Lathe of Heaven
Just now powerful is the mind? If one were to consider this question they might realize that all things begin in mind before manifesting in reality. In order to invent something in the physical world, one must ponder it in the mental world. In the genre of science fiction, one questions the possibilities of world that can be created at a time in the ever present now, or the future. This existential reality is one we may deem worthy of evaluating as we discern the power of a dreaming mind. In the movie, “Lathe of Heaven” we find author Ursula LeGuin’s 1977 make into a cinematic event, replete with symbols, as well as the question of morality and ethics.
George Orr has a prophetic ability to change reality merely by dreaming. Not wanting to make manifest the dark and dismal realities of his dream visions, he believes suicide might be the antidote to the power inherent in his nightly dreamscapes. The harsh reality of a future world that is depicted in stark black and whites brings the future into a world of stark contrasts and dismal imagery. As time progresses, we find an unethical doctor who takes advantage of George’s power to change reality by making his own dreams made manifest for his own personal gain.
Some of the stark contrasts are most evident in the repressed sexuality of Dr. Haber’s secretary Penny. Aiming to suppress her sexual urges for her employer, she dresses conservatively in the beginning of the movie, and as she is unleashed from the grasp of her neurosis, works her image as one that is “hot to trot” much like Lady Godiva, an image utilized throughout the entire movie. This secretary undergoes a transformation or “trance-formations” that enable her to exhibit herself expressly to both Doctor Haber and George Orr.
Manny, or Manfred is a character whose presence appears to follow a heroic sidekick archetype for Manny, and one begins to wonder if this man is not the father to George Orr, as he is an effective father figure. Manny protects George and is a strong player in the universal game of chess. The chess pieces turn different colors throughout the movie, but Manny remains the strongest player on the board. It becomes evident by the end of the movie that Manny accepts his “part” in the play of George’s life and is aware of the ever present changes through George’s dream visions. He is also the first one to identify a therapist George will seek help from as “the rapist”, if you divide the word in this way. Dr. Haber does rape George by affecting all the changes he wants in the world, including, but not limited to, his notoriety and his wants for a devastated world. He does not value the world as it is and affects change in it that does not always “work as planned, in a straight line” as George would explain.
Dr Haber’s world becomes more colorful throughout the film, as evidenced by his clothing color choices. Both he and Ms. Heather LaLache are juxtaposed as adversaries and typify the balance between good and evil. The use of the phrases “good old days” and “hot to trot” bring some reflective humor to the movie and show the passage of time we all face in our own personal lives. The mention of the importance of staying “in the now” cannot be overemphasized as a means to enjoy life in the moment and not lurk in the past or worry over future moments that many not occur. These existential questions are often brought to the forefront in such a way throughout the movie without the audience being confused or preached to, which is always the hallmark of good cinema.
One of the key features of this movie is fear of change. George does not want to sleep and have a dream that will “change his world”. This fear of change is a rampant issue in society all of the time. If we take it one step further, we could say we also fear that “our dreams” will change our lives and it may not be for the better. Other people can try to manipulate our dreams and this also can affect the future in our own lives. This existential metaphor clearly is delivered in this movie. Even at the end when Haber decides he wants to take control of his patients mind, or his dreaming mind anyway, he loses all sense of his own memories and becomes a pathetic patient himself, living the delusion of being a doctor. His “doctor” is his own secretary and George becomes an “orderly” who tries to being some semblance of “order” to Haber’s life in a world of chaos and confusion.
One of the most stirring images we are shown in this movie are the nebula like jellyfish pulsating in the universe of the mind. The dark and still waters of the ocean are our subconscious mind which is also the keeper of secrets and the hidden nature of man, sometimes corrupted by the attempt at controlling others. The universe, vast and pulsating reflects our higher nature, the one in touch with the oneness of all things and the keeper of our higher wisdom. Taken together, these images remind us of the fleeting qualities of life and the strong inclination to try to make sense of a world that is riddled with chaos and instability. Because it is set in the future, we do not have to be forced to realize it confronts our reality in the present moment as well, but offers us a glimpse into another world, one in which we fear change will take things from us, exists and is not as scary as we might believe it to be.