Friday, February 17, 2012

Unconscious Contact: COMMUNION (1989)

If, as Lao Tzu wrote, "without looking out of their window / one can know the ways of heaven" what if the reverse is also true: without leaving heaven, 'they' can look through our window / and know all things on Earth? Maybe it's true that "the farther one travels / the less one knows." Maybe. And perhaps it's no coincidence that the coming apocalypse of 2012 (note to future ed: if 2012 passes uneventfully, don't remove this sentence) marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Communion, Whitley Strieber's groundbreaking true story novel about his own experiences as an alien abductee. 25 years is a long time. Back then was waaaay before the prevalence of the subject on today's TV cable and internet. There's no sign of it slowing down! But in 1987, our political science major girlfriends called us crackpots just for reading... COMMUNION.

It's not that before Communion there were no such thing as aliens, at least as far as we in 80s suburbia knew, just that there 'real' only in obscure out-of-print 70s paperbacks and Sunn-Schick documentaries full of dodgy pics (mostly cave paintings), unreliable witnesses and flowery tripper double talk. Strieber brought the 20th-century reality of alien abduction into the popular consciousness and, as a fiction writer first and an abductee second, he brought vivid intensity to the 'fictional' or cover memory aspect of the experience. He made the madness of cover memories-- and the traumatizing glimpses of the alien truth behind them-- so tangible it felt like the content of the Stephen King beach read in our laps was leaking down and pooling in our crotches--and it was icy. It froze us from the inside out. To paraphrase Rosemary Woodhouse, is this shit no dream but really happening!?!

That's the wrong phrasing of the question; our need to separate reality and dream may be something 'they' evolved past centuries ago. To reckon properly with Strieber's book, our conception of truth, of reality, of conscious vs. unconscious perception, had to change. We needed to smarten up, to extract ourselves like a clump of hair from the delusional pool filter of Earth's pedestrian orbit. Was that why psychedelics were given to our forefathers in the first place? 

While some abductees say that the 'greys' are living breathing beings, Streiber has always felt they were more like robotic, insectoid puppets usually controlled by some taller single being (or even via remote control, like advanced biomorphic version of Martian land rovers). In the 1989 film adaptation ('highly' recommended albeit not very good) these aliens appear as toys, goblins, balloons, masks within masks, to the point it sometimes frustrating and seems like the filmmaker is taking some free-reign liberties with the source material. But hey--can this oblique crab walk through Medusa's garden be done any other way without going stone blind?  

Even Christopher Walken makes Strieber into a man who doesn't believe his own eyes half the time. As Whit's suconscious starts jerking him around and off the deep end, Walken lets us see the way his patented 'Walken jive' may itself a cover for his own personal/actorly anxiety. The highlight is his triumphant face-to-face/s meeting with the alien intelligence behind all his experiences, a being who chooses to appear to him as--alternately-- a grey, an alien lizard behind a grey mask, and Walken himself (in black eye liner and tux, so we can tell them apart). He's so terrifying and on-point as the alien that you feel the immensity of what's going on and understand why the military keeps it all secret, and why the aliens wipe the encounters from our memory, and why both military and aliens keep the door to the truth unlocked, while slathering the hanle in obfuscation, disinformation, and self-reflexive trickery bear-grease: we may get a glimpse through the crack, some truth folded in with cover memory, but we just.... can't.... get a grip to open wide. 

Hopefully, it's all for a reason, the gradual widening of the human conscious circumference for when the aliens do make themselves known.... in full....

But in going off-topic with the weird cover memories, the film wanders into its own form of disinformation.  The aliens can appears as people either known by the subject or the subject himself, or inanimate objects. Can we even see the aliens as they truly are with our puny earth-made eyes? Communion (and the Jodie Foster movie Contact) think the answer is a profound "no," so they give us replicas and masks to help us cope, the way we might give a dog a rabbit-sized chew toy rather than let him hunt real rabbits that might be rabid. These beings may be part of a reality so far out humanity's ken they can only be gazed it indirectly, like Medusa in a foggy pocket mirror, and that's perhaps why there is no tangible 'evidence' for direct non-classified perusal. The aliens don't want us to see them, and it's as easy for them to avoid leaving evidence of their visit as it is for a scientific expedition to pick up their trash on their way home from the Savannah. They take only tissue samples and leave only transceiver implants (or ear tags).

