Film has this amazing intrinsic quality of capturing the imagination. Unraveling our subconscious, and exploring the beauty of interpretation. No film has reminded me of such quality than the recent Netflix addition in Before I Wake. The movie is wonderful, staring Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane as two grieving parents who after the death of their son decide to begin anew by adopting a strange boy played by Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder). The film is truly a magical experience especially when trying to examine the underlining meanings of everything. I will be running through the plot, so spoilers are to be expected, however I intend to do my best to capture the essence of watching this film in reviewing it. All I can say is that this film is in the same vein as other allegorical films, deeply interpretative and abstract such as: mother! (Aronofsky) or Synecdoche, New York (Kaufman). It’s best if you go into this film completely blind, so giving anyone the chance to watch the film now, it’s a real piece of work that’s interesting. However, those who would rather understand the meaning behind the film, let’s begin.

Identify the Themes

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To understand such an elusive narrative, it is important to recognize the over-arching thematic points made. Before I wake has three distinctive themes woven into it’s narrative:

  • abuse and the effects it has
  • Grieving and mourning
  • Dreaming and the subconscious

All three of these exist in an interwoven web, molding into one experience. However, the one we must focus on to understand the narrative is the third, dreaming and the subconscious.

“Freud (1915) emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind, and a primary assumption of Freudian theory is that the unconscious mind governs behavior to a greater degree than people suspect. Indeed, the goal of psychoanalysis is to reveal the use of such defense mechanisms and thus make the unconscious conscious” – Saul Mcleod, Simply Psychology.

This movie is far from perfect, and it relies on a character trope to make sense of it all, the presence of an oracle. Whether from great ancient Greek tragedies or The Matrix Trilogy a common character found in writing is one with a certain degree of clairvoyance. An Oracle character is usually able to discern the reality of the story despite the lack of understanding the other characters and the audience seem to have. An oracle character, intentionally not to reveal to much, are often relegated to minor character status. So, the key to understanding Before I wake, is paying attention to the psychiatrist whom leads the group therapy session.

The psychiatrist is seen in only a couple scenes in the first act, he presidents over the group help meeting which Jessie goes to in order to cope with the loss of her child. The psychiatrist who gives some pretty strange claims about dreams especially lucid dreams and sleep cycles. He states how our dreams can appear real or how:

“our subconscious will figure out a way to process those emotions even if we’re awake a waking dream”

That begs the question: Is the entire movie just a dream, or a representation of someone’s subconscious. This seems to be the true given the “supernatural” elements and the discussion with the psychiatrist. This points to another question… who’s perspective is it?

Whose Perspective is the BIW from?

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From listening to the psychiatrist, I have come up with a bold theory: Only one character truly exists. The movie is all from one consciousness. Crazy, right? But listen to this quote:

“Any dream is really our conversations we are having with ourselves. Every character in your dreams is actually just you. And when we’re trying to bury uncomfortable emotions or ideas we feel threatened sometimes the only outlet they have is our subconscious”

So, if that’s the case, which of the three main characters is the perspective of the movie from. You might be quick to say Cody. Throughout the movie we are constantly bombarded with the notion that Cody has the ability to make his dreams real and that he comes from a line of abused homes. This however is unlikely, it’s very unlikely that a child would comprehend all that this narrative encompasses especially the dissention between the couple. Also, again this psychiatrist character is vital to our comprehension and he states:

“And What else is a child… but our dreams? Our hopes, manifest”

So, children are symbolic of our hopes and additionally our innocence. Which parents is this story being told from, the answer: Mark.

A Troubled Relationship

The film is written and directed by Mike Flanagan, the child is a son rather than a daughter, the film would be more adept to cover the male perspective. However, the indicators aren’t in the semantics but the editing. The editing of two scenes clue us in of the true role of Jessie and Mark play in the narrative. In one shot we see Cody sleeping in which he abruptly wakes up, cut to an identical shot of Mark waking up. Editing them this connection together might be a subtle nod that the two are connected.

We understand Jessie by the editing of her vicious flashbacks of the bathtub. The implication in the film is that she’s reminded of the drowning of Sean but does this bother anyone else? Why does she have such a vivid image of what happened if she wasn’t there to save him when it happened, and how does Sean drown?

