The realm of hallucination in Depp movies.
I was starting to write this article, thinking only of a few specific JD films, that contain somewhat hallucinate material, and then I started to think about it: from the very beginning, h ehas been involved with movies that contain something. From murderous nightmares in A Nighmare on Elm Street, imaginary places like in Finding Neverland, visions and prophecies, like in The Ninth Gate, spiritual journeys in a symbolic environment like in Dead Man
etc. In Don Juan De Marco JDs´ character is thought to be delusional, presenting himself as Don Juan. Or IS he really JUST imagining it? in Sleepy Hollow Ichabod Cranes´ world of sense and logic falls apart in front of supernatural events. Even in Once Upon a Time in Mexico agent Sands experiences a condition close to a delirium or hallucinations. And now we have gotten to Sweeney Todd. Maybe the highlight of all hallucinate moments. Or maybe not…
Anyway, this is not just about hallucinations, but of all the things that change the characters´perception of reality and the feedback they give to it.
Starting from the most innocent case: Benny and Joon
Johnny played the eccentric Sam in this one. Ok, Sam wasn’t exactly hallucinating. It was Joon who was a little off the map. But Sam was living in a world of his own, being so obsessed with silent movie stars, always imitating something… was Sam just putting on a show, or was he just being himself? We can often meet people like Sam in life and never seize to wonder, how things we keep inside, things we push aside, things we are used to think about as un-normal, all fit into their world somehow without any complications. It is like a puzzle that has a certain amount of pieces, but you can still add pieces to it from other puzzles when the picture is done, and it will expand infinitely. Maybe there is a different perception, a different mind pattern, that always has room for a little outrageousness, but that doesn’t mean it is Sam hallucinating….or Joon. If Sam had seen a unicorn he probably would have just lifted his hat and kept on doing his tricks. Nothing is too much of a wonder to Sam.
Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
The last (to our knowledge) part of the Pirates´ adventures conquered our hearts with not only CGI slime, but some great ventures into the world of hallucination. There are actually two different types of hallucinations: ones at the Davy Jones´ Locker and ones that go along Jack everywhere.
To people who have ever gotten lost at sea or spent days on end adrift, hallucinations are no fun game. It is well known that dehydration either on open sea (accompanied by salty environment destroying the skin and eyesight) or in the desert will cause the worst kind of hallucinations. Even the often-joked-about mirages are a dangerous thing. It causes people to go long distances and waste their strenght and will in hope of finding water in an imaginable oasis.
People adrift crave for dry land, they imagine seeing rescue ships and nowadays helicopters, life rafts, but also sea monsters of all kind (and sometimes those end up being too real…). They might also be hearing sounds of their family members and as told, loose sense of pain and let fish chew on their limbs. They surrender…. Well, Jack certainly did not surrender. His mind was trained for such, I guess.
And people in the desert crave for water and shade….
In Jacks´ case, it is a little difficult to determine, what kind of hallucinations he is having. He is in a place reachable by sea, but it is a dry land. He is on a ship, but he cannot get it to sail. He is alone, but he has an imaginable crew, consisting only of himself …..and a couple of domestic animals. Now I wonder, is taht worse even than being alone completely?
In Jacks case, it is impossible to say if he would not be having the hallucinations even without being stuck in the Locker. But then why did they not appear until now? Why was there no sign of them in the first and second film? Well, there was a remark from Mr. Gibbs in The Curse of the Black Pearl, that „a man would go mad from the heat” if marooned on an island like Jack had been, accompanied with a well known hand sign of “screws loose”..
There have been known cases where people rescued from the sea continued to have nightmares and visions even long after their sufferings were over. Admirals and sailors have been wasted by the „sea madness” Especially if they had suffered several head injuries prior to it, like Jacks unfortunate falls in Dead Mans´ Chest.
The other type of Jacks hallucinations are more like advisors, who Jack negotiates with in distress or disbelief. The negotiator kind of hallucinations, voices and characters, are said to be very common to serial killers and all kind of dangerous folks, also soldiers who have been left behind or alone in a difficult battle (and Jack is sort of in a battle, mostly for his independence of everything and everyone else and just getting to be himself, sailing the seas). His hallucinate friends seem to be there to justify his actions and reasoning, just like a killer or a terrorist hears „a voice of god” or other authority say he „kills in the name of truth” or something along those lines. I am just saying it is similar, not that Jack is a crazy killer…or….well, he is a pirate.
Then of course, the weirdest kind of hallucinations Jack has are the ones that are left arguing in the cell of the Flying Dutchman, after the real Jack brakes out of it and escapes. Now, how can it possibly be that a person who is experiencing hallucinations is not even there and the hallucinations become a thing of their own, conversing and walking around like they had come to life? Don´t ask me, I don´t understand that. Sort of similar with the Nightmare on Elm Street aint it – a character brakes free from someones´ dream. I would like to see what will become of them. Maybe the whole 4th part of Pirates could consist of Jacks hallucinations´ adventures around the world.
