Last week, I bought a ticket and drove over to the Dream Reality Cinema, a new self-help solution on the fringes of Beverly Hills, in a space that used to be a small hair salon. It’s not exactly Rodeo Drive, but the lawns are green, the parking enforcement is strict and the nearby restaurants are all more expensive than you’d like.
When I walked in, the receptionist/dream cinema technician led me to the cinema proper: a dark room with two overstuffed, motorized leather chairs, technically called “zero gravity recliners.” I chose the one farther from the door, sat down, took my shoes off, and allowed the motor to recline me flat. The technician put a blanket on me, microfiber and plaid. I was unequivocally comfy.
She gave me a pair of goggles — video goggles, not full surround VR — popped a pair of heavy-duty headphones over my ears, and gave me a little remote, like a small garage door opener, to press when the video finished playing. She asked if I’d prefer a man’s voice or a woman’s voice to guide me through my dream development. I chose the woman’s.
Then it began.
Dream Reality Cinema (DRC) comes from Budapest, where its married inventors, Sándor Lengyel and Dr. Emese Tóth, first established a screening center in 2015. Per their website, the program is based on their 25 years of research in complex systems, cybernetics and sexology. Their L.A. outpost opened earlier this year.
According to the company’s upbeat, Kickstarter-ish video, the practice gives you the ability to “hack the firewall between the subconscious and conscious minds” using lucid dreaming—the technique in which you realize you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming, and can then control what happens in your dreams.
That control, in turn, gives you access to the “morphogenetic field,” DRC’s preferred term for the collective unconscious (a universal substratum of structures and ideas that Carl Jung, the idea’s originator, believed all humans shared), which you can then use as a kind of all-knowing search engine for your life, allowing you to progress to your ideal future. Why not?
According to Dr. Tóth, writing on the DRC blog, both she and her partner “owe most of [their] successes to lucid dreaming,” and can both “dream” while awake. It’s never made quite clear why, precisely, this is a good thing, but the pitch boils down to this: Meditation is hard, lucid dreaming is hard, but both lead to some sort of awesome mental or spiritual powers, and DRC is the fast track to that transcendental awareness.
DRC sessions are $80 a pop (unless you buy their four- or eight-packs of tickets, which come with a bulk discount), and they recommend a program of 10–20 viewings in order to “experience a complete transformation.”
I have never successfully meditated, been hypnotized or experienced much in the way of mindfulness beyond the level of zen needed to turn left across four lanes of traffic while holding a coffee cup and driving a stick, so this passive movie-watching route sounded like a great way to give transcendence a shot.
Plus, dreams are great! I was a little worried that adding lucidity and control to the equation might diminish some of dreaming’s random joy — I dread nothing more than the moment you lose the signal of a great radio station in the middle of nowhere and have to turn to whatever’s on your iPhone to get through — but it might be fun to take credit for all the crazy shit my dream-selves get up to.
As the film began, a slowly rotating 3-D spiral of shiny purplish orbs filled my vision, like a cosmic esophagus slowly swallowing me whole. Soft piano music vamped in a minor key. A soothing female voice began to tell me about the power of dreams, and then instructed me to close my eyes as she counted down from five. I was getting very, very sleepy.
I was hypnotized, and fast. Or something like it, at least. All it took was being asked to relax my body, part by part, from my toes up to my neck, then reopen my eyes, again at the count of five: I was a suggestible, semiconscious shell of a man.
I was instructed to avoid falling all the way asleep, and I mostly managed, hovering instead in that floating threshold before waking. My memories of the next 40 minutes of my journey into the morphogenetic field are hazy, but here’s what I can recall.
The first half-hour was gentle, screen-saver-y, repetitive — in two distinct sections (with a hypnotic interlude in between), a pulsing orb moved around the screen against changing backgrounds. My soothing female voice instructed me in the ways of the life force, the ways in which knowledge is connected, whole systems can be comprehended, all awareness is attainable. At one point, I saw faces in the background grid.
I was aware enough to manage little mental eyebrow-raises at the uninterrupted stream of new-agey noodling, but my body and mind were feeling supremely dope. Somehow, this nonsensical video game tutorial was inducing that feeling of golden total-body tingles you get when you’re almost but not quite woken up from a primo nap.
The third act, though, got weird. Instead of abstract luminous blobs, there were videos: a fish flopping in someone’s hand, cars in traffic, the American flag. Each image went with a strong verb, and my once-soothing voice told me that I flow, I assert, I am strong.
This was a bummer, compared to the dreamier earlier sections, until the piano vamping hit a key change and a sense of total well-being flooded my mind. The voice said love, it said happiness, it said success, it said…. awakening.
Then, the final screen. I was advised to wiggle my fingers and feet for a pleasant exit. “Good morning,” it said. “Sweet dreams.”
I pushed my remote. The technician removed my goggles and headphones. I went, blinking, into the reception area, where I chose one of three types of tea. I felt, to use the language of these types of things, suffused with light. I was smiling with the vacant, uncontrollable intensity of a Lisa Frank dolphin. The golden nap tingles were back.
That night, as I was falling asleep, or maybe hours later, I found myself back in the dream state again, and thought I’d try lucid dreaming. I just thought to myself, “Hey, why don’t I try lucid dreaming?” I was able to make a geometric formation of seagulls warp and disappear in the sky. Baby steps.
I went back the next day. Same time, same sunny sky, same neat little street, though with a better parking spot this time. Same movie, too — the point, according to the website, is the repetition.
This time I was a little sleepier. Afterward, I sat in the back seat of my car, trying to take notes, but found myself staring at the headrest in front of me, gazing into the pattern, absorbed in the magic hour light and the slow breeze on the quiet street. Was I sleeping, or dreaming, with my eyes open?
I certainly didn’t hear any seagulls.
Did it work?
In the only dream I can remember since my second treatment, I was shopping for pants. I had shopped for pants the night of my first treatment, which makes me question the future-orientedness of my connection to the morphogenetic field, but it is not unlikely that I will shop for pants again in the future. It is less likely that there will be a giant version of my little brother demanding the pants, as in my dream, but who can say what the future holds. He could still have a late growth spurt.
I can’t say for sure if Dream Reailty Cinema works, in the largest sense — I have not yet achieved success, nor do I consider my waking life to be a dream-state.
I can’t even say for sure if it works on the lucid dreaming front. The core idea, stripped of hand-waving, seems to be that the DRC puts you into something like the state of consciousness in which we dream. So the more time you spend there, semi-aware, the better you can identify it when it comes at night. But the website says that true lucid dreaming and its attendant benefits only come to advanced students — i.e., those who have shelled out for a $240 eight-pack of sessions and beyond.
I can say, though, that the DRC altered my mind. During the session and for a half hour afterwards, it felt a little like doing whip-its, plus wellness, without all the risk of brain damage.
It felt good, even if, like a dream you try to describe to a friend, it seems to make less and less sense in the telling.