposed desired afterlife. It is no surprise, therefore, that the film What Dreams May Come, directed by Vincent Ward and starring Robin Williams, is so colorful. Meaning can be extracted from the use of most, if not all, of the colors and their use in the film. Orange could be associated with the ethereal (the aura around Cuba Gooding Jr.’s ghost character Albert, the glowing fires of hell, etc.), green could be associated with the natural progression of the relationship between Williams’s Chris Nielsen and Annabella Sciorra’s Anna Nielsen (its use in scenes involving their eventual falling out and discussion of divorce, for instance), etc. However, there are three colors that have a particularly significant meaning throughout the course of the movie -- red, blue, and purple.
In the movie, red is seemingly tied to the character of Anna. The color can be seen as the visualization of the quality that draws Chris to her and as a representation of his attraction. She wears a red dress at the beginning of the film, subconsciously indicating to the audience that she is going to be the main love interest in this story. In fact, at various points in the film, she is seen wearing red clothing. Along with that, Anna’s boat, which is seen throughout the course of the film, has a red sail. This could be a representation of Chris being drawn to an item with a sentimental connection to his wife, who he is separated from now that he’s dead and she’s still alive. At one point, a person holding a red umbrella even walks in front of Chris and a woman who turns out to be his dead daughter. While this person doesn’t directly lead Chris and his daughter to the boat with the red sail, they do walk in the same direction, once again demonstrating a certain attractive quality to the color. That quality continues to show itself in a moment where a vision of Anna waving a red picnic blanket in the air with red flowers behind her draws Chris towards a tree in his own heaven. The quality is even demonstrated in a red tent that Chris’s car drives toward at the beginning of the movie as his kids are taken on their final car ride before their deaths, which could symbolize the drive leading them to their deaths.
Meanwhile, the color blue seems to be tied to the character of Chris. He wears a blue tie consistently throughout the course of the movie. In two sequences where Anna remembers Chris’s life, she writes a journal entry on a desk of blue glasses and lights blue candles during the night. A woman who is eventually revealed to be Chris’s daughter in a different form wears a blue dress to symbolize that she has some sort of connection to Chris’s character, and the blue background of a pop-up diorama that his daughter owns foreshadows that the place in that pop-up will have a connection to him (specifically, where he will meet his daughter in the afterlife). At the very end of the movie, we even see Chris reunite with Anna, who is wearing a blue outfit. This demonstrates that this Anna is now a part of Chris’s heaven, which has been Chris’s hope throughout the entire movie. Admittedly, the connection is not as blatant or prevalent as Anna’s connection to the color red, but it is still there and still important to the story as a whole.
Finally, the color purple seems to represent Chris and Anna’s love. A combination of red and blue creates purple, thus the combination of Chris and Anna creates a powerful love that lasts forever. The colors are seen individually together at various points throughout this film, including when Chris and Anna wear their signature colors together and where we see their kids wearing red, blue, and/or purple. Chris and Anna’s assistant wears purple as she drives the kids away from the house, showing that her job in that house comes directly from Chris and Anna. Red and blue flowers appear throughout Chris’ heaven, including where they immediately surround a dream house that he and Anna had always imagined building. In fact, this dream house is covered in purple flowers, and the combination of these red, blue, and purple flowers around and on the house implies that this project came together through their individual drive and their love. Along with wearing a blue dress to symbolize her connection to Chris, the woman who turns out to be his daughter wears a purple sash, hinting that the character has something to do with both Chris and Anna. The most obvious connection to the way the color is symbolized, however, is that the leaves of a tree Chris is drawn to are purple. Anna is shown painting a purple tree that ends up being seen by Chris in his heaven, but she paints over it and destroys the heaven’s tree in the process. This seems to symbolize her belief that because Chris is dead, their connection is, too.
Red, blue, and purple are the most important colors of the film What Dreams May Come because of how important they are to the main relationship. Anna’s association with red, Chris’s association with blue, and the association of their love to the color purple is demonstrated throughout the course of the film in the clothes of certain characters, the colors of certain objects, and the way that each character interacts with objects of those colors. In a film whose aesthetic seems to be the cinematic equivalent of a painting, it makes sense for the filmmakers to focus so much of their attention on the colors used in the film, and the use of these three colors demonstrates that attention to detail.