I was going to say “the good thing about the hallucinations in Pirates, they caused no casualties”…. Hmm. Does shooting your imaginary clone count as one? I am not entirely sure.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
We come to the heavy stuff — the Fear. The question that most bothers me in F&L is were Duke and Gonzo EVER seeing the SAME things? Were any of their hallucinations in this film, based on the even more gonzo book by Hunter S. Thompson, a shared experience? Or is the fact they both had a separate trip, a different collection of mind twisters, actually what made their behavior so bizarre and insane?
A shared hallucination, is that even theoretically possible? Actually, sure. Two people in the desert can see the same mirage, because it is an optical illusion that has scientifically been proved to exist and occur. It is not (well, mostly) just something that they imagine in their head. So it is possible they see it at the same time.
Probably the shared hallucination theory seems familiar to anyone who has read them some classical philosophy, or even the almost-childrens´book Sophies world. We are all hiding in the fur, remember? Our existence is just a dream. Or remember the Matrix? There you go. A shared hallucination, cause if your brain receives impulses of a reality that doesnt exist, is that not hallucination?
When applied together with the mind-blowing influence of dangerous drugs, it is a slightly different matter. There are people who do drugs, and people who would never touch them (as I), so there a firm disbelief, distrust between them (it is either „your word against mine” or „you might just as well be making this up”). A person not on drugs can´t share a drug addicts´ visions, their descriptions of their „trips” are like folk stories of the Loch Ness monster to the majority of people. Rubbish, we would say. Just justifying their homelessness and addiction, we´d say. No matter how many guys go through the experiment of „just trying it in the name of science” or how many musicians and artists find their inspiration in it, the society will still witness it with scepticism. And it has to be forgiven, the conflict is written into the matter.
Actually, Fear and Loathing is not that bad as far as hallucinations go. Some reptiles in the bar and a living carpet pattern, a few morey eels here and there….the worst that happens is Dr. Gonzo waving a kitchen knife at Duke, driven by drug frenzy – but we never really see Gonzos hallucinatons. It is through the eyes of Hunter Thompsons´ alter ego Raoul Duke that we can see the hallucinations visualized – beginning with the bats on the road and finishing so finely off with a made-up adrenochrome madness. Makes you think if it wasn´t really just a dream of that one character, when we don´t see anything of what the other one is seeing; when we only see one point of view. But as you might know, Thompson did turn in 300-pages of notes about his actual Vegas trip so at least we know he WAS there. Although some sources claim he made it all up back in the kitchen of his farm.
Be it one way or another, you know what? It doesn’t really matter, cause that’s not the main issue. As a matter of fact, what the book and the movie suggest, is that the whole american society was living in a shared hallucination, having lost the track of the REAL American Dream, being stuck in some sort of funhouse, and some journalists personal experiments are nothing in comparison to how lost and off-track everybody else was.
Getting a little more dangerous: Secret Window
“YOU stole my story!”
Since it was a poorly made film, I did not quite understand it. The cast just didn´t bring it to me. But obviously, the main storyline was that this writer saw things and people that weren’t there and experienced events that didn´t happen. The whole point was that Mort Rainey was experiencing a rather fatal and severe hallucination and in the end, although the viewer finds out what REALLY happened, Mort keeps on living in sort of a different reality.
Definitely lethal? The Nightmare on Elm Street.
Horrific dreams, nightmares. Tragic accidents, sicknesses, being trapped somewhere, long journeys, flying, snakes, blades, vehicles, death of family members, all kinds of things, you know what I am talking about. They are sort of like a socially accepted form of hallucinations, they happen without drugs or other stimulants, and everyone has experienced some cold sweat inducing nightmare in their life. How does our brain create such images? Does the influence of television have a part to play? Well, sure. In that sense the death of Johnnys´ character in this film was rather symbolic – he fell asleep watching TV and the bed swallowed him and spat him out as a fountain of blood. Talk about TV giving you sleeping problems… Must have left a trace, now after almost 23 years Johnny has taken on a role where he himself gets to slice people up …in a Victorian time, with no televisions.
There are more and more so called “ sleep clinics” in the world each year, and it seems like insomnia, sleepwalking and nightmares, all kinds of sleeping problems are the actual new epidemic eating our minds and physical strength.
