‘In My Dreams’ assesses matters of perspective

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” (2015). Cast: Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, Martin Starr, Malin Akerman, Mark Adair-Rios, Max Gail. Director: Brett Haley. Screenplay: Marc Basch and Brett Haley. Web site. Trailer.

Are you happy with your life? Does it bring you the satisfaction and fulfillment you seek? Or does it fall below expectations? If it comes up short, why do you think that’s so? Answers to these thorny questions may be elusive, but, when they reveal themselves, they may be full of surprises, especially when it comes to identifying who’s responsible for the nature of one’s existence. It’s an unlikely subject for exploration in a romantic comedy-drama, but that’s just what happens in the new heartfelt release, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”

Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) knows a lot about love and loss. Having been widowed 20 years earlier, when her adoring husband was tragically killed in a plane crash, the spry 70-something now spends most of her days on her own, living alone in a small but comfortable home. She has a close circle of card-playing friends who live in a nearby retirement community (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place), and she periodically receives visits from her daughter, Kath (Malin Akerman). But the fear of being hurt again is so strong that she rarely ventures outside her limited daily routine. It’s all very controlled and very safe but also very lonely.

Carol seems resigned to her fate (albeit with an often-forced cheerful resolve). Her friends try to involve her more in life, encouraging her to partake in activities like speed dating and going on group vacations. She appreciates their intentions, and sometimes she even follows their suggestions. For the most part, though, she’s content being a hermit. However, when more losses occur – most notably the passing of her faithful dog, Hazel – she finds she can’t hide from life’s disappointments forever.

Quite unexpectedly, Carol receives several significant nudges encouraging her to become re-engaged with life. First, she develops a chummy drinking buddy relationship with her youthful new pool man, Lloyd (Martin Starr), an aspiring musician in search of himself who feels a nearly constant sense of disappointment when things don’t work out in his career. Having been in the music business herself at one point, Carol identifies with his circumstances. But, more importantly, she feels for Lloyd, believing him to be far too young to be so woefully hopeless. She periodically joins him for drinks and karaoke sessions to prop up his spirits, opportunities for her to hear what he’s got – and through which she can show off what she can still do.

An even bigger surprise comes when she meets Bill Young (Sam Elliott), a handsome, sexy, wealthy retiree who lives in the same community as her bridge partners. The attraction and chemistry between the two is palpable and nearly instantaneous, but Carol shows some hesitation, fearing how she might react if things don’t work out. But, despite such reluctance, she also realizes that she’s still in the world of the living and that, if she wants the remainder of her time to be worthwhile, she had better become involved in it. The question she must ask herself, though, “Is that the right decision?”

Carol’s experience offers an excellent examination of matters of perspective. How does (or should) she respond to the circumstances that present themselves? Is disappointment something that gives us justification to retreat into solitude? Or is it something that’s part and parcel of life that we must learn to live with? Rolling with the punches might not be easy for many of us, but is it proper to let despair define our outlook on our existence? That is what Carol must come to decide.

Working through such circumstances could be considerably easier if we realize that our reactions are based on our beliefs, which, according to conscious creation theory, dictate the nature of the reality we experience. If Carol were to believe, based on what she’s gone through, that life inherently sucks, then she’ll get an existence in line with such thinking. However, if she were to believe that happiness and satisfaction are indeed possible, then it’s just as likely her reality will embody those qualities instead.

Under circumstances like these, it’s also important to understand how those conditions arise in the first place. Like all of us, Carol’s reality is based on her beliefs, which are faithfully reflected in the world around her. That scenario may not always be pleasant, but it does provide her with a valuable opportunity for a significant life lesson associated with the foregoing principles. If she has created those conditions, then there must have been some part of her who wanted to gain that experience, no matter how difficult it is at times.

Realizing that is relevant for two reasons. First, it provides us a better understanding of how physical reality works. It’s inherently filled with highs and lows, and the sooner we come to accept that, the more we’ll be able to glean from the experience. Naïvely embracing viewpoints that life is all positive or all negative doesn’t give us a true picture of how this form of existence operates. We can’t appreciate the sunshine, for example, without also experiencing the rain. The same applies across all of life’s events, and the sooner we understand and accept this, the better off we’ll be to make the most of this expression of reality.

Second, this realization introduces us to the concept of living in the moment. As conscious creation advocate Jane Roberts contended in her writings, the only point in time over which we have any direct control is the present. The past is behind us, and the future is yet to arrive (and could take myriad unforeseen forms). Yet many of us mistakenly try to take up residence in those other time frames, allowing them to skew our perspectives. We may be able to shape the direction in which our life heads, but that will ultimately be based on the beliefs we hold about it, many of which could be influenced by our past. Consequently, if we were to find our prevailing beliefs stuck in the malaise of disappointing circumstances that we experienced previously, it’s not unrealistic to think that we might continue to draw upon them in our present to characterize the future that lies ahead. Is that something we really want to do? As Roberts often observed, the point of power is in the present, so we had better make best use of that principle if we want to realize an existence that’s in line with our wishes.

If Carol wants to make the most of her life, such awareness is crucial. She’s spent much of the past two decades trapped by beliefs that life is typified by loss. First there was giving up her music career, then there was the death of her husband and then the passing of Hazel. But what of the friendship of her card partners? Her loving daughter? Her new drinking buddy? Her health and vitality? And, now, Bill (a name, ironically enough, shared by her deceased husband)? Those elements of her life surely can’t be characterized as “losses,” but do Carol’s beliefs allow her to fully appreciate those manifestations? She’s certainly got something to think about – as do we when it comes to assessing our own circumstances. The lesson may be coming to her rather well on into her life, but, as they say, better late than never.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” is an emotional, heart-tugging comedy-drama that drives home its points well, even if it does so in an overly talky manner at times. Some well-considered tweaks in the writing and editing would have helped a lot in this regard. To its credit, the film makes effective use of comic relief, showing us the lighter moments we can enjoy in life (provided we allow ourselves to see them that way). The picture also features terrific performances across the board, especially Danner, who is already being looked on as a possible awards season contender. She has a terrific chemistry with the remainder of the ensemble, who turn in some of their best work here as well.

Owning our existence is something we all must do if we’re to understand how the reality we experience arises in our lives. That may not always be easy, but, when we embrace a perspective on life that accurately reflects its true nature, we give ourselves an opportunity to live it to the fullest. Should we do that, we’ll realize a richness of experience that we may have never thought possible, something that’s especially important when our days are waning. But, whether we learn the lesson early or later on in life, what matters most is that we get it, to make all those dreams come true.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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