In Lucid, the feature debut of blind writer/director Adam Morse, an introverted, never-smiling young man (Laurie Calvert) – whose unusual name, Zel, appears to be a play on ‘incel‘ – lives alone in his apartment, inertly and indecisively, playing games and, frankly, not smelling good. Change, however, is on its way. His mother Georgia (Sadie Frost) is cutting off his allowance, he has a new job checking VIPs’ vehicles into a swanky nightclub’s carpark, and while he wordlessly ogles his neighbour Jasmine (Felicity Gilbert), another neighbour, the dressing-gowned American Elliot (Billy Zane), watches him watching, and makes an intervention. Therapist Elliot invites the faltering, diffident youth in and schools him in the use of lucid dream states to rehearse a better life.
It works, up to a point. Zel meets dream girl Jasmine in his dreams, and maybe in real life too. He learns to stand up to his bullying boss Theo (Cristian Solimeno, director of The Glass Man, 2011 and I made this for you, 2018), and to value his co-worker Kat (Sophie Kennedy Clark). Yet Zel runs the risk of following his mentor Elliot’s example and sleepwalking through a life of fantasy rather than embracing the messiness of reality, and by the end we, along with Zel, are left a little confused as to what has really happened. For like the male leads of, e.g., Eraserhead (1977), Barton Fink (1991), Spider (2002), The Zero Theorem (2013), Aloys (2016) and Possum (2018), Zel conforms to the type of the ‘muttering man’, stunted by his own misfit interiority and readily retreating into an oneiric world. Zel’s dreams do give him an inspiring glimpse into an improved self, but they are also, as the film’s title implies, increasingly difficult to distinguish from his waking moments – apart from the fact that they tend to seem more appealing.
As such, Lucid is a film where events are more psychological than physical. Zel’s gradual emergence from crippling shyness is measured as much in his shifting haircut as in anything that he actually does. Like any incel, Zel is looking for reciprocated love, and in the end he finds it – but by then, the actions in his bed might all be in his head.
© Anton Bitel