The Lathe Of Heaven

1979, Movie, NR, 104 mins


Based on Ursula K. Le Guin's novel and made for public television in 1979, this landmark sci-fi picture had been unbroadcast since 1983 when it finally surfaced on video in 2000. Essentially a classy variation on the admonition to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, it was the first original film ever produced for public television and acquired a strong cult following on the basis of a handful of showings. The place is Portland, OR, in "the near future;" the world is overpopulated, polluted and on the road to war. Portland is soaked by a constant, drenching rain. George Orr (Bruce Davison), a 32-year-old troubled by vivid dreams, overdoses on drugs he hopes will suppress them. He's sent to psychiatrist Haber (Kevin Conway), and under the doctor's probing confesses that his dreams are special, "effective" — they come true and change both the present and everyone's memories of the past. Initially skeptical, Haber comes to realize that George is telling the truth, and tries to use his gift "to make the whole world right." But George's dreams are unpredictable things: A dream to end the rain produces scorching sunlight; a dream to abolish overpopulation unleashes a plague; a dream to end racism turns everyone a sickly shade of gray. The title comes from Taoist philosopher Chuang Tse's admonition that "to let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot...will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven," a classy way of saying that there are things man wasn't meant to know. Unlike much current science fiction, it's driven by ideas rather than special effects, and Davison's subtle performance as George, who turns out to be a far tougher character than he at first appears, is a highlight. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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The Lathe Of Heaven
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