Awake. Image Source: NBC via Wiki.
This week, a highly anticipated series begins on American television, entitled Awake (thanks to -J.). The premise is that a man survives a car accident, after which his reality splits in two. He wakes up in one, red-hued reality, and his wife has also survived the car accident but his son has not. He goes to sleep at night, and wakes up in another, green-hued reality, in which his wife died in the accident and his son survived. In each reality, he has a psychiatrist and he works as a police detective solving crimes. Eventually, the details between the two realities begin to overlap. Since this divided virtual dreamscape is the only way the hero can keep his family alive, he does not want his psyche to recover. You can see the trailer for the program, which debuts on NBC on March 1, below the jump.
Awake (full trailer © NBC 2012). Video Source: Youtube.
NBC's decision to have a protagonist who chooses not to distinguish, or can no longer distinguish, between reality and unreality works because the hero appears to be about as rock solid and sane as you can get. Awake nonetheless reflects a slippage, a tenuousness in popular culture, about all available realities. This uncertainty about any reality moves past the Postmodern questioning of objective reality. It bears a Post-Postmodern calling card, that overwhelming de-anchoring of Millennial consciousness.
Image Source: Twin Peaks via Damn Fine Coffee.
Earlier film-makers such as David Lynch have previously explored these issues with highly acclaimed journeys into the subconscious. In a drama like Twin Peaks (1990), however, Lynchian neo-surrealist fantasies and alternate dimension Underworlds retain the counterpoint of a reality that reassuringly still exists. Reality is the place where you can come out of the nightmare and have a piece of cherry pie and a great cup of coffee. Lynch famously refuses to interpret his work to the press, but when an interviewer told him that the nightmarish imagery in his films was seen by some to be evil or immoral, he became upset and agitated. By consistently associating his protagonist with a solid, prosaic scenario, Lynch implied that there was something moral and heroic about the character who could weather the transition from the netherworld to the daily reality, who could travel to the pit of hell and come out again, retaining his sanity and his ability to distinguish between the two worlds.
By contrast, in new Millennial dramas, a Transhumanist ethos obliterates any solid point of reference, be it subjective or objective. This is probably due to the impact of the Internet's virtual worlds on daily life. As a result, the heroes in Millennial dramas - who are often law enforcement officers - are, when compared to Lynch's FBI Agent Dale Cooper, almost unrecognizable.
In a recent interview, Fran Leibowitz has commented that the Internet is just an extension of television. She remarked that when television first appeared, critics believed it would never catch on, because people would be able to see physical reality (the living room, potted plant, wall and window behind the TV) around the screen and would therefore not become engrossed in the television's fantasy world. But she observed that critics did not realize that reality would go inside the TV, and the TV's world would become our reality. This was something Kurt Vonnegut also pondered. And with the rise of the Internet and advancing multimedia virtual entertainment, this is precisely what has happened.
Tension between consciousness and unconsciousness as a mirror of life and death is one of the oldest tropes there is. It is in everything from Sleeping Beauty to Nightmare on Elm Street. But in the past decade, there have been more films and television shows related to these themes than in any other decade in film history. The contrast with other decades is startling. The following list is only a snippet of over one hundred similarly-themed Millennial feature films, and does not include dozens of Millennial short films with identical titles and themes: Waking the Dead (2000); Waking Life (2001); Dead Awake (2001); Awake (2003); Awake (2003); The Waking Dead (2004); Awake (2005); Awake (2005); Wide Awake (2006); Awake (2007); Sleeping and Waking (2009); Dead Awake (2010); Waking Madison (2010); Awake (2010); aWake (2010); Waking Up (2010); Waking (2012). The Awakening is also an extremely common Millennial title; strangely, the last time that title was widely used was at the dawn of the film industry, from 1910 to 1920.
Other films, The Machinist (2004); Just Like Heaven (2005); The Jacket (2005); Shutter Island (2010) and Inception (2010), play on the same idea. All these films from the Millennial decade involve looped consciousness, dreams or nightmares, so that the characters awake into a state of not waking up. Most of these movies about overlapping consciousness and unconsciousness are related to other themes: madness; addiction and drug use; insomnia; anesthesia; and traumatic reactions to accidents, illness, plagues, injuries, death, grief, war, or apocalypses.
These stories are one fictional step away from wakened dead tropes, such as (the always popular) vampires and zombies. AMC has a hit series right now, the zombie Apocalypse drama, The Walking Dead; it is presently the top show on cable television (link) in the United States. The show is based on the intense and violent Image comic book series, which debuted in 2003 and is still running. The comic series is a narrative experiment in how far a hero can be pushed - beyond the limits, beyond all reference points of sanity and stability, in unspeakable conditions - and still be a hero. The irony is that in a world full of zombies, the survivors are the walking dead. Multiversity just defined one of the top moments in the series to be the point at which the central protagonist suddenly realizes that the living, conscious characters are the eponymous 'walking dead' - not the zombies! Even more ironically, the hero starts the entire story at a point of shocked consciousness: he awakens from a coma. This implies that the entire Walking Dead story could in fact be the nightmares of his comatose dream state and he never actually woke up at all.
Walking Dead #24 (Nov. 2005 © Image Comics).
In these dark unrealities, there is no diner where you can shake off the Underworld and come in to have a piece of cherry pie and a great cup of coffee. Robert Kirkman, writer of The Walking Dead comics, claimed that he was not writing for the horror genre. He called his story a "survivalist adventure." In Post-Postmodern Transhumanist dramas, the hero can no longer distinguish between reality and unreality, and any kind of consciousness of that fact has become the survivalist adventure.
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