By Lexi Rafael
“I went down to have breakfast and saw my parents and brother all around the kitchen table. No one was talking. I said something, but no one answered. They all just turned and looked at me. As I realized that they weren’t real, they started crawling across the table to murder me.”
This was one of writer-director Adam Morse’s earliest experiences with lucid dreaming, a phenomenon in which a person realizes he is dreaming while still asleep. Fitting that Morse would develop a fascination with reality, “with what’s real and what’s not, and the universal consciousness that we’re all a part of.”
At a young age, Morse researched lucid dreaming online and started practicing the techniques. He kept a dream journal and set alarms to wake him up throughout the night. This allowed him to reprogram his brain to commit dreams to long-term memory, as opposed to short-term memory.
Morse actually used lucid dreaming to write his debut feature film, Lucid, in which Zel, a painfully shy young man, uses lucid dreams to gain the confidence to talk to the woman he has a crush on. Morse explains that when suffering from writers’ block, he’d spend the night dreaming about the characters and situations and see everything play out. In the morning, he’d wake up and write what he remembered into the screenplay. He utilized the technique while filming as well: “I would dream I was on location, watch camera moves in my mind, and then try them out on set the next day.”
The ability to see scenes play out in one’s mind is useful for any writer, yet in Morse’s case it seems more like a crucial superpower, as he lost his sight in April 2009. His dreams are more vivid now, and the quality of his imagination and strength of his memory have improved. While he had heard that his other senses might be heightened in order to compensate for the vision loss, he wasn’t aware that he might develop forms of precognition and telepathy. As Morse says, “When you’re not physically able to judge on face value, you have to go off of energy.”
But how did he manage to film a feature while legally blind? With a 60-inch director’s monitor and his face right up against the screen, he could use his partial peripheral vision to compose an image and build the aesthetic. And indeed, the film is beautifully shot.
It opens on a stage, as a starlet-like woman rises from a bow while her audience applauds. In a single take, we follow her as she snakes her way through a dark and dreamy nightclub to sit at a bar beside a man we will later recognize as Zel, our shy protagonist. We then cut to a stunning shot of a city skyline so deeply shrouded in fog that it appears to be floating. Throughout the film, Morse blurs the line between dreams and reality, reminding viewers that all is not quite as it seems. It’s as if the film itself has a silent theme song, in which the refrain lilts, How do you know you’re not dreaming right now? How about now? How about now?
The story as a whole, both Morse’s personal experience and the literal projection that is the film Lucid, feels like a dream within a dream, a stranger-than-fiction tale in which it’s not quite clear who is dreaming who.