Few books have changed my life as much as Robert A. Johnson’s Inner Work. In it, Johnson describes a systematic approach to understand the unconscious forces bubbling in our psyches and a way to access them. For an artist, nothing is more important. As I revise the script, I’m seeking to understand the main characters more deeply and since all the characters are a reflection of my own psyche, the key to that process is understanding and communicating with elements of my unconscious that currently remain unseen to my waking self.
Johnson’s system is relatively simple, but profound when applied rightly. First, write down your dream in great detail. Then, identify all the different important symbols of that dream and circle or underline them. Then, create a sort of mindmap for each individual symbol with all the associations that come to mind with regards to that symbol. Next, using your intuition, feel out which interpretation of each individual symbol “feels right” to you, and using those interpretations, write out an analysis of the dream. At the end of the process, you should be startled, shocked or taken aback because the dream should be bringing you information about yourself that you DO NOT ALREADY KNOW. And remember, that when you see yourself in the dream, your own image represents your EGO while the other symbols and people in your dream represent aspects of your psyche that your ego doesn’t want to see.
So, here is a dream I had back in 2006 that was profound for me and important to analyze.
In the dream, I was the adolescent eldest brother in a rural village from long ago. The land was suffering because of a cruel curse. The ravines, which once held rivers that nourished our town and many others, had been replaced by rivers of fire that never burned out. There was a legend that told of a prescription for the current suffering of the people. If a blue horse were to willingly sacrifice itself and walk into the ravine of fires, they would transform once more into flourishing rivers and the townspeople could resume a normal life. However, the people had become so desperate, anxious and terrified of the rivers of fire that they begin to use blue spray paint to coat normal horses, which are then torturously dragged into the rivers of fire, neighing and screaming as they die. Having seen one too many horses die unnaturally, I realize that I am the only one who can find the real blue horse. I say goodbye to my worried family and set out to find it.
In Johnson’s system, I have already performed steps one and two. Step one came with my detailed writing of the dream. Step two came with the bolding of the key symbols and characters in the dream. Step three would involve me listing each of these symbols on a separate piece of paper and brainstorming as to what I associate with each of the bolded symbols. Then, I would “feel out” which association seems correct to this dream and pull together an interpretation. At the end, I should have valuable insight into a new direction for my life or learn something about myself that I didn’t know. If the dream only feels like a confirmation of a value I’m already holding, then I haven’t gone deep enough.
Obviously, this process takes hours for a dream that seemingly touched the psyche for but a moment. But insights from dreams are gold to every artist. Everything we write is some clumsy attempt to synthesize the psyche and create a wholeness out of it. So the deeper we go with our dreams, the deeper and more interesting our screenplay characters.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink, an open source production company. Our filmmaking blog charts the progress of each of our projects. If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).