Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (Genesis 40) transports me to the fictional Georgia town of Brixton, where the local fortune teller, Annie Wilson (played by Cate Blanchett), finds herself thrown into the middle of murder and mystery as her visions provide clues to the town’s turmoil and tragedy. Billy Bob Thornton based this story on his own mother’s clairvoyance (she had a vision that he would one day act alongside Burt Reynolds, which came to pass when the young Billy Bob landed a part on Evening Shade). His resulting movie, The Gift is riveting and believable, with not a trace of caricature or condescension toward the character of the community psychic, a widow who uses her gifts to keep food on the table, as well as provide meaningful counsel to hurting and broken people. It’s an amazing movie, if you can get past thinking about Keanu Reeves as the Matrix’ Neo.
The Genesis story is equally riveting, with Joseph playing the part of prison psychic, using his clairvoyant skills to interpret dreams and predict the future. Most people who live in the post-modern world of privilege participate in lampooning psychics and seers and card readers, and poking fun at the “poor white trash” who patronize them. But there are those, like Carl Jung, who help us overcome this prejudice, giving credibility and legitimacy to the possibility that dreams can predict or impact the future. Jung himself had a prescient dream foretelling the second world war. So here was Joseph in the pre-modern world, captive in an Egyptian prison, sharing a cell with Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker, both of whom have troubling night dreams. Like Jung’s dream, these servants’ dreams illustrated the axiom, the personal is political, as the inner life of their dream world presaged coming events that would impact the geo-political sphere of the ancient Middle East.
When I look at the details of these dreams and how they are interpreted, it occurs to me that Joseph is part Annie Wilson and part Carl Jung. I might even say he is part Picasso, that his interpretation of the two dreams is cubist, in the way he takes the simple subjects of grapes, bread, and birds, and draws angular lines of a still life revealing liberation for one and death for the other. I would love to have the gift that Joseph had, or Annie Wilson, or Jung, and figure out what the surreal imagery of my own dreams tells me about the larger world in which I live and breathe. Of this I am certain, the inner canvas of our personal dreamworlds is somehow connected to the outer canvas of our communal and political life. Flying, falling, failing to show up for an important test or forgetting to put on pants, being haunted and chased by old nemeses, these are some of the birds and the grapes and the bread most of us encounter in our night dreams. And as we dream, the Pharaohs of our world carry on and families fall into dysfunction; famines happen and economies falter and people are enslaved and struggle for liberation. Meanwhile, I keep holding out hope for Billy Bob’s mother to have a premonition that my novel will one day be made into a movie with her son directing, Robert Duvall and Holly Hunter and Ray McKinnon and Judy Dench acting, and Daniel Lanois providing the soundtrack. That would be a true Gift.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.