This is a painting with dark brown and orange swirls with sparlking yellow infusions which create an image of a firery path at the right side of the image. It almost makes it seems as though the painting was on fire at the corner while simultaenously seeming as though the light is engulfing the darkness. This image is used to describe the incendiary tone of Beyond The Dream and the surreal way in which delusion warps reality.
Photo: Pawel Czerwinski

It’s incredibly gentle about animating the horror of losing your mind.

Something about the idea of not being able to trust your mind seems absolutely terrifying and the crazy thing is we’ve all understood this phenomenon in some fashion. In some areas our obsession and fear of an unreliable perception is ubiquitous. Maybe you’ve been gaslighted by someone, or a group of people, to disregard something that you knew to be concretely true. Perhaps, it took the form of watching someone you know experiencing it, or you came across this idea while listening/watching a true crime retelling of how an abusive predator was able to connivingly twist a victim’s reality and remove the security of sanity. But all these circumstances reveal just how cherished a sane, reliable mind can be because any other scenario, for someone who take their reality for granted, can be harrowing. So then, how can anyone find a sense of peace in a world that continues to churn on while you sort out your delusions, especially when the delusions inhabit your life? Beyond the Dream is incredibly gentle about animating this horror.

The 2019 romantic film directed by Kiwi Chow, which Chow also cowrote with Chun Wing Tsang is mesmerizing. Chow has already laid the groundwork to be known for this sort of deep dive into heavyweight subjects, since his debut feature film A Complicated Story about a bleak look into surrogacy and how power can muddle the entire process. So, in this way, it’s very obvious that Beyond the Dream would similarly interrogate moral authority and challenge modern standards about how we should govern different spaces. With this vision, Beyond the Dream entangles audiences with Lee Chi Lok’s (Terrance Lau) perception following his recovery from schizophrenia. He’d become so well adjusted he was even able to help his friend Ling following her schizophrenic episode where she was compelled to undress in public as a crowd laughed and mocked her instead of helping her. Except for Lok, only Yan Yan (Cecilia Choi) a beautiful stranger, is willing to help in the scenario. Overtime, we learn that Yan Yan lives in the same building as Lok so, over the course of two months, he builds a passionate relationship with her and they help each other to find a sense of comfort. As their story progresses though, we learn that their sweet romance isn’t as simple as we’d initially been led to believe.

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Beyond the Dream really runs away with you; it is so absorbing and vibrant with warmth because Lok is a sweet character. Despite being in his 20s Lok has never had a girlfriend so his eagerness to experience love with Yan Yan for the first time is just so endearing to watch. He doesn’t really have very much going on except for his positive outlook and routine. Recently orphaned as a result of his mother’s death, his schedule was made simple to sustain him. So, his life was about a series of therapy sessions and work. We don’t really see much else, outside of this rule and he never really examines this routine as hollow until Yan Yan is able to fill his life with a bit of pleasure and joy. But until, the introduction of psychologist Yip Lam who looks eerily like Yan Yan, it’s difficult to understand that Lok is deadened by his mind.

The magnitude of the subject in this film creeps up on you slowly. It’s true, the concept isn’t new, but the fact that Lok’s experience is made strangely immediate was surprising. This film incorporates soft sensory cues to emphasize Lok’s perception and so, it animates a stimulated vision of Lok’s stance to help us understand how one would come to view the world like Lok and then be overwhelmed by it. But the film also does well in exploring the indignity of patient, psychologist relationships, particularly, when boundaries aren’t maintained. Through Yip Nam and Joe (Moon-Yuen Cheung) the film examines negligence and the credibility of health care institutions but also, whether the people who are often given the authority to cure illness have the right to hold the power that they are afforded by their positions.

Even so, the idea of transience pervades Beyond the Dream in such a thoughtful way, it drifts into even minute elements of the film, such that nothing is permanent whether it’s bliss or pain. This idea feels so significant to the story because we spend only a brief moment with Lok and Yan Yan so the film doesn’t exactly attempt to create a full understanding of the schizophrenic experience but it does ask audiences to ride the waves of its imposition so as not to be too firmly rooted in a lazy understanding of what schizophrenia is. Chow does this by showing that in the grand scheme of things, schizophrenia isn’t the same for everyone, that for some, it can make way for a luminous abstraction where anything is possible, even with its apocalyptic potential.

Beyond the Dream is very clear about observing mental health crisis while confronting the truth of how society rejects its new age ideals to accept mental health in all its forms, showing the special sort of disdain that is afforded to more misinterpreted conditions like Schizophrenia. This hypocrisy is captured in the early parts of the film but also in the ways that health professionals interact with Lok. No one trusts his judgment, ever, and when he’s given a voice, it’s mostly to pacify him and although Lok sees this, since he is burdened by his unwillingness to change, he’s left to rely on these professionals, who aren’t entirely reliable, to secure himself. It’s tragic, even though his encounter with Yan Yan shocks him with a different kind of joy, it also pushes him further back into his mundane and pale cycle. But it’s also understandable because Lok’s mistreatment is so subtle and slow to build, as it peaks nearing the end of the film, the call to see him change almost anesthetizes the egregious but causal distress he’s made to experience in his attempt to transform. Upon reflection though, we can only yield to the idea that if your awareness already feels insecure, it doesn’t exactly make sense to entertain a scenario that makes you feel fragile.

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