This week’s Electric Dream was sprinkled with smatterings of surrealism that had viewers questioning themselves constantly.
The word “surreal” is often chucked about and attributed to anything that seems a bit weird. Many people do not realise that originally, surrealism was a set of ideals focused on achieving a reality “sur” (above) our own. The Channel 4 adaptation certainly opens the door for people to explore these ideals. Focused on blurring the lines between reality and the subconscious world, this week’s episode has a clearer plotline than others seen before it. Stressed cop Sarah (Anna Paquin), tries to recover from being a witness to a massacre. Using hyper-realistic VR headsets, she alters her dreams by going on “vacations”. She is mysteriously linked to George (Terrence Howard), a confused games developer from the past. The setting(s) are two highly technological universes - a stark contrast to the Philip K. Dick original. This episode attempts to query viewers: to what extent is our own reality fabricated?
It’s clear to see that this question and others within the surrealist ideology have an influence on the story. Often they are focused around questioning why reality is structured the way it is. This is something that the TV version is quick to reinforce. Rapid and ambiguously timed cuts help reinforce the idea of a consistent “dream logic” that tear the very fibres of each character’s truth. Another value central to the ideals of surrealism is displayed when George escapes a seemingly impossible situation. George - pushed to a desk awaiting the decapitation of his finger - quickly develops fighting skills. This reminded me of a quote, Breton, the creator of the surrealist manifesto said about dreams:
Kill, fly faster, love to your heart’s content. And if you should die, are you not certain of re-awaking among the dead?
Essentially this quote is exploring the idea that, in dreams, you are free to do what you want. This is what we see George doing in this sequence, he is free to fight. Sure, a lot of films and TV may explore the idea of dreams, without borrowing from the surrealist pool of thinking. But the nuance comes when you consider that this one builds the link between the surrealist perspective because the vacations are catered to your subconscious mind. Much of surrealist ideology is based around releasing this unfiltered, uncensored stream of conscious, into reality and rising above normal reality. Perhaps then, if we consider the ending of the show, she has ascended to a truly surrealist state.
Yet again, the show uses the unconstrained world of sci-fi and to pose ambiguous questions about the human mental condition. Fans will have to wait longer for Channel Four’s next installment. “Human Is” (starring Bryan Cranston) airs on the 29th of October. Until then, I’ll leave you with this famous Philip K. Dick quote:
“Reality is that which refuses to go away when I stop believing in it.”