The greatest luxury in life is to have the free time to wonder if this life is real.
In college, one of my best friends told me about a particular dream he had that’s always stuck with me. In this dream, he was in a large house filled with all the people he cared about. His family was there. His friends were there, myself included. A man he didn’t know greeted him and told him that he’d never want for anything while he was here. He would be happy forever.
He was also told that it wasn’t his time to be in his house, and that this was just a peek into what waited for him later.
My friend also told me that his girlfriend at the time relayed to him the following morning that he briefly stopped breathing in his sleep at some point during that night. It wasn’t long– maybe a minute– but she was positive he wasn’t breathing during that time.
Did my friend die and see into the afterlife? Was it just a dream his brain created during those moments where it was close to death? Did he even stop breathing, and it was just a very pleasant dream from which he didn’t want to wake?
We talked about that dream a lot, and at the time we both agreed that he had seen the “other side.” We took that dream as assurance a sense of happiness and permanence would be found after life on this plane of existence– everything that truly mattered now will always matter.
Fun fact: his then-girlfriend wasn’t in said house, and they broke up about a year later after she graduated from college and moved away.
His dream has been just as “sticky” in my mind as any of the important dreams I’ve personally experienced. My personal feelings on the true nature of the dream have changed over time, since I’m less inclined to believe there’s an actual spiritual nature to it– a possibility rather than a certainty. There’s one thing of which I’m certain, and that’s the fact that his dream helped cement the idea that dreams, as experiences, are just as important as the experiences we encounter during our waking hours. The fact that they’re constructs of our subconscious doesn’t matter, they’re still a sequence of events that transpire and affect us on some level, and to dismiss them is to dismiss an entire aspect of your life.
That’s where Beautiful Dreamer works best. The cast of Urusei Yatsura are preparing for their school’s festival, and find themselves repeating the day before the festival over and over again. It’s a day filled with excitement and trouble, and it’s also a day where everyone’s together working towards a shared goal. In the end, they discover that they’re in a dream, all of their physical wants and creature comforts are catered to, and they can do as they please without consequence. Many of the characters move into the same house, effectively living in the same sort of place as that from my friend’s dream.
The ultimate truth is that they’re in Lum’s dream, as her ultimate wish is the same as my friend’s– she wishes to spend eternity with those she cares about, enjoying themselves and having fun without any worries. When the movie’s at its best, it’s asking whether this is enough. Is it OK to live an existence that isn’t “real” in the strictest sense, so long as dream is everything you’ve wanted? Is it OK to be cut off from the rest of the world if it means everyone you care about will be happy in perpetuity? As something of a tone poem asking but not answering, Beautiful Dream is just that– beautiful. It’s a koan, asking a question to create contemplation rather than seeking an answer, and it’s that contemplation that I find to be one of the greatest luxuries in life– whether life is life or life is a dream, and whether the question itself is even meaningful.
Where Beautiful Dreamer goes “wrong” is in giving not so much an answer, but an explanation. Everyone is “trapped” in Lum’s dream because of the work of Mujaki, a dream demon whose work is apparently responsible for many of reality’s worst atrocities. He has granted the dreams of many world leaders, and all of those dreams inevitably turn to nightmares of destruction. Mujaki wants to create one last dream– a pure dream in which he can reside and have his own dreams– and that vessel is Lum.
With his existence, the movie doesn’t so much try to answer whether living in a dream is “right,” but it gives everything an explanation that gets in the way of the far more interesting question. They aren’t “trapped,” they’re trapped. This isn’t a dream so much as it is a prison with amenities. We aren’t contemplating the nature of life and death, we’re battling a literal demon. It all leads to a neat moment where Ataru has to choose who he really cares about in order to roust everyone out of the dream prison, but in giving the situation weight it takes away some of its substance.
But hey, this is the second of six movies based on an animated TV sitcom. To even go there in the first place is a bit of a dream in itself.
By the way, at some point in the last year, I finally had (or remembered) a dream very similar to the one my friend described all over 20 years ago. I didn’t want to wake up, but as soon as I made that realization, that’s exactly what I did.