105 minutes – Drama
Release date: June 15, 1990
Production company: Hemdale Pictures Corporation, National Film Board of Canada
Canadian distributor: Cinexus/Famous Players
Set in a 19th-century institution for the mentally ill, Colm Feore plays a compassionate London, Ontario doctor named Maurice Richard Bucke, who has different ideas on how to treat his patients. He defies his superiors so he can treat his patients as human beings rather than animals. When renowned American poet Walt Whitman (played by Rip Torn) champions his cause, the doctor is ostracized by those who fear the poet’s reputation as a freethinking radical. This is a fictionalized retelling of the relationship between Whitman and Dr. Bucke. The two men first met in Philadelphia at a conference where Bucke was going to deliver a speech on his new ideas for the treatment of mental illness. Distressed by the intolerant, even sadistic attitude of his colleagues, Bucke declined to give his speech and stormed out. Whitman, impressed by the man’s passion seeks his advice on the treatment of his mentally disturbed brother, James. Bucke, struck by Whitman’s loving care of his brother and his insistence on keeping him at home rather than in an institution, invites his new friend to return with him to Canada to meet his wife and their young daughter. Beautiful Dreamers was nominated for four Genie Awards in 1991.
Trivia: Director John Kent Harrison was Assistant Professor of film studies at Concordia University in Montreal before making his feature directorial debut with Beautiful Dreamers.