“The Question is what are you trying to say to yourself, what unresolved emotions are struggling to get out”

The events portrayed in the film is the subconscious of Mark. Something bad has happened Sean which causes a rift in the couple’s relationship. While I don’t know for a certainty my best theory is that Sean went missing, Jessie would stay up all night waiting for Sean to re-appear. Sean’s body does eventually re-emerge as Sean’s body is found at the bottom of a lake.

Whether it was how Jessie felt or Mark’s subconscious projecting, the film hints at her resenting Mark, as he takes responsibility for it. Jessie completely stricken by grief takes the prescribed sleeping pill and overdoses in the bathtub. Mark is then engulfed by the monster he feels he has become. The Canker Man. There are multiple definitions of Canker but one that makes sense in context:

Canker: infect with a pervasive and corrupting bitterness.

Evidence of Emotion Abuse

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In the early dialogue with the adoption agent, an important piece of dialogue stands out:

“We’re not supposed to have opinions like that, but I do… I’m not saying these things haven’t affected him. He’s guarded, he has sleep issues…He hasn’t let it turn him into a victim. Which made me think of you two”

At this point we’ve already discerned that Cody is an extension of Mark but this early on not being keen to that, we strictly say that this dialogue also pertains to the two of you. It’s all Mark’s fault we’re not supposed to have opinions defending him. The tragic events have indeed affected him, but he hasn’t allowed it to soften him to a victim. We know Mark has taken the brunt of the blame for the child’s death as Jessie says so, she states

“I won’t let you take him [Sean] away from me, again”

The Psychiatrist hints on feelings of subconscious tackling negative emotions especial guilt. Given that Jessie is also just an attachment of Mark she represents his self-loathing, but also his desire to be forgiven by his wife. The dynamic she has is interesting hindering Mark’s ability to move on as she refuses to sell the house, her belittling of the fears of the Canker man equivocating it to a tree branch outside the window. At the same time she wishes Mark would join her at her group sessions. It makes sense that Mark would want to feel wanted, feel like theirs a chance he could be forgive.

Symbols and Dream Interpretations

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The best quality of this film is the extra layers in the dreamlike aspects. The most symbolic element of course being the butterflies. Two things come to mind when considering Butterflies and meaning. The first is the Butterfly effect: the optimism of infinite possibilities and the process of Metamorphosis the nature of evolving and change for the better. In some dream interpretations:

“If you see several butterflies in your dream, then it symbolizes acceptance, growth, inspiration, and freeness” – Dream Moods

The night sequences essential goes to show the aspiration to breed positivity and reclaim his child which again is his dreams, his hopes manifested. Cody’s imagination represents the euphoric charm of Mark’s hopes which have been infected by the presences of the Canker man. Other significant dream interpretations  of possible symbols goes as follows:

Bath tub: a need for self-renewal and escape from everyday problems.

Monster: a monster represents aspects of yourself that you find repulsive and ugly. You may possess some fears or some repressed emotions. Try to confront the monster in your dream and figure out who or what aspect of yourself the monster represents…. To turn into a monster in your dream suggests that you are becoming someone who you are ashamed of or someone who you longer recognized.

Christmas Tree: You may be experiencing some anxieties and stress in your domestic life. It also signifies a passage of time, self-development, and spiritual enlightenment

The Film’s End

So, we’ve created this theory and we’re following along but how does this end, what sort of closure do we get as an audience? Now here’s the thing, if you’ve actually watched the movie you’re reading this and your going “What the Fuck are you talking about?”.  I went and watched 85% of this movie, and was thoroughly impressed by the depth and intricacies of the plot and I haven’t even given props to the director. Let’s look it up on IMDb here it is, Mike Flanagan. What else has he done. Oculus? (not a good movie) Hush ( ICouldn’t get past the first 20 minutes), Ouija: Origin of Evil).

And then it sinks it… It’s all a lie. None of it is true. Remember when I said I was going to capture the essence of watching this film. I thought I was watching something deeply complex but it’s all BULLSHIT! It’s not a world representing a damaged psyche, it’s always just been all about the Canker man… excuse me the Cancer man. The story is nothing more than being about a boy who just happens to have a supernatural ability and his mom had cancer and he projected his fears into a monster. This movie is just a creature movie, my analysis, my theories, my interpretations are all WRONG.

