Everyone has experienced firsthand that moment when an English teachers scorns: “Thank god! It was only a dream.” It’s both the easy way out of a creative writing story and the moment of great relief.
The blurred line between dreams and reality has its place in everybody’s lives. During those waking moments when you piece your world together, a shadow of confusion between what is real and what is not isn’t unusual. However, when that line extends, things get weird.
Michel Gondry’s 2006 film La Science des reves (The Science of Sleep) paints a clear picture of how muddled life can be when dreams become life becomes dreams become life. The protagonist, Stephane Miroux, struggles to distinguish dreams from reality. In fact, the film that is his life is classified as a ‘surrealistic science fantasy comedy film’ – a genre blend that is, in itself, puzzling.
This is not lucid dreaming, which gets its fair share of interest and keen pupils. Nor is this a sign of a serious mental illness due to a distorted sense of reality and delusions. This is that moment where you ask your sister how that speech that she never gave went.
My best friend once had an experience that fits pretty well into this idea. Dreaming the death of a loved one is a scary experience; this frightening dream, Dream X, is precisely the dream that toyed with my friend’s emotions and waking moments. The day following Dream X was punctuated by bursts of crying in the middle of physics lectures and momentary panic attacks. In this case, it was not so much that she could not figure out if dream X had actually happened – she knew it had not – but it was because it had seemed so real and still resonated with her that it caused great distress. If this confusion took a step up from this and a step back from mental illness, Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep begins to seem less and less far-flung.
The same friend had a less distressing but more confusing experience as a child. In the routine spelling tests of primary school, she snubbed off her teacher for her spelling of computer with only one c, because computer was spelt ‘ccomputer’ with two c’s and this she was certain of because her mum had told her and didn’t everyone know that? Well, we all know computer has one c and we all know that no mother is mean enough to sabotage her child’s primary school spelling test. So, unless hard drugs were involved in childhood, there’s a blurred line between dreams and reality.
In the limited blurring that occurs between dreams and reality, this is not a serious problem but an interesting occurrence. Richard Linklater’s film Waking Life explores dreaming, consciousness, free will and other existential issues in a suitably philosophical way. This blurred line between dreaming and life, the interesting occurrence, is nicely summed up in the running thoughts of one of Linklater’s characters:
"I had a friend once who told me that the worst mistake that you can make is to think that you are alive, when really you are asleep in the life’s waiting room.
The trick is to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of your dreams. Because, if you can do that, you can do anything.
Did you ever have a job that you hated and worked real hard at? A long, hard day of work. Finally you get to go home, get in bed, close your eyes and immediately you wake up and realise… that the whole day at work had been a dream. It’s bad enough that you sell your waking life for minimum wage, but now they get your dreams for free.”
Alternatively, there is the short but sweet thought of Gondry’s Stepahne Miroux:
“I’m exhausted; I’m going to wake up now.”