Below is a slice of the climactic dialog between Streiber and the alien intelligence, which elaborates on this:
Alien / Walken (to Whitley / Walken): I'd like to say a few things. First I'd like to say 'season's greetings'. Then I'd like to say 'keep your hands on the table at all times.' Heh?

Whitley / Walken (to Alien/Walken):  Boo!...Boo. I wanna go home. I'd like to go home. You've broken my mind! I'm gonna kill you. Can we talk this over? I can't wake up. I am the dreamer. You are the dream.

Alien / Walken (to Whitley / Walken): Look. The only thing that really matters here is what I am about to show you.

(The gray alien's face cracks open; it turns out to be a mask with a reptilian face underneath.)
Streiber/Walken: (staring at the face) "That's... not it. I didn't come all this way... for you to tell me that's that what it is. Is there something under that, because I don't believe that one... It's like a box, a Chinese box... You open it, there's another one inside and another one inside and another one inside...(pause, realization) You're not gonna let me see you, are you?"
Alien/Walken: It is just like a Chinese box and you're not going to be allowed to see. Okay? Just to make that clear.

Streiber/Walken: You are not gonna let us see you... That's a good idea.

Walken is talking to himself inside a spaceship near his upstate NY vacation home, but the other self is a version of himself as a razzmatazz Walken alien, wearing eye-liner who presumably is an alien intelligence talking to him in the form of yet another mask, mimicking or repeating all the 'real Whitley' is saying --or has said previously--or would like to say in the moment ("you've broken my mind!"). It becomes difficult to tell which version of him is really the dreamer and which the dreamed and I think that's no accident of bad editing, but rather a point about aliens that is impossible to make in any 'clearer' way. 

The first clear message seems to be that "season's greetings" part: Walken's kinetic hustler delivery brings out the surrealist edges in all their warped definition. I remember not really liking the film too much when I rented it, drunk, a decade or so ago, but it works much better a second time after I've done a lot more research into the issue, because it plays more as a meditation on the trickster nature of the UFO abduction phenomenon rather than a straight horror story like The Fourth Kind (see my 2010 article "Take us to Your Benzos"). It's this trickster / Schrodinger's Cat mythic unknown factor that appeals to me: the importance of having living myths in our culture - conspiracy theories keep humanity sane in the face of this self-splitting equivalent of what the primal scene is to small children --a kind of too much/too soon that needs mythic grounding ("mom and dad were just wrestling') to stop total psychic disintegration. We can examine the alien issue all we want, as long as we don't get our hands on some 'smoking gun' piece of evidence. And even if we do, even if we have such things (and we do, if you care to look at the recovered implants and handprints), we're spared the terrible certainty of this larger truth. We revolve around the gravitational field of some larger evolutionary issue the way curious first graders revolve around the issue of sex. They can ask mom all they want about it (as I used to do) and her duty to her child's healthy development is to neither tell them the truth nor punish them for asking. This nagging question underwrites every child's wonder and pursuit of unknown knowledge. Not telling them the truth keeps them growing and guessing and following clues, letting them ask and kind of encouraging their exploration around the issue, keeps your society growing (when children aren't allowed to ask, your culutre shortly becomes flash-frozen, and--in a few short generations--is like the Amish or Hassidic community or some fringe cult. 

Chris/t Before the Pollock: Worlds within worlds, or just a goddamn mess?

