A movie haunted by itself, “The Edge of Dreaming” is understandably urgent, considering it was sparked by a midnight death sentence. You will die when you’re 48, helmer Amy Hardie was told in her sleep, and the questions this provoked — about the meaning of dreams, their effect on waking life and the overlapping nature of the conscious and subconscious — become the fabric of her provocative and, yes, sometimes dreamy docu. Specialized theatrical release is under way, but the significant constituency for anything connected to the subject should ensure the film’s afterlife, educational and otherwise.
Using the camera as a portal into memory, apprehension and, quite often, dread, Hardie, no doubt aware of the presumptions that might be made, sets herself up as an anti-neurotic heroine. She is a happy woman, happy with her marriage (to a psychoanalyst!), her three children, her romantic home in the Scottish highlands (it seems to be of “Braveheart” vintage) and her dog, cat and horse. At first, at least. In a particularly lucid dream depicted here, that horse, named George, makes a cryptic reference to his own demise, and Hardie shortly thereafter finds him dead, in precisely the position the animal described.
While Hardie’s camera does not operate exclusively from her p.o.v., it does for the death of George: She lingers on the dead animal’s face, his quasi-rictus grin and the flies around his eyes, as if she (and by extension the viewer) needs to stare in order to absorb the very fact of death. Result will have some auds turning away, but it gets at the indistinguishable line between dreams and reality, which is shortly thereafter crossed again: Arthur Howes, Hardie’s onetime partner and the father of her eldest child, appears during another nocturnal reverie and informs her of her impending demise. Anyone not feeling a chill should check the thermostat.
Obviously, that prediction didn’t come true; Hardie is still alive when the film ends. But that doesn’t negate the eeriness and fascination of the way her brain is being affected — in the real, physical world — by what’s happening in her sleep. Seemingly healthy, Hardie gets sick: She develops fibrosis in her lungs, which start functioning at only about 60%. The prognosis is not good. Whether dreams are the cause or the manifestation of existing sickness is the question, never answered but intriguingly pursued.
Hardie manipulates her camera artfully, imposing visual effects that suggest dreams. Cameron Duguid’s animation is effective, especially in its efforts to illustrate the complex aspects of brain function, and Gunnar Oskarsson’s sound design reps an eloquent articulation of a mind’s nervous soundtrack.
Still, one of Hardie’s strongest devices is also her simplest — a closeup of the nib of her pen as it scratches across highly textured paper, writing out her thoughts as she speaks them. Since so much of what “The Edge of Dreaming” concerns itself with is like wood smoke drifting across the spare Scottish hills, it feels particularly satisfying to the viewer — as it must have to Hardie — to see something physical and tactile emerge from all the ephemeral issues swirling through this very personal, ultimately transcendent film.