George Orr, a man whose dreams can change waking reality, tries to suppress this unpredictable gift with drugs. Dr. Haber, an assigned psychiatrist, discovers the gift to be real and hypnotically induces Mr. Orr to change reality for the benefit of mankind --- with bizarre and frightening results.
Bruce Davison ... George Orr
Peyton E. Park ... Mannie Ahrens (as Peyton Park)
Niki Flacks ... Penny Crouch
Kevin Conway ... Dr. William Haber
Vandi Clark ... Aunt Ethel
Bernadette Whitehead ... George's Mother
Jo Livingston ... George's Father
Jane Roberts ... Grandmother
Tom Matts ... Grandfather
Frank Miller ... Parole Officer
Joye Nash ... Woman on Subway
Gena Sleete ... Woman on Subway
Back in 1978, I was working at a mom-and-pop bookstore in Dallas called Taylors. One day one of the customers bought a book by Ursula K. LeGuin: "The Lathe of Heaven". I told her that she was one of my favorite authors, and that I loved the book. She said that she was involved in the production of a film of the book that was to be done locally.
Early in 1980 it was aired. Bruce Davison (recently the Senator in "X-men") played the protagonist, George Orr. And various Metroplex locations stood in for Portland in the near-future year of 2002. City Hall (later the OCP HQ in "Robocop"), Reunion Arena and the Water Gardens in FW (previously used in "Logan's Run").
George Orr has a problem: dreams. He doesn't want to have any. He takes drugs to try and thwart his unconscious so that he can sleep but not dream. Because if he does dream a special kind of dream, an "effective" dream, it changes reality "all the way back to the Stone Age".
Dr. William Haber is an oneirologist: a dream specialist. He doesn't believe George's story, of course. He thinks that George is sick, not cursed. He eventually comes around to the realization that George is right. A power struggle ensues to decide who will be in charge of deciding who gets to make the decisions of how to use this power.
The story touches on race relations, psychology, Taoism and more. And all on a miniscule budget of 250K.
An added bonus was the addition of interviews with Bruce Davison and Ms. LeGuin, the latter with Bill Moyers. She rarely does interviews, and it was wonderful hearing her add little behind-the-scenes details and commenting on the story and film. Since my understanding of Taoism is limited to readings of "The Tao of Pooh", I didn't realize the use of Taoism until I heard UKL mention it.
If I had had 90 bucks to blow on a KERA membership, I could have gotten the video from them. In fact, the on-air weasel said that the tape was "only available through public TV". If you check amazon.com, as I did last night, you will find that this is a bald-faced lie: TLoH will be released on VHS and DVD later this month, with the interviews and all.
The only thing that burned my butt about the film that I saw last night was the one change they made. Originally, they used Ringo Starr's version of the Beatles tune "A Little Help from My Friends". The new version has a different cover version. One of the reviews on amazon.com stated that this was because it would cost too much to get the rights from Michael Jackson, who now owns the entire Beatle catalog. This doesn't work. IMHO, MJ would get money no matter who did it.
I had public television on several days ago (March 10, 2001) and "Lathe of Heaven" was starting on their series "Movies Worth Taping". I'm glad I happened to turn the TV on, as it was a movie well worth watching! It was made in 1987 as the first made-for-public-TV film, and is based on a novel by Ursula Le Guin.
This movie explores the notion of "effective dreaming", where one's dreams actually come true. It explores the strange dreams of George Orr (Bruce Davison). When he has these dreams, he wakes to find that his dreamt-up situations are now not only reality, but other people suddenly have adapted as if this reality has been with the world for some time.
George is traumatized by these dreams, and seeks the help of Dr. William Haber (Kevin Conway). Dr. Haber's intentions are good, to harness the power of these effective dreams to the betterment of the world, but he clearly abuses the doctor-patient relationship and hypnotizes George to have specific kinds of dreams. One motto of this film might be "be careful what you dream about"!
I found the special effects sometimes interesting, but often heavy-handed and not so smoothly executed. The setting, sometime in the near future in Portland, Oregon, was inexplicably dreary, beyond the rain that the city is well known for. The character development could have been stronger, with ancillary characters like Dr. Haber's secretary and the very few others seeming to be made out of cardboard and lacking emotion. George and Heather LeLache (Margaret Avery), however, enjoyed more solid and believable depictions.
In spite of these criticisms, the film was an exciting journey into inner space that indulges us to think about deep philosophical questions. What is reality? Are there parallel realities? What is or should be knowable about the nature of existence (to me reminiscent a bit of "2010", one of my favorite science fiction films)? What happens if we dream each other into or out of reality? "The greatest good for the greatest number" or rights of the individual? Can we design a utopia or will we be doomed to experience accidents we never considered that render such a proposed utopia much less than ideal? "The Lathe of Heaven" doesn't have the fresh and exciting visual effects of earlier science fiction films like "2001" or later ones, but is an interesting film that is a must see for science fiction fans.
Would you want your dreams to come true, even your nightmares? Based on Leguin's novel of the same name. George Orr discovers that his dreams come true except George isn't dreaming the future, his dreams are changing the past to create the future he dreams. Once George wakens, he is the only person to remember the alternative past, that is until he visits a psychiatrist who realizes the potential of George's dreams and sets out to 'right' the world with fantastic consequences.
This film is full of ambiguous metaphor and allegory so that everyone seems to see something a little different. I found the movie a bit overlong but then I can't imagine it being a minute shorter. Because the original print was lost the movie looks pretty crappy with ghosting and graininess, but powerful themes don't need pretty pictures and Lathe of Heaven above all else is cautionary about being unsatisfied and forcing drastic change on the others. Ultimately we learn that despite how bad things are, they could be worse, much worse.
The film takes some pretty bizarre twists with aliens that just come out of nowhere, well they come from George's subconscious. Pondering this I am reminded how powerful science fiction really was to the 70's and while most people only remember it for Star Wars and assume that everything else was trying to cash in, the 70's were really a treasure trove of interesting sci-fi and when the UFO subculture really reached it's height. Project Blue Book was published in 1976, Brad Steiger, Stan Friedman and others ignited the public's imagination. Close Encounters and Alien preyed on our hopes and fears respectively; and Star Trek was resurrected from the dead. So all in all it really wasn't that bizarre for George to be thinking about aliens because even though the film is set in 1998, it's very much a product of the 70's.
The copy I watched had an interview with the author, Leguin, who declined to interpret the book/movie as she wasn't entirely sure of all the meanings both might hold. What was most interesting was her conclusions about George and Dr. Huber, particularly George whom she sees as a strong man but many others see as something of a weakling.
* Unseen for twenty years because of a copyright issue: in one scene, George Orr plays a record of The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends." The film was finally allowed to be rebroadcast when The Beatles' version of the song was replaced with one sung by a different vocalist.
* 600 extras were spray-painted for the scenes in which George has "fixed" the race problem by turning everybody gray.
* Dallas was chosen as the backdrop for the movie's futuristic setting because its many mirrored buildings and unusual architecture made it look futuristic. Dallas City Hall, Reunion Arena, DFW Airport and neighboring Fort Worth's Water Garden were the locations where many of the scenes were filmed. Dallas was also used in another futuristic movie-Logan's Run.
* Dr. William Dement, the famous sleep researcher who founded the Stanford Sleep Clinic and for many years taught the popular "Sleep and Dreams" class at Stanford University, was a consultant to Ursula K. LeGuin and is thanked in the closing credits.
* The night that this was first broadcast, there was a major power outage in the Pacific Northwest, which meant that author Ursula K. Le Guin was unable to watch the film based on her own book on its first run.