In this way, Communion's use of obvious masks, phoniness and Bugs Bunny-ism is spookily admirable and correct. Instead of a gleaming white light round room, for example, the abductions occur in what looks like an abandoned psych ward hydrotherapy room equipped with that old flood light and fog machine. And why not? If that's what the budget and unconscious of the abductee will allow, let it be so. I also think of the opening scene of Kubrick's Lolita, with Sellers as Quilty trying to spin the situation with murderous Mason into something more cartoonish and hip, and slowly giving in to dread as the previous night's liquor wears off and his evasion tactics fail, one after the other. In Communion's case though, which Strieber is Quilty, and which is Humbert?

If you guessed Strieber is Quilty, you're wrong. If you guessed Strieber is Quilty, you're right. 

Genuine menace, or just another left-over party guest eccentric?

So-- where is the line between hallucination / cover memory and the 'real'? How much of the Whitley Streiber story is "true" in a concrete sense vs. the bleeding of dream reality into the real via a hyperactive pineal gland? What's more real, the top of Mount Everest or the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean? You've never been to either, so what the hell do you know about it? You don't. Only mountain climbing deep sea divers know, and the result is they get the bends. If the rest of us confuse our TV nature show viewings with direct experience of the natural world, why not the reverse? Perhaps our dream lives are the real reality, the only one any self-respecting alien wants to log into. Do sharks dream of being on dry land? Might not aliens look at our waking life the same way we look at the shark's ocean floor? A nice place to scuba dive, but if we want to do some serious marine biology investigation on a shark we have to hoist them onto the boat, as briefly as possible to not suffocate or traumatize them, do some scooped flesh samples, a swab of their cloaca, then tag their dorsal fin and put them back in the water.... which as far as the shark is concerned is like being pulled by aliens into a dream world, the one they get only a glimpse of when they breach the veil to sneak attack seals.

A shark--in sleep paralysis mode--dreaming about small alien bipeds.

The real life Streiber had already written a book made into a movie starring Albert Finney, Wolfen, before being conscious of his alien visitations. And that begs the question: did he write horror because his unconscious knew things his consciousness didn't? As I write this I can feel an alien intelligence looming over my shoulder, but my unconscious could easily be just fucking around and pretending to be an alien intelligence looming over my shoulder. So is the drive to write a way to create a 'cover memory' even as our unconscious-- knowing the whole terrifying truth --only spoon feeds us little tastes of what is really out there/inside us? What if our entire time-space imprisoned notion of three-dimensional truth is just a cover memory for the far ghastlier truth of our multiverse's terrible, inescapable, irreducible` 'eternal now' omnipresence? Is the alien abduction somehow less an intrusion into our reality than a removal of illusion? Do aliens manipulate time as well as space? If so they may abduct a human for years all while he's sleeping or meditating for only a few minutes in our time. And what's the difference between, say, an alien probe scar on the back of one's neck and the sudden manifestation of the stigmata, or the way people die for real when they die in The Matrix?

Can the alien abduction phenomena be separated from their unconscious correlation, and why would we assume an alien would think our conscious mind was the 'real' mind to visit? Why wouldn't an alien prefer to make unconscious contact rather than the conscious variety. My unconscious is far more literate and witty than my conscious one - I'm sure it's a lot better company. How else could it blow my mind every night with crazy dreams? When I try to get involved with my unconscious mind's creative process, my tongue ties almost instantly but if I just get out of my own way, as you may have noticed, I'm a goddamned genius (or rather my unconscious is). I'm its agent/editor, trying to translate its rantings, clipping the more negative tirades and encouraging the poesy, but I can't control the actual ideas and flow (and the negative tirades are all conscious ego in disguise). Surely that unconscious connection is even more true of Walken, who has a rare gift wherein every line he speaks sounds like it's coming straight from his unconscious rather than a script, even when he is clearly reading from cue cards (as on his many SNL appearances).

So while his hipster affectations in this film may bug 'serious' UFO scholars, I think Walken is ideally cast. No one else could so gamely tread the edge of a straight razor, like a dosed Marx Brother, to convey the realization that all the things that happened in his childhood didn't 'happen' but are still happening, now, right in the hypnotist's office, that the African figures on the mantle (below) are simultaneously the greys standing in the distance watching him do the herky-jerky in the grungy space ship. (Look close in the right quadrant of the second picture down).

