Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ignorance Is Bliss

Some people like to think that dreaming is the brain's way of defragmenting its hard drive. Author Mark J. Blechner claims that he named his book The Dream Frontier because dreams represent "the frontier of human knowledge, imagination and creativity." Blechner describes his theory of Oneiric Darwinism as follows:
"Dreams create new ideas through the generation of random thought mutations. Some of these may be rejected by the mind as useless while others may be seen as valuable and retained."
We all dream on a fairly regular basis. Most of us have developed ways of dealing with our dreams. Some claim they can decide in advance what they want to dream about and insist that preprogramming their dreams is the only way to go.  Others describe being able to awaken from a dream and quickly return to sleep at the exact point where they stepped out of the dream sequence.  

For many people dreams are accompanied by a level of high anxiety that may involve falling, being frightened, being intimidated, or feeling trapped. For others, dreams provide a source of ongoing wonder and wishful thinking.

I've always been an extremely heavy dreamer, sometimes going through what felt like three Fellini epics in the course of a night's sleep. My dreams, however, are rarely frightening.  They allow me to accomplish some truly bizarre physical feats -- like flying over the Statue of Liberty and having the power to capsize vessels in New York's harbor merely by thinking about them while wearing nothing but my pajamas.  Or falling through time and space without any fear of gravity. 

No matter how strange a dream gets -- even if it feels as if you have entered a fourth dimension -- the visions are rarely linear. Dreams occur with a cinematic style that allows for illogical transitions, impossible physicalities, time travel, and anything else you can throw into the mix. Issues and events are rarely seen in black and white -- grey areas of possibility wildly inhabit every dreamscape.  

In my dreams, I am often visited by people who have been important to me in my life (whether they be close friends and family who are now dead, or actors and characters from plays and operas for whom I have felt a special passion). In these dreams, we may discuss a seemingly unresolved issue, catch up on old times, or simply share an unspoken warmth and affection. 

The physical dimensions of our encounter may be totally ridiculous -- pure Alice in Wonderland stuff. I once dreamed that I was lying face down in a parking spot in front of a bar when an alien life form slithered up from behind, slowly entered me, and then enveloped me. Once you've had sex with the green slime from Planet 9, who needs a man?

I remember once hearing this exact snippet of music from Massenet's Manon while watching multi-colored slices of jello parfait float through the air. Listen carefully to the music and you might even understand how that could happen.

The intensity of most dreams, however, is what leaves a lasting impression. The other night I had my first dream about human cloning.  From what I can recall, it was a doozy. Although I can identify news items and discussions that may have helped to trigger this particular dream, it was definitely new territory in my fantasy world.  

The dream seems to have started when I was out in a field with two friends who were planning to attend some kind of protest.  One was an atheist who was dragging a huge aluminum cross with him.  The other man was gay and had some kind of propane tank which, shortly after being loaded into the back of a truck, was hit by a bolt of lightning.

As I drove off, I found myself headed toward a reunion of people I had known back when I was writing about opera.  Their bodies and faces were remarkably well-preserved, down to the specifics of certain pieces of clothing they often liked to wear.  At a certain point, we were taken to a heavily-wooded mansion, the kind you might expect to see in a Miss Marple type of mystery film with Margaret Rutherford roaming the hallways in search of a clue to the murderer's identity.

However, in this dream, there were some very pleasant people milling about as guests and servants.  As the social hour wore on, I noticed that many of the servants had strikingly similar faces. I was eventually introduced to the host, who assured me that one of the reasons I had been brought to his estate was because their research had told them that I might "understand" these things.  

As I looked more closely at the guests, I began to suspect that they were clones who could easily be replaced in the event of an emergency.  Soon enough, my theory was proven correct.  After one of the women insisted on undressing to prove to me that she was actually hermaphroditic, I asked her a difficult question which left her visibly unnerved.  I was told that she died later on that night, but that I shouldn't worry.  They had lots of genetic material with which to replace her.

I go through dreams like this every night, but never feel threatened by them.  To me they are a source of wonder and awe, of magic and mystery.  Rather than try to analyze my dreams, I have learned to let them roll over me, like soft ocean waves, and then dissipate into the dawn.

* * * * * * *

Dreams are also a safe place one can go when seeking permission to move on with your life -- a gimmick which is used quite nicely in Johannes Schmid's new film, Silly's Sweet Summer, which will be shown as part of this year's Berlin & Beyond Film Festival.  The protagonist, Martin (Johann Hillmann), is a young boy who is small for his age.  His family has just moved to a new town where he has no friends. 

With an overly protective mother (who will start teaching at his school the following year) and a work-at-home father who is quite shy, Martin's introduction to his new surroundings does not get off to a good start. A chance encounter with one of the sixth grade's bullies does not go well.  No sooner does Martin get introduced to his classmates than Olli (Konrad Baumann) determines to make his life miserable. Martin, who is just starting to get interested in girls, soon becomes smitten with Silke (Lea Eisleb), who turns out to be Olli's close friend.

As Martin persists in trying to befriend Olli, he is made acutely aware of why the other boy has been acting out.  Olli's father is an alcoholic whose drinking has sent the boy's mother into the arms of another man. With no adult paying attention to him, Olli is becoming lonely, bitter, and more than happy to use violence as a way of expressing himself.  Although he loves his father, he dreads following in his footsteps.

Because Martin's parents have always taught him that learning to trust someone is one of the most important things in life, they are caught off guard when their son pushes back, demanding that they trust his judgment in how to handle the situation with Olli.

In rare moments when he is not being buffeted by Olli and Silke's mood swings, Martin dreams of his fantasy woman -- the bathing suit model who appears in ads for a popular sunscreen. Having stolen a bottle of the lotion while shopping with his mother, we see Martin sneaking an occasional whiff which undoubtedly triggers exotic and subliminally erotic thoughts. The boy may not have reached his full masturbatory potential, but he's well on his way to learning the art of self gratification.

In Silly's Sweet Summer a child's naivete is slowly replaced with a deeper understanding of the world around him as he watches his friends suffer emotional setbacks. Martin eventually gets permission from his fantasy woman to be brave, take risks, and learn how to handle responsibility as a natural part of growing up.

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