Monday, February 11, 2013

The Polish Bride

I watched The Polish Bride based on a Netflix suggestion and I found it oddly compelling. It's a Dutch film (English subtitles) and very different from most other films I've seen. There's very little dialogue, a surprise for a character-focused drama, and the soundtrack is understated. The lack of dialogue is certainly a statement by the director, but it's also a natural outcome of the basic plot: the two main characters do not speak the same language until the woman learns Dutch. With so little dialogue, we viewers are left to figure out what is happening, to interpret the clues, and in some cases, to decide for ourselves what happened and why.

At the pivotal point in the action, the couple did not react the way I expected, enough to make me wonder if the film had a fatal flaw. Maybe so, but people often react in surprising ways in real life.

There is an Australian version named Unfinished Sky featuring the same lead actress from The Polish Bride. Unfinished Sky won multiple 2008 Australian Film Institute awards. I haven't seen it yet.

If you are looking for a film that is out of the ordinary, give this one a try.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Conscious or Unconscious?

I woke up suddenly at about 4AM a few nights ago. In the transition from asleep to awake, I had the notion that something had woken me, but I wasn't sure what. When woken suddenly, there's a greater chance than usual that I will remember what I was dreaming about, and that was the case this time. In the part of the dream I remember, I was about 17 years old and standing in a corridor near the hospital kitchen where I had a part-time job. There were a few different people in the dream, including co-workers that were my friends at the time, and our manager. The dream versions of those people were realistic, and matched my memory of how they looked at the time. For some reason, the corridor was not accurate. It seemed to be a mixture of two different corridors, it seemed soft and uncertain at the edges of my vision, and that was intriguing. Why were the people accurate, but not the corridor? Even in the dream I was vaguely aware that the corridor wasn't real. That's a recurring, and sometimes comforting, aspect of my dreams: I can often tell that I am in a dream because some aspect of the dream is unrealistic. When something scary or unexpected is happening, my dream-self is aware that it's just a dream and there's no reason to get truly scared or upset.

As I lay awake pondering the corridor question, I began to wonder about the roles of the conscious and subconscious in the dreaming process. I am mostly uninformed about this subject and so I have little to offer to anyone else. If I recall correctly, the subconscious mind controls the content of the dream, but how does the conscious mind remember the dream later? Perhaps the conscious mind is totally uninvolved when we are actively dreaming, but under certain circumstances the conscious mind becomes aware of the echoes of the dream in short-term memory. For me, the most common circumstance where I remember a dream is when I am awoken during the dream. I rarely, if ever, have any memory of my dreams unless that happens. So, it seems reasonable that short-term memory is shared between the conscious and unconscious. I don't know if that is really how it works, but it prompted another question: what role does the subconscious have in waking me up in response to an external stimulus? I was unable to determine why I had awoken, but it was abrupt, and given that's not normal for me, I think there was some unusual noise or perhaps my wife rolled over or bumped into me or something like that. Was I unable to recall the stimulus because I was asleep and my conscious mind was unaware of it? Sounds reasonable, I guess, but what role does the subconscious play in reacting to that sort of stimulus? Why wasn't the memory of that stimulus available to my conscious mind via short-term memory after I awoke?

I can see it now: my subconscious mind reacts to the stimulus by elbowing the conscious mind in the ribs and saying, you better wake up, but I am not going to tell you why, and don't even look in short-term memory because it's not there! Hah!

That particular night was rare in that after I fell back to sleep I had another dream that I remembered when I woke up. The timing must have been right that I was in the middle of the second dream when my alarm went off. The second dream was quite different from the first. Where the first was mostly realistic except for a corridor that couldn't be real, the second was filled with odd sights and behaviors. It had one thing in common with the first: I was vaguely aware that I was dreaming and not really aloft in a flying car, not pushing trees over with my bare hands, etc.

I wish I remembered more of my dreams. Despite waking up in the middle of the night, then laying awake for a bit thinking about the interrupted dream, I felt very refreshed when I finally woke up for good. I have promised myself a few times that I will do some research to determine how to dream more and remember them better, but somehow that task never rises to the top of the heap of things I have to do or want to do.