A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were channel surfing on a Friday night after getting the kids to bed. It wasn’t long before we stumbled onto the 1986 sci-fi thriller Aliens, in which Sigourney Weaver reprises her iconic role as Ripley and battles those nasty, slobbering, big-headed, multiple-jawed xenomorphs.
The movie was almost over, and we watched perhaps the last half an hour or so … on PBS of all places. (As an aside, it’s worth pondering what the world’s come to when an action movie like Aliens turns up on PBS! This isn’t the stuffy, Masterpiece Theater ‘n’ Nova PBS of my childhood, that’s for sure.)
Now, despite the R-rating on this James Cameron-directed actioner, I have to confess I’ve seen it quite a few times over the years. And (apart from some pretty beastly language at points) I’ve always thought it was a spine-tinglingly well-constructed horror-and-sci-fi mash-up. The big mother alien, of course, eventually got what was coming to her. And when she did, we went to bed.
Now fast-forward two weeks. After a particularly stressful day, my wife and I crawled into bed for some much-needed sleep. Except that, well, when my lids finally closed, there were aliens waiting for me in the dark of my dreams.
Lots of them. With their big mouths and big heads and acidic blood. Yuck.
All night long, it seemed, I worked through a nightmare with aliens chasing me. I woke up about 4:30 feeling even more tired from running from and gunning down those nasties, Ripley-style, for what seemed like hours.
Just a nightmare, right? Perhaps a hint that I needed to carve out some better stress relief? Maybe go to the gym more often? Yeah, I probably need to do that.
But I also thought it was a powerful reminder of how images can get lodged in our subconscious—even as adults, and even if we’ve seen them before—and have an influence we wouldn’t have expected. I strongly suspect that if I hadn’t seen that movie a few weeks before, even if I’d still had a nightmare, it likely would have had different subject matter. (Tornadoes are another stress dream I have from time to time, for instance.) It never occurred to me that watching a nearly three-decade-old sci-fi film might still have the ability to lodge in my brain like that.
As a parent, I’m very cognizant of the power images have to influence the quality of my kids’ sleep as well as their thoughts in general. But my unexpected alien nightmare reminded me—in a cold sweat, no less—that images I thought were no big deal might still have more influence that I thought.
And for someone in the line of work I’m in—helping others make wise and discerning media choices—that was a good reminder.