Sam Raimi and dream logic

Mr. Improbable and I finally got around to seeing “Drag Me to Hell,” inappropriately enough the night after Rosh Hashanah, but hey, that’s the only time the Brattle was showing it. I am a huge fan of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” series, especially “Evil Dead II.” “Drag Me to Hell” had been heralded as a return on Mr. Raimi’s part to his ultraviolent, comedic, schlock-horror roots, so of course I had to go. (Don’t you bash on my lowbrow tastes — Roger Ebert liked it.)

“Hell” is the story of Christine, a young loan officer (you can tell they really, really wanted Jenna Fischer from “The Office” for this role) who denies an ancient Gypsy woman, Sylvia Ganush, a mortgage extension, and is subsequently cursed. The curse is delivered after an extended fight scene between Pam Christine and Mrs. Ganush in a parking garage. As I’ve mentioned, I’m a self-defense graduate, and I had to appreciate how Christine immediately went into action, fighting with total vigor, commitment, and ingenuity. If I’m ever attacked, I hope my training kicks in like that.

Which it might not, instantly, because in most situations, there’s a moment of disbelief. Most people without serious training — and I don’t mean the kind I got, I mean the kind soldiers get — have a moment of shock when another person aggresses, whether the form of that aggression is a racist joke, a subway grope, or a mugging. Then you sort of “come to” and start fighting, or running, or arguing, or (in the case of the subway grope) grabbing the guy’s hand, holding it up, and saying loudly “Who does this hand belong to? I found it on my butt.” In my life, I’ve only known one person who could go instantly from Suzy Creamcheese to wailing ninja banshee if she had to. Most of us get stopped in our tracks, at least for a crucial few seconds.

Especially — and this is where the “dream logic” part of the headline comes in — if you’re being attacked by a one-eyed Gypsy woman who looks about 110 years old. This is one of the things I love about Sam Raimi’s movies: his characters never pause to think about the sheer improbability of the situations they are in. They just cowboy up and do what needs to be done. Fine, my hand is possessed and trying to beat me to death. Chainsaw time! (The particularly awesome thing is that not only is Ash willing to accept that his hand is trying to kill him, but that it is laughing at him.)

This is how dream logic works. When I was a professor at Emmanuel College, I got to do some work with the distinguished, and very wonderful, J. Allan Hobson on dreams. One of his theories/discoveries is that when we are dreaming, we solve problems pretty much the same way we do when we are awake, with one exception: we don’t question the bizarre. In short, if I were dreaming that my hand were smashing dishes on my head while giggling hysterically, I wouldn’t say, “Hey, wait a minute, it’s not physiologically possible for a hand to manipulate itself in contradiction to the desires of my brain, nor, for that matter, does it have a mouth.” I would, instead, accept the situation as a given and use whatever problem-solving mechanisms come to me most naturally in everyday life.

Have you ever had this experience in a dream? I know I have, although I can’t always remember the details. I do remember a recent dream in which I offered someone sudafed. I am never without sudafed and aspirin in my purse, and will offer them at the drop of a hat to anyone who appears under the weather, so I thought it was really funny that I carry ‘em with me into dreamland as well. Yes, even in the depths of my unconscious mind, I am still a hypochondriac yenta. Good to know.

Now, here’s the cool thing: if you can train your mind to recognize the bizarreness of dream scenarios, but not let that wake you up, you can take control and do lucid dreaming. I’ve managed this once or twice, and let me tell you, lucid dreaming is fun. You can fly or do anything at all!

Have you ever lucid-dreamed? Have you ever solved a problem in a dream in exactly the same way you would have in real life? Have you ever been cursed by an ancient Gypsy woman? Discuss.

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