The Lathe of Heaven (1980, Fred Barzyk & David Loxton)

“When I say the word Antwerp, you are going to have an effective dream about overpopulation.”

Opens with skinny Bruce Davison (xenophobic senator in X-Men, the original Willard) as George Orr, dreaming an atomic bomb. Takes himself into a psychotherapy clinic because he keeps having “effective” dreams which change reality – and history, so that nobody else remembers the original reality. Instead of focusing on the bomb, he tells them (via b/w flashback) how when he was a kid he kissed his Aunt Ethel, then out of embarrassment, wished her into the cornfield. No, he actually dreamed that she had never lived with him, and died far off in a car crash.

Orr’s case draws the attention of Dr. Haber (Kevin Conway, reminiscent of Oliver Reed), who hooks him up to dream-monitoring machines. It’s not clear if Haber can remember the shifting realities but he seems to believe in Orr’s effective dreams, and starts suggesting topics for him to dream about. He starts with just about the most dangerous subject you can suggest to someone with massive powers to alter reality: overpopulation.

Unsurprisingly, when Orr wakes up, there are considerably fewer people on earth thanks to the plague he dreamed up. Further experiments result in war with aliens, then peace with aliens (earth being colonized), all races being turned gray (no more racism!), not to mention Haber moving from a small office into the massive “Haber Institute”.

Not a bad alien, considering this was PBS’s first original movie:

Davison is nervous and unhappy for most of the movie, but adopts this carefree stance around the psychiatrist, making the exciteable Haber seem like the crazy one by proximity. And Davison turns out happier, hooks up with his lawyer (Margaret Avery, oscar-winning for The Color Purple) while Haber loses his mind trying to fix the world’s problems.

Haber with Avery:

Ursula says in interview that she was skeptical of the book’s filmic possibilities because “nothing happens in it”. On Haber: “He’s not evil. He means well all the way through the book. But he’s doing it wrong.” … “Of course this was a daoist book … Daoism says you do things by not doing things, and all attempt to do and to set things right and make things happen eventually backfires”

Remade with James Caan in the 2000’s. Not many of Le Guin’s stories have made it to the screen – just this and a couple recent adaptations of her dragons-and-sorcerors Earthsea stories. One of the screenwriters went on to create the celebrated hit series Murphy Brown; the other created Porky’s II. The co-directors had previously collaborated on a version of Vonnegut’s Between Time and Timbuktu.