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but in my own astral travels I've experienced the 'synchronized' reality effect wherein an alien, if it wishes to appear in your room while you're sleeping, would first sneak into your subconscious and influence you to buy a bunch of primitive statues for your nightstand, so it could, in a sense, materialize through your perceptions of an equivalent totem, using the statue as a focus, a stand-in, the way we can use a mirror to comb our hair. You have to ask yourself - why do we want statues of human figures, figurines, representatives of bipedal life forms, scattered around our homes and yards? What purpose do they serve? The answer is a profound this: if the beings incorporate themselves into 3D spacetime via astral projection and corporeal form invasion, what better way to launch monitoring agents into our reality than inspiring us to make humanoid/android forms compatible with their projected energies, so they can beam their intelligence across space into them. If you take our technology for the rover (or say a drone) and mix it with robotic replacement appendage evolution along the lines of Surrogates and there you are, an answer to the extraterrestrial travel argument even Carl Sagan could understand.

While there has been mention in alien abduction lore about cover memories, outside the surrealist movement or David Lynch I can't think of a single 'fact-based' film other than Communion that actually dares to address the line between dreams and reality so head on. It's through these intentionally bizarre creatures, masks, show biz parodies, and roll reversal instances that Communion really comes alive. If you can imagine Christopher Walken playing all the non-dwarf roles in a sequel to Phantasm directed by Dario Argento, Communion is your nightmare. One crazy moment finds Walken investigating strange noises at night, looking in a closet and finding this bug-eyed teddy bear.

It's never spelled out, but there's something not quite right about what that bug eyed bear is doing there, or if it would still be there in the morning or would paralyze him with a nerve wand if he tried to touch it. That's pretty Argento-Phantasm-level stuff. The childhood object you see might in fact be something else in disguise. How else would you know unless you touched it, at which point it would be too late for you to escape it?

Arguments against the validity of alien abduction hinge a lot on the nature of hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and vivid dreaming, but neither the skeptic nor the believer sees the whole picture, the way it's perceived by actual abductees or string theory physicists, or those of us who have truly hallucinated or understood the full terrifying breadth of Jung's collective unconsciousness. The truth is this: both arguments--mere mirage/illusion and 'more real' than reality-- are terrifyingly correct. Dreams are as real as anything else and our five senses are just feelers into the physical realm. We have a whole other feeler, the third eye, which we've been conditioned to ignore by mainstream science, but which also 'hears' and 'feels' and 'sees' in a whole separate way from the external senses, even more vividly.... at times.

This third eye is actually the projected energy of the pineal gland, located in the center of the brain, and it can be felt burning a hole in the middle of your forehead if for example, you drink too much Robitussin or have activated your Kundalini through deep chakra work (or like me, both at the same time :). The pineal gland is where the soul allegedly enters the body on the 22nd day after conception (it's the pine cone the Anunaki are inserting into man's forehead in those old Sumerian etchings... and it's where I would enter if I was an alien on the outside looking in, like someone hacking our cell phone. Who cares if another soul is already in there? You're just passing through. Your unconscious is probably much more welcoming of these spirits than you 'consciously' know. You could be a galactic ambassador while asleep, even if during the day you're just a Bellevue psychiatric ward acid casualty.

Let this idea in and feel the terror of the awful realization of alien immediacy-- its presence beyond its status as real or illusion, its presence in all aspects of our lives, our past, present, future--feel how it brings with it a vivid understanding that everything is connected to everything else on every level--so you can visit the other side of your hand on Mars in 1937 and find your watch inside a Chinese box found on the bottom of the ocean unopened since the Ming Dynasty, and find your grandfather alive in the microscopic villages along the ear hair of your grandson. And the sun is just a reflection of your iris. And without looking out of your door you can know all things on earth and even if you never look farther than your own backyard maybe one day you'll notice that the very farthest reaches of outer space are right at your fingertips and the vacation you will take this summer is being remembered right now in the bathroom you just walked out of twenty years from now.

