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I’ll See You in My Dreams

Old folks movies didn’t all used to be comedies about broken down hotels in India or exotic restaurants being produced in exotic places in Europe. Cocoon (1985), for example, starred Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton and Hume Cronyn, none of them under sixty at the time, Ameche winning the Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance. I’ll See You in My Dreams, an independent darling at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, swims in the same waters with Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, Mary Kay Place and Rhea Perlman providing the main characters of this charming, sad, but thoughtful tour de force.

Danner plays Carol Petersen, widowed for twenty years and now in her seventies, whose dog dies, setting off a chain of events that force her to consider her life and its direction in a new way. Dreams follows three plotlines, all relating to Carol: her relationship to the much younger man who cleans her pool; a budding love interest in Bill, the Sam Elliott character; and her regular bridge games with three friends, all similarly unmarried, and played by Place, Perlman and June Squibb.

Much of the comedy of this very funny movie comes from the dialogue at the bridge table between the women, when they discuss sex, travel and life. Carol is the rock among the four and the only one who still lives in her own house rather than a retirement community. She rises at six every morning, does all her own shopping, and sips Chardonnay while watching television, but when her dog dies and a rat invades her house, she encounters Lloyd, a lackadaisical pool cleaner, who lives with his mother, and who helps Carol dispose of the rat. Nothing untoward happens between the two, though Brett Haley, who wrote and directed the movie, does a superb job of keeping the tension just high enough to make one wonder what might happen next. What does happen is a friendship that gives rise to discussions of such grace and interest one cannot help but feel a kinship with both characters and their experiences.

There is much that cannot be discussed about Dreams for fear of spoiling important moments of the plot, but I can’t recommend this movie highly enough, if you want to learn a little about what it is like to face life older and alone. Dreams is at once heart-breaking and encouraging, and for the Christian, challenging. No faith of any kind is spoken of in the film, and, when Carol has an important talk with her daughter and says at one point, “I feel so incomplete,” I couldn’t help but think that we all do, but not because of the lack of a spouse as Carol meant. Rather, without the life-transforming “joy in the Holy Spirit” that anchoring ourselves in Christ brings to the Christian, we really would be incomplete. Feel that way anyway as we do sometimes, the Christian always comes back to Him and His promise never to leave us nor forsake us. I’ve never seen that relationship, i.e. that of Christians and their Lord, portrayed believably in film. Perhaps Eric Liddell’s character in Chariots of Fire came the closest. But just because I’ve never seen it, doesn’t mean I can’t lament what I know to be true in real life, if not in film.

Drew Trotter

July 4, 2015

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