The Hemispheres in Cinema
The Hemispheres in Cinema
Some of my favourite sections of TMAHE and TMWT are the discussions of art, and how the hemisphere hypothesis helps us understand aspects of art produced during a psychotic episode or after a LH or RH stroke. If I remember correctly cinema and television is left pretty much untouched in Iain’s works, and given that it is one of the most influential and popular forms of visual art today I think it could be good to discuss the topic of the hemispheres in cinema.
The Nolan Brothers
The film that got me thinking about this topic was ‘Memento’, which I watched for the first time a few weeks ago. In Memento the protagonist has lost his ability to form new memories (‘anterograde amnesia’ – apparently a real condition). Every few minutes he ‘wakes’ up wherever he is, with no knowledge of how he got into his current situation – apart from the fact that his body is covered in tattoos which reveal to him the facts of his life since he lost his ability to form memories. He also carries with him a polaroid camera, and must recreate his life and relationships every few minutes by looking through the snapshots he’s taken so far. This is already very much like some of the RH stroke patients Iain describes in both books; having to figure everything out completely logically, experiencing time as a sequence of still images, living in fragments.
The film also runs backwards and forwards simultaneously – it starts at the end and runs through the ‘snapshots’ of the protagonist’s life to the beginning, these backwards sections are shown in colour. These scenes are interspersed with scenes in black and white, which run forwards relative to each other (if this isn’t clear, somebody made a diagram of this film which I’ve added to the post). This again mirror the left hemisphere worldview; viewing time as a ‘timeline’ that can be jumped around, reversed, split up, etc.
Memento was written and directed by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, who since 2000 have released many films and TV series that play around with time, human identity and the dark side of technology, often in ways that seem (to me) to bring the reality the left-hemisphere experiences on to the screen.
The Prestige (2006)
Another Nolan brothers film, in which a magician in search for the perfect magic trick ends up contacting Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie!) who is attempting to create a teleportation machine. The machine does not work and instead ‘copies’ the object, teleporting one copy some distance away, while the other remains in place. The magician ends up using this device in his shows, and every night he is duplicated – one copy drops below stage to a locked water tank to drown, the other is teleported to the back of the audience to complete the magic trick.
This idea of creating copies of oneself is also reminiscent of some of the patients Iain describes who have schizophrenia/psychotic disorders or right hemisphere damage. It also brings to mind the idea of multiple universes with doppelgangers/copies of oneself living in them, an idea supported by many influential popular physicists.
New technology emerges that allows people to enter other people’s dreams. A specialist team trade in stealing important trade secrets from titans of industry by entering their dreams. They are tasked with suggesting new information to one titan of industry, to do this they need to enter several ‘dream-layers’ deep – go into a dream within a dream within a dream etc, to plant this idea in his subconscious.
The ideas in Inception are clearly inspired by the real world phenomenon of lucid dreams, becoming conscious within a dream and the strange experiences that result. One finds onself able to alter the dream world, though not without limit, and you can encounter autonomous characters within the dream who can be reasoned with. I wrote about this in more detail on the old channel mcgilchrist website, but I believe lucid dreams are an interesting, perhaps helpful, form of dissociation between the conscious, willing, ego and the rest of the psyche (perhaps this maps on to LH – RH communication but who knows). In lucid dreams one often experiences false awakenings – waking up out of a dream into what you expect is the real, waking world, but eventually turns out to be just another dream. This could be where the dream-layers idea in inception comes from.
In any case I do think Inception is insipired by various states of dissociation, and as Iain points out, disccociative disorders are usually caused by relative LH overdrive. The layers of reality idea also seems characteristic of the left hemisphere – a representation within a representation and so on.