The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Question of Death

This is just a personal observation and an expression of what I went through last night, but I feel it relates to survival and what it means to the animal within. There is an outside chance it could help screenwriters with death scenarios and overall character creation. At least that’s what I tell myself to keep from crying. Kidding. I’m OK.

The short of it is that I had a nightmare last night and it really, truly freaked me out in a “I’m never going to visit a slaughterhouse again.” kind of way. It’s the kind of dream that makes you hesitant to go back to sleep in fear that some crooked, bony finger will press the “play” button resuming your paused dream exactly at the moment of terminal fright.*

When you dream, your mind is convinced that what it perceives is real, therefore it's not a huge leap of faith to think that my actions within that world were indeed authentic and valid. I guess this would make more sense if I actually told you the dream. It doesn’t involve clowns or snakes or planes so you can leave your major phobias behind. Most of the details are fuzzy except for the emotion and key actions which I will never forget. There is no backstory that I can remember, so I’m just going to lay it out as I see it in my mind’s eye. It’s a short dream and doesn’t ramble on for untold pages, so don’t think I’m going to narrate from breakfast to bedtime.

I believe I’m in Iraq. Not sure for certain as my dream was lacking in exposition-y dialogue. I don’t know if I was a soldier. I don’t know why I was there or who I was there with. What I do know is that I was charged with leaving the safety of a dwelling to go out and get supplies or something. I guess I got them because I was heading back to the house, package in hand, when things started to get scary.

The scene is a dusty, unpaved road with crude, sandstone homes on either side. Just about everything is a shade of brown or tan. I saw a group of men dressed kind of like soldiers, but they were obviously NOT soldiers of any kind. I’ll call them thugs to be nice. I won’t describe their ethnicity because, honesty, I don’t remember. They exited a vehicle, armed to the teeth, and ran into a house across the street. My only thought is “Get the hell out of here. Now.” So I start to walk and notice that there is another man in front of me who is also trying to get away.

Suddenly I hear a man shout, cock a gun, and tell us not to move. I knew I was in genunie peril. If I run there is a 100% chance I get shot. If I stop there is a 99% chance I get shot. When your life is on the line the choice between zero and one is no choice at all, so I stop and the other guy does the same. He summons us over to him and we wait for the other thugs to get back from whatever misdeeds they were up to in the house.

When the thugs finally emerge from the house their leader, who for some reason I picture as wearing some sort of sash, walks up to our captor and exchanges muffled words with him. Then he takes one look at us and says “Kill them.” Just like that.

To describe the emotion that went through me at that point is near impossible. I don’t know that I have the facilities to express it in any truly accurate way. I felt disbelief, outrage, finality, and terror at the same time. To hear someone announce your death, as you can surely imagine, is among the ugliest and repulsive things one can hear. There is no solace in an afterlife. There is no hoping your life has made a difference. There is only the knowledge that YOU are about to end.

Our captor raises his gun and immediately shoots the man next to me dead. No warning. Dead. I’m sure all of the color drained from my face and my eyes went as wide as saucers at this point. I mean, to shoot me now is too soon. Way too soon. Then I hear the only words that could make the situation worse. “I’m going to kill you slowly.”

He immediately shoots me no less than four times in the legs and chest. I fall over in pain. My breathing is labored. I’m in complete denial of my immanent death. Any onlooker could plainly see I was finished on this Earth.

But I’m not them, and I’m holding on to whatever life I have. I’m going to live! The thug walks up near my head and tells me he wonders if he could shoot me through the top of my head such that the bullet would pass through my body long ways, right down my neck.

My fright is, by this time, completely unchained for I knew that this bullet would kill me. I hear him cock his pistol and I feel the barrel of the gun on the crown on my head. I don’t want him to pull the trigger, but I am completely powerless to affect the outcome. I just want to be back in that dwelling, safe. I may have sobbed, but I don’t remember because in the next instant I find my self awake in my bed, heart pounding. I instantly knew it was a dream as its setting was so outlandish and alien. Fake or not, I was relieved to be out of that world.

The emotion started to drain away, and it wasn’t long before the trauma disappeared. That said, I think the ghosts of this particular dream will haunt me for ages.

What struck me, and continues to amaze me is how much we cling to life. We will lie to ourselves and believe it. We will strive to survive no matter what the prognosis. Sometimes, to the people in peril, there is a staunch denial that death even exists.

A few years back I was in a brutal car accident. So bad that I was flown to a nearby hospital. Hint: when they fly you to a hospital it is because they think you might not make it by ambulance alive. Not for one minute, nay one second, during that ideal (I was awake for ALL of it) did the idea of death cross my mind. I knew I was hurt bad, and that I’d have to get a new car (funny what you think of), but death? Not even.

An animal will chew off its limb to survive. What do you think you would be capable of if the lesser of two options was death? This reason, above all others, is why I could never watch Saw or any of its offspring.

Many movies involve death of some kind. After all, it is an easy start and end to conflict. I think the drowning scene in The Abyss is one of the better scenes where a character faces death. Lindsey elects to drown so that Bud can drag her back to the hatch and possibly revive her. Needless to say she reneges on her choice once she knows the air is gone.

*I'm no girly man. This dream was pure, unadulterated, load in your pants terror.


  • At 10:59 PM, Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said…

    But what about taxes?

  • At 11:14 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said…


    Just kidding. I've been having dreams like that. Usually right after I fall asleep from a long-ass day, then I jump awake or start screaming/mumbling, then my wife beats me with the TV remote.

    But I do love when I realize it's just a dream and am usually pretty good at waking myself up and getting the hell. Out of there.

  • At 10:43 PM, Blogger Julie O. said…

    Maybe the soldier guy was real and you're the dream, Tom.

  • At 12:18 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said…

    If I'm the dream, why am I doing all of this damned paperwork?


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