Sleep. A part of everyday life, but through-out history, a thing we spend a third of our lives doing has created many fears and stories of all the things that may “get you” or “take you” while you sleep. An inheritance of when we were cavemen, maybe, sleeping by the fire, hoping it would keep the beasts away? But someone always had to stay awake to keep watch, just in case, just like in Nightmare on Elm Street. And even then you had to fear…. You are defenseless when you sleep. Even a nightmare may hurt you, because when you are dreaming, your brain cannot tell the difference what is real and what is not, it is an inch further from a hallucination, which you MIGHT recognize as false. Unless… you are having a conscious dream. Usually the conscious dream is telling us: “Relax, you are only dreaming.” And then you wake up pretty soon, relieved that it did not REALLY happen. The film toys with the idea that though the conscious state of your sleep you get the opposite message, you actually realize that your dream is all real, that it is a little more thatn just a nightmare and that it will hurt you.
Even that is not a new concept. You know the stories of the Wendigo, the monster that comes from the shadows outside the range of friendly fire, that has long sharp claws and an endless appetite? Sounds like the prototype for Freddie Krueger to me. Wendigo was a creature created by the human fear, and sometimes people claimed to have seen him. Somehow they weren’t told they were just hallucinating. Others believed them, cause the Fear was all around them.
Thing is, if you force yourself to stay awake to avoid seeing nightmares…or meeting a Wendigo, a Freddie, anything, you will most certainly start to hallucinate at some point. Makes me wonder, what was that girl really experiencing. Realistic nightmares, or pure hallucinations? The realm of dreams is better left alone, goodness knows, what may come out of it.
One thing the movie does to a viewer: you are secretly injected with the hope it all was just visualized nightmares, that you were only witnessing the characters dreams. That hope relies on our common sense and that we don’t live in the dark medieval time. We just can´t go along with the idea of nightmares being real and creatures coming to life through them. One thing that may change our views though, are the studies about crimes people commit while sleepwalking and the other hazardous situations a sleepwalker can put his family and all other people in. There is this thing that should prevent us from moving when we are dreaming, so we wouldn’t “act out” what we are experiencing in a dream. But some people don’t have that chemical in their body, they can kick, shout, punch, crawl, walk around, throw things, open the doors and windows, tare down curtains and act every kind of weird, while being actually asleep all the way through. The have been cases where a husband killed his wife, while dreaming that he was defending the house from burglars. The more knowledge we gather about dreams and sleepwalking, the more we are aware of all that can happen, the closer it takes us to being genuinely afraid of nightmares once again.
What does this have to do with hallucinations or any of those things? Maybe it doesn’t. But it does drift into that direction….No! Forget I said that, it has direct connection. Mrs Lovett and Sweeney both let their mind carry them off into a wishful future or situation (think the songs Epiphany and By the sea). Both are so affected by it they can hardly fit the blunt reality into their world, one, that he is not the one in charge of the situation and his killing spree is f***ing with his mind, and the other that Sweeney doesn’t share her dreams and longings. They just cannot see or realize where they are headed. They are blinded by their own personal wishful futures. Sweeney has little room in his head to anything but his revenge. Is that not hallucinating….Maybe not. But it is close. Leading yourself into destruction this way is the same as taking LSD and stepping into an imaginary elevator…..or maybe not. Rats, he said. The dirt of the town….. and getting rid of it. Justifying yourself …reminds me a lot of Raskolnikov in Dostojevkys´ Crime and Punishment. But Sweeney is not given time to repent or confess like Raskolnikov did. The only moment Sweeney comes close to it is when he seems to reach out his neck to Toby, after realizing who the beggar woman really was.
And unlike Raskolnikov, who carefully considered his act and picked out just two people that he thought deserved to die, Sweeney has a hunger and lust for not only justice and revenge, but for releasing his anger and pain on any victims at all. He said we ALL deserve to die. The crime and punishment. It should be called “crime and all its variable, arguable justifications from the beginning of time to the end of our days”
But what is the worst kind of self deception, hallucinations´ little brother? I think it is when you are lied to deliberately and betrayed. Mrs Lovett kept Sweeney in ignorance. She let him believe something that was not real. She told half-truths that are even worse than a real lie. They go deeper and hurt more. They make both sides feel guilty not just one. “I should have seen through it,” one would say….
More about hallucinations. Was Sweeney in a state of affection when he was killing people? It does seem like that….maybe not. It is probably the messiest argument in crime investigation. Is it real, is it enough when psychologist tell the court a person was in a mind-blinding state or having an insanity episode? Does it overshadow peoples´ minds THAT much? Or are they all just using it as an excuse? How can we possibly know, we cannot visualize what goes on in a killers brain, on some screen…..Or maybe we can? Tim did it, he almost did it now….
But, one thing makes the theory fall apart in Sweeneys case. He seemed to be enjoying the killing. And how can you enjoy the “game” and a killing spree, if you are not aware of what you are doing….
In the end, life is just a dream. And we do all deserve to die, just so we can wake up and see It is our natural right to die. It is really the only thing that will end the speculation and suspicions that we are only hallucinating and not living. For that while, buy the ticket, and take the ride. To the movies, to life. Whether they are real or not, it is one hell of a trip.
© Redfox, Tallinn, 2008
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