Here’s the trailer that definitively shows the film start as something mesmerizing and thought-provoking and it all just slowly dissolves into the same old shit.

Even the most recent trailer shows how the movie goes from one genre to the next in a jarring way.

I don’t even know how to judge this movie, I truly can’t see past the movie I wanted, the movie I thought I was getting. It’s of course unfair to judge a movie like that. It’s not necessarily a bad film, the acting was good the ideas where all there. It just fails on two fronts It’s a bizarre and not very scary creature flick and it doesn’t produce a sincere film either as it just doesn’t dedicate the crucial final minutes to seal the deal.

I wasn’t kidding about the nature of film and one of the beauties of it is the impeccable abilities to project our own perspectives, our own meaning, and our own expectations. A film truly doesn’t exist in a vacuum but rather the state of either succeeding or underachieving our individual set expectations. Sometimes we just must marvel at our dreams and imaginations and accept that what could have been  and may never be.

I’m not mad just disappointed. It would make me feel better if anyone out there ready would take the time and let me know did you watch Before I Wake, what did you get out of it? Anyone who hasn’t are you also disappointed that my theory ended up kaput or does the movie sound find as is. Have you ever had this experience of a movie failing to take the direction you wanted it to? If so what was it?  As always I appreciate ya stopping by and as always I’ll see you at the movies.

Images are from: Before I Wake [credit: Netflix]

Dreams analysis comes from Dream Moods

15 thoughts on “The True Meaning Behind Netflix Original ‘Before I wake’

  1. This theory is absolutely ridiculous. You went digging for metaphors, buried yourself so deep that you essentially created an entirely different movie in your head, then got disappointed that the film you imagined wasn’t what you got?

    It wasn’t just “a creature movie,” the message was about learning to let go, and understanding how reality can become skewed by our subconscious.

    If you want a movie with a pointless extended metaphor, blowing hot air at you for 90 minutes, go watch the Babadook.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment is so damn accurate, where do I begin. This is almost a self-satirization with how much overthinking was involved. I was prompted to analyze this film as someone told me they had “guessed the twist right away”. After watching the film I thought that I could present my overspeculation as a way to address the two conflicting intentions by presenting the horror aspects as undercutting the psychological drama aspects, as well as prompting thought and discussion about interpretation of film and the concept of “seeing art where it isn’t” and how when watching movies we are influenced by preconceived notions.
      I do enjoy being called out because while I tried to point this out, I was unfair to this film. In retrospect, “a creature movie” is probably a gross oversimplification though I do believe that everything leading up was more so to give backstory to the “creature” than express a message on grief and the subconscious but an interpretation of that is justifiably fair.
      I do thank you for taking the time to comment, and giving your thoughts on the post and the movie. I’m certainly not free of criticism and I’m very aware that the weird angle of this post is definitely one to criticize.


  2. I don’t know where to begin on this. It… sigh. If you had watched the whole movie, maybe you would have caught it, but I’ll take this rationally. Or as much as I can. You can not judge a movie you have not watched all the way through. Sit through a movie before you make your own decisions on it, honey. What you’ve done is essentially watch one video about a surgery and assume you’re a top class surgeon. The point I’m making is, watch a movie all the way through, then work out in your head if you should go spewing pointless words at everyone on the internet for attention. I came to your page hoping for a quality review on my favorite film, and instead… I got run-on sentences, lose points and plots of an entirely different movie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t want to come across as defensive….sigh. However maybe if you read all the way through you may have caught it, where I talk about the theory being completely disproven and the point being to represent how I found the horror to undercut the psychological drama aspect, and ultimately made the story feel shallow existing as an explanation for the Kanker Man rather than exploration the depth of potential provided by the premise.
      I do apologize for disappointing you, never my intention though I guess with the strange approach to discussing this movie I was aware that some wouldn’t be on board. I openly admitted I was unfair to this film and I refused to call it a bad movie as I did enjoy the premise and thought it was visually pleasant that in my subjective opinion didn’t come together the best but I’m glad that it could be enjoyed better by you and many others.
      Thank you for commenting and voicing your disdain and don’t worry I don’t think I’ll be performing surgery anytime soon.


