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Dream of the red turtle

Wild Bunch / Studio Ghibli
A screenshot from the 2016 animated film "The Red Turtle."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The dreams came fast and furious while I was in Washington, D.C. this past week. And the area in and around the Nation’s Capital is where all of this mystery and magic impacting my life truly began. I have noted it multiple times here at Dust Devil Dreams.

Most notably was the dream I had on the first night, while staying in a D.C. hotel near the Potomac River.

It was brief. But in this dream I was looking out onto my front yard, while standing on my porch. It was dark and raining steadily. In the gloom I my eye suddenly saw a very large turtle standing in the yard. The reptile was looking directly at me in a sad-eyed, “turtle” sort of way. But what really startled me was the color of the turtle’s shell – it was red.

And in a dream-instant, the image was gone. But what did it mean, if anything?

In the note I wrote to myself shortly after awaking from the dream, I specifically noted that the red-shelled turtle “frightened me” and was “looking accusingly at me.”

I did a little online research on the meaning of a “red turtle” and found that turtles, specifically, are dream symbols highlighting “wisdom, shelter, longevity, motherhood, fertility, and spiritual development.”

On a dream symbolism site, there was an emphasis on “new opportunities” arising or working at being patient. I admit I am not the most patient person in the world. It’s something I am working on constantly.

And regarding the size of the turtle – it was quite large – it notes that “such a dream signifies overcoming some obstacles and challenges you will face in the near future.” And, as a writer, writing a book is challenging at times. Perhaps it was highlighting that current project.

But what is most interesting is that two years ago, a beautiful, animated film titled The Red Turtle was directed by a Dutch animator named Michael Dudok de Wit and released by Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli. The film is notable in that there is no dialogue and contains ideas that go beyond the everyday. Oh, and until today I had never heard of The Red Turtle. Did not know a thing about it. 

As de Wit told The Verge in September 2016, he had a rough idea of the story he wanted to tell. Inspiration came, as it often does, by being patient - and working with people who care about telling stories rife with philosophical meaning and spiritual depth.

"I needed a mysterious sea creature that gives the impression of being immortal. It's a peaceful animal, non-aggressive, it's solitary, it disappears into infinity, which I find very important in this film. There's something very moving about a turtle leaving where she belongs, the sea, and going on the beach with a lot of effort, digging, laying eggs, filling the pits, and going back."

De Wit tells The Verge twice that the turtle that "infinity" is key. Interesting in that the concept of "infinity" has come up twice in the past week or so - "Beyond the Infinite" in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I saw on the big screen this month with my son. And while watching a trailer for the upcoming Toy Story 4, where Buzz Lightyear is teased for saying his catchphrase "To infinity, and beyond!" and other characters chuckling at that line, since there is nothing "beyond" the infinite." Seems to be a theme - infinity. (Note this 2015 Dust Devil Dreams post for more on that).

Essentially, the film (which I have not seen in its entirety yet) is “archetypal,” in the Jungian sense it would seem (I just read Jung's Man and His Symbols while on this D.C. trip - more on that later), in that it focuses on a young man who is a castaway at sea. He is thrown out of his boat and washes up on the shore of a deserted island. It is there that he encounters a large, red turtle - a creature that changes his life forever. 

Writing a review of The Red Turtle for The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Feb. 22, 2017, writer Mike Scott really liked de Wit’s “rewarding” film, calling it an “allegorical motion poem, a reflection on life, on nature and on mankind’s interactions with it.”

Scott concludes, saying that The Red Turtle – without saying a word – offers much more than the standard animated film. It offers food for thought, cause for contemplation, and an appreciation for the beauty of being.”

At the HarperFish blog, the writer offers up some various interpretations of what The Red Turtle is trying to tell us (some spoilers ahead): “The film’s narrative unfolds as a creation myth, with Eve eventually arising from the red turtle’s shell and giving birth to a son, creating a trinity. This expansion represents the man’s unconscious desire to create. He believed that his true life existed outside of the island, in another place and time, but his spirit conjured up new life from within. The red turtle is his tormentor, and his deliverer.”

And I think that gets back to the issue of patience and not wishing the days away as I try to reach tomorrow, yesterday. In our fast-paced world where results are expected, it is easy to get caught up in the insane pace of it all. But, I am aware that that is not the way life is supposed to be. So, in addition to animal connections in my sync life - owls, flamingos, and now turtles - I am beginning to see this very key link to nature and how we are all part of this circle of life. In our online-high-tech-obsessed world, losing that link to nature is easy to do, sadly. The natural world is speaking to us. And, in my case, in dreams. I am listening.

POSTSCRIPT: As I posted this, the song "Lillian Gish" by Fastball was playing. And the word "dream" was heard as I gazed on the word "dream" on the screen related to this story, a song about a "half-remembered dream, impossible to understand" involving the long-time actress, who had spent time in Oklahoma in the 1910's. "Happiness comes and it goes," the lyrics note. Indeed.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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