How’s this for a true story! I was supposed to be getting ordained a deacon this summer. Then I watched a movie. Next thing I knew I was attending a wedding reception; dressed in a tuxedo. And there she was, beautiful, with her white gown. And I was the groom. This was unimaginable. Yes, I was “just married.” It was bizarre. And to think that all this was happening because I enjoyed a two-hour film.
My brother was standing in the corner, drinking champagne, and I hurried over and grabbed him by the arm: “How could this happen? I was supposed to become a priest.” He just laughed. “Your decision, man. No one else can undo your decisions, now can they?”
Then it happens—I wake up.
Quickly I gather my thoughts and try to calm myself. Yes, I was just dreaming. Yes, I am now awake. So what’s the real story? And, despite my grogginess, it hits me, and it hits me hard. I am married! The party last night; my confusion because of rash decisions; and to top things off—my dream gets all twisted.
Okay, okay, decisions are decisions. Next step? Go speak to the bride. After making sure I am wide awake I go to speak to her. She sits at the breakfast table. I approach her from behind. Suddenly I notice a cigarette in her hand. “No, I think ... can it be? You mean, I am married to a smoker?”
All of this really happened because of that movie. The idea wasn’t even a part of my brain until I watched it. I hadn’t agreed or disagreed; it just walked right in and made itself at home. It’s amazing to what extent external stimuli affect what we think and who we are. At times we don’t even realize it. But the story doesn’t end here. As soon as I see her smoking, something else happens...
You guessed it—I woke up again. It had been a dream within a dream. Now I had to hurry not to be late for Mass. My first Mass in fact! An accompanying priest assisted at my first celebration. I was nervous. At first everything went well; then I suddenly went blind. Surreal! I had to ask: “Father, why can’t I see the Mass book anymore?” And he answered solemnly: “Maybe it’s because ... this is a dream.”
Then I woke up, for the third time. It had been a dream, within a dream, within a dream. But this time I was awake for really real, and I started my day by thanking our Lord for life and movies and dreams, and that I was still scheduled for ordination in the summer.
The Matrix was a movie about people who live in a dream. The Truman Show was a movie about a guy who lived in an unreal world—a TV show where he was the main actor without knowing it. His escape at the end was like waking up to the real world. Bolt was based on the same idea, but about a super-dog, and with a few more twists. And finally, Inception—the movie that changed me for life—was a movie about dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams. What did it change? The way I dream.
Why all the hype about waking up to reality? The theme keeps coming back.
Recent technological developments offer us many ways of disappearing into the ever expanding worlds of digital imagination, online communications, music and news. The real world, contact with fellow humans, has been getting less attractive. Whereas a few generations ago it was easier to filter what entered the brain, because conversation and reading were the number one means, i.e. your Grandpa could throw the book or the person in front of him into a lake, nowadays most ideas enter our brains from one-way channels which cannot be answered. You can’t argue with a movie; you can’t tell a song how you disagree with its lyrics. So if a movie tells your subconsciousness that it is possible to dream about waking up from a dream—three times in a row, then it might just happen.
Okay, so maybe the way I dream is not so important. But on the other hand, we are talking about a subconscious reality, otherwise known as the guy-behind-the-curtain, and dreams have the ability to prove to us that crazy ideas can, and are, seeping in and being stored without our realization. Maybe we just need to wake up to this our latest reality—that, because of the developments in technology, concepts can enter our brains that we might not be aware of.
Here’s food for thought: If this is so, the only filter that remains is the free choice of what we spend our time doing, seeing and hearing.
And let me finish with a question: “What’s your favorite inter-human pastime that doesn’t involve the use of a computer? Do you still have one?”
Nathan Miller, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.