And the cares of tomorrow / must wait / til this day is done.

 But how do you define a day when you have no Earth to spin?

You guessed, but you done guessed right.

Let the idea of a day as unit of time go....Know that it was only ever just a way to partition the darkness, just a trick to not go insane from the sheer screaming nowness of our psych ward clin.... Shhh, here comes the nurse, I mean muse.


  1. Great post, learned a bit of shit I didn't know! That's what blogging is all about, 4 me atleast. Been revamping my stuff like crazy... I was following your site, but forgot about it till today when i saw it on my dashboard, perfect timing to... My mom and i have been talking about Aliens, she thought she was abducted and implanted and I have so much to unravel for myself there, Thanks for this! Anyways I added you to my side bar,

  2. How cool. I didn't know there was a Communion movie!

    I read the book many years ago, in a trailer next to a lake in the middle of nowhere. At night.

    It caused problems.

    I'm probably going to see the movie now, assuming I can find it. Writer Robert Anton Wilson always seemed to think that if the alien phenomena were real, they are on a psychological level rather than actual space travelers.

  3. Thanks Quark, and thanks Katy, I hear you about the late night jitters. I had a job for awhile checking grain-train cars at a Seattle port around the time the sequel to Communion came out, and I would read it on break in the middle of the night and get super creeped out. I think you're half right on the alien phenomena though, they are both psychological / unconscious projections AND genuinely real and actual space travelers.

    There's no reason why aliens should have the weird dream-waking split that we do, 16 hours awake and 8 asleep - they might be all awake or always asleep / dreaming ... and from their standpoint our dream world/s may look more collective and concrete, more welcoming to a visitation, than our suspicious, overcrowded, noisy waking life. Once you start examining cover memories and the veiled nature of total consciousness vs. repression it's a pretty slippery slope... right into the gaping maw of Lovecraftian madness!

  4. great post erich.... i was looking for the little blue men from both movies and my ideas about communion was zackly as you wrote in your post.... every word you typed was in my head before it was on this post.... so was i dreaming it or did my dream spread into your dreams....the awake asleep thing just gets better each time i think of it.... now im thinking might m.i.b.s also be an unconscious dream thing.... perhaps?

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  6. these thoughts are almost exactly my own, except it is precisely what i wanted to explain in words. after seeing UFOs and having a dreamlike encounter with aliens, i have no idea what to believe. whether it's scary or not, i've learned to ease into just about everything i read and hear. this practice of patience with the mind and to not let it wander off into the deeper recesses, rather to live in the presence of God is something that can only be taught by witnessing a higher power. now those life events are typically human, but what about those that are not of this world? how do we reciprocate that to our own species? i think the idea that being comfortable with explaining your thoughts in a rational way while not jumping to conclusions can help you become a better scientist. and perhaps science isn't doing its job in explaining the spirit realm and the third eye. but still, there's tons of work to be done, and to think this will be the only time you see aliens and witness the beauty of God's presence, would be undeniably false. i believe it comes from a sense of urgency that you wish to create a world where there is no limits to what consciousness perceives. this can be due to the human nature of destruction and chaos entering into our lives. what happens when humans are scarier than the aliens themselves? that's why we need to do the spiritual work and build the metaphorical spiritual armor that propels us into a world where we coexist not just as some mystical dream, but something tangible, something able to be understood. the more we question the fabric of our reality, i believe it changes the way physics operates around us. conscious awareness of the micro can influence the macro, and hence can help us be more calm about processes that require tons of forethought. i think the aliens are here for a good cause in order to safeguard our future from ourselves. in essence, we're always so absolute about what we know, but if any history buff explains to us why we're so stuck in our ways, you'd see that we come from a place of lacking, being alone and scared. this film accentuates that druglike state that we sometimes inhibit, although not all the time. but that wraps us up into a psycho burrito, and can cause us to spiral out of control. let nature do its course and try not to rack your brain on the minutia. get to the bottom of why you think the way you do an try and test it. life is to be explored.


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