Days of Future Past: The Lathe of Heaven


Written by Amanda Pampuro


With the rain and ponchos, ease of access to pharmaceuticals and mopey expression on everyone’s face, one might first assume The Lathe of Heaven is set in a post-apocalyptic society. Nope, that’s just Portland Oregon, in all her glory. The northwest corner of my heart is shaped exactly like Portland, a place where I took many walks across overflowing gutters and muddy side streets to the first and last streetcar of the day, past Gallery 503 and Kelly’s, I grew my beard out and—oh, but I digress.

After surviving a sleeping pill overdose, George Orr is mandated to attend a voluntary therapy clinic where he is treated by the Oneirologist Dr. Haber. George’s problem is not that he is crazy or suicidal but that his dreams alter reality and he is the only person who knows that reality has changed and how things were before. As soon as he understands George’s ability, Dr. Haber holds him as tight as a monkey’s paw and feeds him dreams through hypnosis. Though Dr. Haber’s efforts are undoubtedly meant to do good—to end over population, war, and racism—nothing comes out as expected. George has long come to terms with the fact that changing reality is more trouble than it is worth, but each disastrous alteration only seems to make Dr. Haber’s unquenchable thirst stronger.

Filmed during Portland’s two week summer, The Lathe of Heaven is classic sci-fi at its best with aliens and sea turtles, LSD light shows, memorable lines, and is well deserving of its Hugo. I don’t want to over-amp its merits, but if you seriously read this column, if this isn’t your first time on Darling Dork, or if you own an ice cube tray that doesn’t make cubes, then I recommend venturing on this mystical journey through the consequences of dreaming. I think you’ll like it.

Filmed in 1979 and set in 2002 (according to Wikipedia though I didn’t see anything in the film that verified this) The Lathe of Heaven comments on patients’ vulnerability to psychiatric institutions, but more importantly it shows that neither now, nor in the future, is there a correlation between goodness of intent and goodness of outcome. George Orr and Dr. Haber have an ongoing debate on whether dreams actually can or can’t make the world a better place. Though it seems that the world gets worse the more Dr. Haber tries to make peace, in each world George still finds love. Perhaps then, it is not the conditions we need to change but our expectations of reality. George Orr shows that there is always some kind of goodness in the world if you are willing to go with the flow and tune into the world around you.

I had the privilege of meeting the author of the book and creative consultant for the film, Ursula K. Le Guin at Powell’s City of Books. Leaving through the Burnside door, I met a homeless woman who asked me for change. I told her I didn’t have any change, but there was a woman inside the bookstore who was an expert on time travel, and I was pretty sure she could change anything. Boy how quickly they walk away when you start to talk real solutions…

The Lathe of Heaven could be described as an enchanting journey through dreams and reality. They just don’t write them like this anymore and they sure as hell don’t make such fantastic book adaptations either. On the plus side, the philosophical aliens are expected to invade any day now.

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