“Don’t you have a dream? Something you’ve always wanted very badly? You can have whatever dream you want…you can have anything you want in the whole universe.” -Vina, “The Cage”, Star Trek: The Original Series
I’ve been clocking in a lot of screen time lately.
Either something has been nagging at my mind or I’ve just been unusually observant lately, but there’s been a recurring theme within the media I’ve been consuming. As Bill Nye would say, let’s consider the following:
- The Mirror of Erised. For those of you who have spent the past two decades (has it really been that long??) of your lives living under a rock (or cupboard under the stairs), the Mirror of Erised is an item of magical quality integral to the plot of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In Dumbledore’s words, the mirror
“…shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”
- The Talosians. Around this same time I was drawn back to marathon re-watching the Star Trek Original Series . Its pilot episode, “The Cage”, deals with a similar situation. The Enterprise crew land on a planet inhabited by the telepathic Talosians that can create virtual realities for people based off their fears, desires, etc. To encourage “prime specimen” Captain Pike to remain with them, they try seducing him with a scene straight from his dreams: a “nice little town with fifty miles of parkland all around it”, his favorite horse as a child, a delicious picnic and a conventionally attractive wife by his side.
- The Witch. I recently went to see Suicide Squad, which, suffice to say, was a blockbuster-hungry film that tried to drown out its own shittiness by blasting cheesy classic rock tunes as loudly as possible. During its most climactic scene, the Witch (played by Cara Delevigine, who-and I love you Cara-should stay away from acting), claims she can grant the remaining Suicide Squad members anything they desire if they choose to join her. Immediately their deepest longings spring to their minds in tear-jerking visions: El Diablo sees his wife and children, alive and well; Harley dreams of domestic bliss with the Joker, etc.
All themes are recycled in art, of course, but this fantasy vs. reality idea stuck in my mind for a while. An idyllic-if illusory-life is always offered by someone dark and sinister, meant to tempt the generally good-hearted but weary protagonist into madness or villainy. And the moral is always the same: it takes courage to turn away from what you know is not real, no matter how much your heart aches for it, and it takes cowardice to give in to the temptation.
In “The Cage”, Pike insists on resisting the illusions the Talosians’ orchestrate, while Vina voluntarily remains behind to live out her life with an image of Pike. In Suicide Squad, everyone appears disappointed when Harley appears to have accepted the Witch’s offer. In Harry Potter, Harry begins visiting the room with the mirror every night until Dumbledore advises him to stop, reminding him that
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
And yet, in a way, most of us do that every day. We daydream through school and work, sometimes even during our times of leisure and recreation. We make Pinterest boards of our dream homes, dream vacation, dream life. We revisit memories and long to live them again. We wish to be other people, we wish to be in other places.
There are two types of wishes, I suppose. The Harry’s and the Ron’s. The Harry’s are the wishes that, sadly, can never come true, things which we have no control over: love, death, sickness, past mistakes. These are the dreams we’d do best to rip into tiny pieces and toss them in the bin. Not an easy task, I’m afraid, but if we work on letting go a little each day, we may one day get to the point where we stop digging through the trash and taping our should’ve’s, could’ve’s, and if only’s back together.
But with the other type of wishes, their is hope. If Ron had only realized it, he would have seen the mirror as a psychological tool, a motivational nudge to pursue his dreams. Ron as Quidditch Captain or Head Boy could have been possible if he had worked through his insecurities better and worked towards his goals. And in the end, he did hold the Quidditch Cup in triumph.
These are the types of dreams we’d do best to focus on, not dwell on, mind you, but think about long enough to write out our game plan, whether it’s in that spiral notebook you hide beneath your mattress or simply in your head. Save up for that plane ticket. Say your sorry to that person from your past. Apply for the job you think you’d never get. Go back to community college and pursue the degree you buried ten years before beneath fears of financial instability.
Break the dream down into doable bits and pieces and work towards them every day. Even if you never reach the end goal, you’ll end up with a lot more than you would have if you never tried. Looking at it that way makes the unattainable idea of happiness seem so much more within our reach.
Because in the words of Captain Pike,
“You either live life, bruises, skinned knees and all or you turn your back on it and start dying.”