  3. Your version would have been so much better. Instead, what I saw was a boring, decidedly unscary, slooooow movie that had falsely been advertised as horror. The only horror was that I wasted a couple of hours watching it. It went nowhere. Every “scare” was entirely predictable. It was just…bad. I guess I should have expected nothing else from a Netflix movie. I definitely wish they’d made a movie based on your interpretation – if not scary, it would have at least been interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Amy, I’m glad to see you enjoyed my review/weird post on Before I Wake. It’s truly nice to see someone agree with me as my last commenter was not a fan of my off-kiltered approach.

      I thought this was a good film to address how interpretations and reactions to movies are often built on expectations. I agree with you it feel unsatisfactory because it’s not a very scary horror, but it also too basic for a whimsical fantasy piece.

      I’m flattered that you enjoyed my interpretation, maybe not a perfect idea but one that is conceptual fun and engaging. I don’t know, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is the closet thing that I can think of that is a mix of horror with a psychological think piece. If you haven’t checked it out, I would recommend it.


  4. I was enthralled by your review and super bummed when you said it was all BS. Can it just be true?? Really loved your review 🙂 I was deep down the rabbit hole with you. What really happened to all the people at the end though? The husband of Kate Bosworth / the lady that was that guys husband ?… I need answers lol
    I am about to watch “I’m Thinking of Ending things” on your rec

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry about that, but thank you so much. Yes, I’m Thing of Endings is a very unique film that if you’re in the mood for going down the rabbit hole it is very interesting.

      Yeah IDK, it’s been a while but I felt like towards the end it was either the monster got ’em or they’re not important enough to the plot to really say.

      Thank you so much I really loved your comment so I hope you enjoy the recommendation.


  5. I admit I was pretty disappointed by the film too; not because of the script but because of the casting. Kate Bosworth’s acting was very bland – I would’ve preferred Mark (Thomas Jane) being kept alive (Cody and Mark also seemed to have a much better bond as compared to the one with Jessie) and having Jessie killed off. Honestly, your theory is good but too deep for the common audience to understand. For the average viewer, such a script is too complicated to get a grip on, and unless it’s something like Interstellar or Tenet, it’s also useless. I do feel the idea of the film was pretty good, but they could’ve done better by building on the same. However, your theory seems like too much content to take in less than 2 hours.
    Something like the Babadook might satisfy your need for a psycho-horror film, tho.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This movie premise had SO MUCH potential! Ugh. I wish your version were the case! I was still very interested in the dreaming and subconscious, finally.. outside of Freddy.. and all that can come of it! But to just trash the characters at the end, and what.. hope he gets enough power to zap them back home at some point when everybody will just freak out.. just ticks me off?!? I thought maybe when she found them in the Crystallis’ they’d all be there then and be let go but no, the actual monster that was really his mom that was really him actually ate them? I mean seriously?!? Up until the last 10 minutes of this movie, I was so on board and enjoying the new take on the foster kid thing (finally one that isn’t evil)! I find it strange that he was so scarred by this whole deal with his mother at such a young age when it seems like he in fact did not deal with any other abuse than his own head? Also, if we’re pointlessly throwing away characters, what about the whole couple Kate??? And instead of bringing your husband back you just let him stay dead? So weird and a terrible ending for a movie that had such promise! I did notice the edit that showed Mark opening his eyes after Cody’s.. I didn’t go down the whole in depth thing you did but thought they had a connection as they were both silently suffering.. seems at least the parent with the most struggles and/or bond is the one his mind takes like he’s punishing himself to relive his mother being gone over and over. Hope the moms got plans for good dreams every night of the kids life! Too bad they did not take more of a metaphorical route.. would’ve been pretty cool! I do overall like this movie but I’m with you 100% the ending ruined everything! Advice for anyone that has yet to watch is stop it when they pass Cody out in the foster home.. at least then you can keep some cool ideas going in your mind!

    Liked by 1 person

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