I just watched Amy Hardie’s recent film The Edge of Dreaming, a documentary about a year in her life during which this science documentarian and self-proclaimed skeptic becomes haunted by a series of dreams that appear to foretell her own death before the year is over. The film becomes an exploration of neuroscience, the meaning and function of dreams and of death (she interviews neurologists and dream researchers Irving Weissman, Adam Zeman, Mark Solms, and others), and the relations that connect and give our lives meaning.
The film treads carefully over the question of what dreams are, leaving open various interpretations: that they are the mind’s meaningless narrative elaborations of random electrochemical brain activity, the efforts of the mind to consolidate new experiences with memories, the uncensored emotional and intuitive currents of our lives turned into neural/narrative pathways, etc.
I watched it knowing almost nothing about where it will go, or even if the filmmaker survives, and I think the film is best seen that way. But it’s worth mentioning that it takes an unexpected, though (thankfully) understated, ecopsychological twist toward the end: it suggests connections between Hardie’s awareness of the damage done by coal mining to the otherwise beautiful Scottish borderlands where she lives, and the extended field of uncensored intuitive currents that dreams allow access to. The latter is a variation of interpretation #3 above, which the film ultimately favors (structurally), and which echoes ecopsychology’s central thesis — that we intuitively/unconsciously sense what’s wrong with the ecological relations making up the world around us.
In her interview on the PBS web site, Hardie explains:
When I spoke to neurologist Mark Solms, he explained that he thought that I dreamed about the death of the horse because I had actually picked up, from the horse, that the horse was dying. Now I find that an extraordinary thing. I don’t really believe in telepathy, but what he was saying is that a horse lives in a dreamlike state, much more dreamlike than our normal consciousness. Dying is such a huge physiological event that the horse was probably conscious of it, and he probably communicated to me, “Something’s going wrong with me. I’m going to die.” With my day-to-day brain, my clever, rational frontal lobes, I couldn’t pick up that sort of information, but somehow it found its way into my brain. Once I went to sleep, my brain processed that information, and that’s why I had the dream.
It seemed to me that perhaps just as the horse gave me a signal that I could only pick up with my dreaming brain, the earth can be picked up with our dreaming brains. Perhaps we can understand some of the qualities or some of the state that the earth is in with our dreaming brains — that’s where we have access. Then I thought, actually, that’s not so bizarre because the earth and I are made of the same molecules: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen. We’re linked, and maybe somewhere along that linkage some information can flow.
Reifying “the earth” in this way raises many issues, but the point is about our registering things unconsciously and then having those things affect us, physically as well as emotionally. Ultimately the film is about our capacity to change our lives if we’re willing to pay attention to what they (those lives, or the relations that make them up) are telling us.
“I wanted my eyes to feast on what I love,” Hardie declares at one point. And she does, with some beautifully lyrical sequences that demonstrate film’s capacity for “restoring belief in this world,” as Gilles Deleuze argued that cinema can and should do.
Amy Hardie’s horse (an image that is echoed later as the neural pathways changed by her dream journey — perfect for those who want Avatar‘s neuro-immunological ecopsych without its bombastic pomp)
The Edge of Dreaming streams online at the P.O.V. web site through November 24.
Thanks to Integral Options Cafe for the tip.