Cyberpunk Review » Lathe of Heaven

July 1, 2006

Lathe of Heaven

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1980

Directed by: Fred Barzyk & David R. Loxton

Written by: Diane English & Roger Swaybill (script), Ursula K. Le Guin (novel)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • George Orr: Bruce Davison
  • Dr. William Haber: Kevin Conway
  • Heather LeLache: Margaret Avery
  • Rating: 8 out of 10

    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    Overview: Lathe of Heaven is one of the classic SciFi books by Ursula K. Leguin. The 1980 adaptation (unlike the 2002 version) stays pretty faithful to the book, and is a very well done low-budget made-for-TV movie. Unfortunately, the original master was lost, so the DVD transfer was taken from a VCR recording of the 1980 TV broadcast. The quality isn’t great, but the story more than makes up for it. Lathe of Heaven is as symbolic as much as it is a narrative. Overall, the film provides an immersive experience with a truly interesting ending.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    The Story: Thirty years into the future, the world has been decimated by a nuclear holocaust. George Orr (Bruce Davidson), having just been exposed to massive radiation lays dying. Somehow his body is changed, and he has the power to “dream” the world back into existence, just as it was, but without the nuclear holocaust. He forgets that this has occurred and tries to live his life normally, but is continually plagued by dreams that can effect changes in reality. In this dystopic, controlling future, he is forced to undergo psychiatric therapy, and is assigned to Dr. Haber, an expert in dream problems. George is looking for Dr. Haber to “cure” him, but Haber has other ideas.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    Dr. Haber quickly realizes that George is not crazy, but in fact possesses the most powerful gift ever given to man. Haber sees this as an opportunity to reshape the humanity and the world itself to become the ideal place that Man has always intended. Haber, using his dream-enhancement technology, asks George to have an effective dream about removing pollution. George does, but ends up removing all clouds, leaving the earth ever increasingly hot and dry. Haber forces George to dream of a way to cure overpopulation – this results in a plague that kills of 75% of the world’s population. Haber forces George to dream of peace on earth which results in an alien invasion that unites humanity but which can lead to the destruction of the earth itself.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    Even though Haber feigns ignorance of what’s really occurring, George quickly figures out that Haber is using him. Unfortunately, George doesn’t have the force of will to truly confront Haber. Instead, he enlists the services of a lawyer named Heather (Margaret Avery) to help get his psychiatrist changed to someone other than Haber. Unfortunately, when Heather goes to visit a session, it is already too late, as George’s effective dream has just killed off 75% of the world’s population.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    This pattern of George leaving, and returning continues, finally resulting in Haber forcing George to dream of removing racism (which results in everyone becoming gray) – Haber’s real purpose is to capture and duplicate George’s powers through his dream machines. Haber decides that the maladies are caused by inadequacies in George, and that he, an enlightened scientist will be able to have pure dreams that will result in the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, when Haber dreams an effective dream, his results in a dream that will “unmake” reality. Only George can come and try to challenge Haber to a test of wills to bring a semblance of reality back.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    Taosim versus Positivism: Lathe of Heaven sets up a dual between a Taoist philosophy of participation versus a positivistic one. George Orr, representing the Taoist philosophy, is perfectly willing to let the world take its own course. Even though he has the power to change the course of humanity, he prefers to go with the flow, and understands that overt and specific changes to a very complex and interdependent world will result in disaster. Dr. Haber represents the positivist view, and sees technological advancement as the primary means of improving the human condition – moreso, he believes his duty as a scientist is to utilize George’s gift to transform the world for the better. After experiencing a series of continually worse impacts to the world when forcing George to use his power, Haber finally decides the problem is with George’s unconsciousness. It never occurs to him that the real danger is in converting George’s power to a technology that can transform reality.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    Le Guin’s message is clear: incredible power, especially augmented by technology, cannot be used in a simplistic way to transform a reality which is complex and intertwined. Instead, those interested in change must “go with the flow” of reality and change the human condition within the context of there normal interaction. The use of dominating power over nature will result and a dystopic future. This is in fact what Lathe of Heaven portrays.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    Is Lathe of Heaven Cyberpunk? I do agree that Lathe of Heaven at best is a cyberpunk fantasy. I include it here primarily due to the use of technology, invented for the purpose of human betterment, that ends up instead almost destroying humanity. Haber’s dream enhancement technology results in increasing George’s capabilities, and ultimately leads a true cyberpunked future. Human diversity is quashed when everyone left alive (after the plague kills over 75% of the population) turns gray. Individuality is suppressed in an attempt to eliminate conflict. In the end, the message is a similar cyberpunk theme – the use of technology to remake the perfect society results in a dehumanized, sanitized dystopia.


