Saturday, January 16, 2010

Of Dreams - Good and Bad

For all of us human animals the unconscious is a source of inspiration. Freud, the great founder of Psychoanalysis, stated that dreams were nothing short of "the royal road to the Unconscious." He was the first great scholar to give considerable attention and pride of place to the unconscious in the psychic make-up of the human person. That is not to say that the world of the unconscious was unknown to many generations of writers and artists before him. No, indeed, that is to say, that he was the first to study it more "scientifically." As I have pointed out many times in these posts, Freud considered himself a scientist, and indeed, considered Psychoanalysis essentially a science. There have been those who contested this statement, but be that as it may, we owe the founder of psychoanalysis much as he is essentially the great pioneer of all talk-therapy and of all psychotherapy.

Likewise, we owe a lot to his great masterpiece called The Interpretation of Dreams which I have written about many times in this blog - see the following link: Freud's Interpretation. This masterpiece along with Einstein's discoveries between them formed much of the cultural revolution that went to make up modernity as we understand it in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

My title alludes to good and bad dreams. We need both, and indeed we do have both. In this regard, I wish to juxtapose two recent films which I went to see, and to contrast them as good visual representations of both these essential categories of dreams. How often have we heard, and indeed used any of the following phrases: "my worst dream came true," "it was a nightmare," "I thought I was in heaven," "you are the woman (man) of my dreams" etc. ? Now I wish to discuss human dreams as represented in two recent films I viewed. The two films I wish to compare and contrast are showing currently nationwide, viz., Avatar and The Road.

I first came across the word "avatar" years ago when studying comparative religion in the late 1970s - avatar in Hinduism refers to the many representations, appearances or manifestations of a particular god. We in the Christian West often use the term incarnation and this term quite closely approximates to what is meant by avatar. However, for the Christian West there was just one incarnation of the Godhead and that was Jesus Christ, but for the Hindu Religion, the most synchretistic of religions, there could and can be multiple incarnations of any god and therefore many avatars. In more modern culture I see avatars refer to some kind of three-dimensional representation of pictures of individuals and, for one's profile picture on different sites and discussion boards, one can upload one's chosen avatar, having got such an image made of your favourite profile picture.

The official site for Avatar is very good too, and gives one a tempting taste of the real thing: Avatar Official Site. This is a film of mythic proportions, and indeed we human animals need our myths - those greatest and most wondrous of dreams, those mythic dreams that tap into our very sense of who we think we are or can possible be, into our sense of what the very universe is about and what our very role in it is or can be. It is no surprise that such a film of epic and mythic proportions should be made by James Cameron, the Canadian film director, producer, screenwriter, editor, and inventor. He wrote and directed The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994), and that epic of epics Titanic (1997), and now he comes along with the wondrous, wonderful, epic and mythic Avatar (2009). Having made several feature films, Cameron turned his focus to documentary film making, and to co-developing the digital 3-D Fusion Camera System. Described by a biographer as part-scientist and part-artist, our man Cameron has also contributed to underwater filming and remote vehicle technologies. He returns to feature film making with Avatar which made use of the Fusion Camera System technology.

This was my first time experiencing the 3-D effects at the cinema, and I found it simply mind-blowingly brilliant. As one reviewer lyrically puts it:
Avatar is an astonishing feast for the eyes and ears, with shots and sequences that boggle the mind, from the epic – a floating mountain range in the sky, waterfalls cascading into nothingness – to the tiny details, such as a paraplegic sinking his new, blue and fully operational toes into the sand. The level of immersive detail here is simply amazing. See Review.
Ans so, to my mind, this film Avatar combines all the best in technology with the deepest of human dreams and desires, thereby raising this film to epic and mythic proportions never before witnessed in the cinema. It is a cross between science-fiction at its best and the Utopian dreams of the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, JFK and the cinema experience is consequently like Gandhi/The Mission meeting Star Wars/The Matrix. This film touches one deeply at the level of the soul as well as superficially on the level of the senses. It's a must see film!

Now to the second film, The Road. If Avatar represents essentially the best of human dreams, then this film represents the worst of our nightmares, the end of planet earth and the end of its human animal inhabitants. In Avatar we have a glimpse of Utopia with the deep belief that it could possibly be true. In The Road we have an on-screen representation of our worst nightmare, that we human beings will eventually destroy ourselves and prey one upon another as we have reduced our planet to a lifeless and crumbling uninhabitable desert. It is a nightmare of equally mythic proportions - the death and dying of the few humans that are left on planet Earth is almost inconsequential and insignificant and almost unmoving against the sheer greyness and depression of a planet which itself is almost dead. The tragedy is not so much of human proportions, but much greater, the end of all earthly life, human, animal and inanimate. This is a Dystopic film of infinitely depressing proportions. It is your worst nightmare come true. The world is in ruins after some apocalyptic event.

A father and his son are walking towards the coast in an attempt to head south to escape the increasingly cold, endless winter. Along the way they have to avoid gangs forced into cannibalism. The father has dreams about his wife, who committed suicide before the story begins. At one point they find an intact bomb shelter filled with food and supplies. Rather than remain in this sanctuary, they continue on because they have not yet reached the coast. The only named character they encounter in the entire book is an old man who says his name is Ely. They eventually part ways. The whole journey is a struggle to survive in a world no longer capable of sustaining life. They almost lose this struggle when a thief makes off with all their worldly possessions, and the Father nearly loses his struggle to hold on to his humanity in taking those possessions back. The boy is all that keeps him barely human. The boy is his warrant, in his own words. In the end, they reach the coast but find it is no different, no better than the place they left behind. The father finally succumbs to the illness that has plagued him from the beginning, dying and leaving the boy alone.

Then at the end another man who has a wife and two children finds him and invites the young boy to join their family. There is a hint of possible survival for a little longer in the bosom of this warm family, but given the bleakness of the whole apocalyptic Armageddon nature of the film, we can indeed hold out little hope. In this film, we have the ultimate nightmare of the death of all life as we know it, the end of the world, the end of life, the end of consciousness. All through the film one gets the sense of the boy and his father literally crawling back to the sea, that ancient cauldron of slime from which we crawled aeons back at the very beginning of evolutionary life.

Both films are worth seeing from the point of view of the contrasts of Utopia versus Dystopia, of the best of all possible dreams and the worst of all possible nightmares. However, it is important to note that Avatar does deal with the struggle of Good versus Evil and that evil features a lot in it, but in keeping with all traditional epics and myths Good does win out. In The Road, we have the sense of the end of things, that Good is a useless little emotion at best against the all-embracing final extinction of all life. Evil wins the day.

Choose your vision or choose your dream. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle!

No comments: