Inception is one of the coolest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Dreams can be a dodgy subject for Hollywood to tackle; directors tend to immediately reach for “the weirder the better” when conjuring the dream state on film – for reference, see any of the works (or better yet, don’t) of the late Ken Russell. You expect now that any movie depicting dreams will be incomprehensible at best, or worst, a tawdry realization of fantasies that were best left in the director’s bedroom. On the other hand, Inception was the first movie, at least in my memory, to construct dreams as straightforward narrative. I know a minority critics saw that as indicative of a lack of imagination – I think those few naysayers were hoping for the impenetrable, pretentious ravings of David Lynch a la Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway. The discussion is more or less beside the point, as all movies are essentially dreams. Inception was refreshing enough to acknowledge this off the top rather than wrapping its imagery in a veneer of perplexing metaphors, decipherable only by the hipster with the shrine to Truffaut in his basement.
That we dream is a wonderful gift. Every step of our progress as humanity has begun in our dreams. Are they random flare-ups of neural energy, the brain dumping superfluous data, or are they a form of precognition? The German chemist August Kekule claimed to have discovered the ring structure of the benzene molecule, after years of studying carbon bonds, in a dream about a snake swallowing its own tail. He certainly wasn’t the first to derive specific inspiration from his dreams. For a writer, the unpredictability of dreams is an invaluable resource. A block over a story point, agonized over days in the waking state, can resolve itself in the simplest manner within sleep. It’s almost like those Chinese finger-traps, where the solution is not to pull harder but to relax your grip. The freedom of the unconscious can untangle the most Gordian of story knots. And on occasion, it can conjure a brand new idea, seemingly out of nowhere. Such a dream came to me the other night.
I’m not going to get into the specifics of what the exact idea was, as I would like more time to develop it (and may wish, someday, to transform it into something that people would have to pay me for). Like the dreams in Inception, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a place with no concept of how I’d gotten there. Tom Hardy, one of the actors from Inception, was present, as were Charlize Theron and Tom Hanks. I was pitching them a movie idea. Hardy and Theron were already attached to star and we were trying to persuade Hanks to sign on for a supporting role, which he did after hearing the concept of the movie boiled down to one line. Cameron Diaz was also involved but would only be producing. Following Hanks’ commitment the dream swirled into random scenes from the movie itself involving Hardy and Theron. And I remember smiling as I watched, thinking this could grow into something tremendous. I ensured that after I woke I spent some time recording the details so they wouldn’t be lost in the fog of the morning commute. As for its origin, I can definitely see traces of different things that had been on my mind, even some of the stuff I’ve blogged about this week. My brain took the various pieces and rolled them into a clean concept worthy of further exploration. So thank you, almighty Hypnos, or whomever or whatever else, for cultivating those seeds, and for the bountiful crop that sprang forth. Dreams continue to be the reliable reserve tank when waking imagination runs dry.
Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to go check and see if a top is still spinning.