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture


    The Bottom Line: Although low budget, the Lathe of Heaven is effective in transforming a very philosophical book to a motivating film. The dual of Taoism versus positivism is mirrored in the colors, where the Taoist earth tones dual the technological grays and whites. The three leads deliver quality performances, and the story itself is captivating. While some of the FX are suspect, and the quality of the DVD is poor (the original master was lost), Lathe of Heaven is well worth a watch.


    ~See movies similar to this one~


    August 20, 2006

    Ayato said:

    Just watched this, a very interesting movie. Is the newer version any good?

    SFAM said:

    Hi Ayato, I hear the newer version is far worse, actually. It doesn’t adhere to the book and overall seems to have a problematic narrative. I haven’t seen it yet though.

    December 18, 2006

    Erik said:

    Excellent review. Love this movie and hadn’t seen it since it came out in my “youthful days.” But I very much rememembered it, and Iust saw the DVD. I agree with all your comments, including the technical remarks. It seems bizarre that some Joe would toss the original master, doesn’t it? I did a vague review from memory on my blog. Cheers from Detroit!

    January 16, 2007

    SFAM said:

    Hi Erik, thanks for the kind words, and I just checked out your blog. Nice!

    July 22, 2007

    neuroticadivine said:

    In another one of those internet… it’s a small world after all… moments…

    SFAM checked out Erik’s Blog so I wandered over myself… and Erik’s Blog asks… what ever happened to Lisa Bonet?

    The last thing I saw her in, ironically enough… was the very remake of Lathe Of Heaven that Ayako asks about! In fact I only watched it to see her again. She’s just as beautiful as ever.

    Unfortunately this version is indeed seriously lacking as SFAM indicates.

    April 7, 2008

    اياد الفتيح من الجمهوريه اليمنيه said:

    نبحث عن صور لماكين خراطه ومكاين تفريز للبيع

    April 22, 2008

    Anita said:

    I fell in love with this movie when I first saw it (twice) in 1980. When the Internet became available I searched in vain to purchase a copy of the movie from PBS, who aired the program. I was told it was in a vault, forever; never to be sold. I did not give up. Finally, I found a D.J. who was a huge fan of the movie. He had some kind of connections, and had resently received a tremendous amount of email regarding the reproduction and sale of the film.

    Upon receiving my email, he said, “That’s it, I am going to bug PBS until they give in!” After months of waiting, he contacted me and the others who had written, to inform them as to how they could purchase a copy.

    Even though the quality has been lost in the reproduction, I still love the story (and George Orr). It is definately worth watching; great Sci-Fi, in my opinion. (My recent favorite is the “Matrix” trilogy.)

    The remake was a waste of time; it was awful.

    I’ll always love “The Lathe of Heaven” !!!


    July 30, 2008

    Chinese Checkers said:

    Sad to say that Spooky Action has struck out with this particular effort. But they do get a big “E” for effort for trying something new. After having hit a home run with Romulus Linney’s HOLY GHOSTS back in March, I was starting to clock watch seventy minutes into the ninety minute first act of their latest.

    Anita said:

    You must keep in mind that his film was created in 1980; and it is now 2008. That is 28 years ago. Special effects has evolved and created a much higher standard. The “Lathe of Heaven” was up to the standard and capabilities of 1980.

    August 2, 2008

    Burnt_lombard said:

    It was also made for public television. It did a great job with it’s low budget.

    August 7, 2009

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    February 21, 2010

    Tupper Lake said:

    I just watched the DVD, It’s good, Le Guin is a great novelist and this is an okay adaption, intellectual not for the modern action special effects crowd

    November 4, 2010

    TBK said:

    How dare you put spam on you dickhead!

    December 19, 2010

    annonymus is legion said:

    newfags cant find this movie on filestube

    Try Lathe of Heaven 1980 + rmvb + filestube on google

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