What if you could create your own ideal world to live in? It could be a world of fantasy and wonder, limited only by your imagination. Perhaps it’s a world where you get to enjoy the exciting, adventurous life you’ve always dreamed about. Or maybe it’s just a world of do-overs, in which you don’t lose that golden opportunity to poor choices, or that loved one to cancer, or that lifelong friendship to a hasty, unkind word.

Would you do it? And if so, would that world turn out to be a good thing, or would it be a snare to you and to those around you?

These are the kinds of questions addressed on a TV drama called Reverie, which explores the boundaries between fantasy and reality, as well as the beauty and peril that exists in those often blurry regions.

[Spoiler alert: this article discusses themes, plot and characters from the TV show Reverie. If you’re planning to check out the series, or to get caught up, you might wish to do so before reading further.]

The beauty of imagination

In the show’s storyline, Reverie is an advanced virtual reality program that allows users to enter an artificial dream state and create immersive, complex environments, complete with fully interactive people. The program draws on memories and desires to create worlds that are indistinguishable from reality, much like those experienced in a natural dream. The only difference is that the user remains aware that they’re in a virtual world, and can leave it (and wake up) any time they choose.

The designers of Reverie meant it to be far more than just a high-tech recreational gadget. They saw its immense potential as an educational tool, as a creative outlet, and even as a therapeutic instrument. With the release of an upgrade allowing users to enter each other’s reveries, the program would be able to harness human creativity and imagination not only to benefit individuals, but also to share experiences and build community.

The peril of escapism

But as one might suspect in such a story, something goes wrong. A growing number of users become addicted to Reverie, choosing to remain in their artificial worlds for longer periods, and finally on a permanent basis. In many cases, these individuals are using the program to escape a tragic, broken life. But as a result, their sleeping bodies begin to atrophy, lapsing into comas with the likelihood of imminent death.

Enter Mara Kint, the show’s protagonist, a former hostage negotiator and behavioural expert. Mara is hired by the tech company that created Reverie to enter the virtual worlds of these addicted users and persuade them to return to reality.

There’s an undeniable salvific quality to Mara’s role. In effect, she’s descending into her clients’ flawed worlds – which are killing them – and calling them to wake up (literally and figuratively) to engage with reality, no matter how painful, and to start living their lives to the full. Among her victories, a man devastated by the death of his wife, living in a fantasy where she’s still alive, comes back to his daughter who still needs her dad very much. A ballerina paralysed in an accident, determined to dance in her dreams until she dies, returns to support her sister who’s been diagnosed with MS. And a programmer with severe OCD who can’t leave his house tries vainly to overcome his fear through Reverie, but is guided by Mara back into the real world where he starts to take his first genuine steps toward freedom.

As it turns out, however, Mara has her own tragic past. Her life was shattered when she failed to stop her unstable brother-in-law from shooting her sister and her niece, and finally himself. She took the job rescuing people from Reverie as a means of working through her own grief and sense of failure. Notably, the first episode draws a specific allusion to the Biblical book of Ruth via a character called Naomi, and a comment that Mara’s name means “bitter” in Hebrew.

Finding a proper balance

Despite its sobering subject matter, Reverie (the series) is remarkably hopeful and upbeat in tone. The people trapped in the program aren’t depicted as weak or foolish or irresponsible. Rather they’re sympathetic individuals who’ve succumbed to the common human temptation of trying to escape a difficult life, and they’re saved in the end through Mara’s compassionate intervention.

Likewise, although the show examines the dangers of tech addiction, it’s not meant as a Luddite screed against the supposed evils of technology. Nor is it an ascetic wake-up call to abandon fantasy for reality. In fact, Reverie’s striking visual language provides a subtext that supports the value and power of imagination, when properly approached.

And therein lies one of the program’s more subtle themes, about the proper and improper use of good things, and the possibility of healing and hope even for those who’ve left the former and fallen into the latter.

In this, Reverie echoes the teaching of Scripture: God has given us every good thing to enjoy, and while there’s always the potential for abuse, the response of faith isn’t to “taste not, touch not, handle not,” but rather to enjoy God’s gifts as He intended, with an eye to His goodness and glory (1 Timothy 6:17; Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Human creativity and imagination are among the clearest markers that we’re made in the likeness of an imaginative, creative God who has designed a cosmos full of beauty and wonder. He has placed us in this created order and calls us to engage with reality for our ultimate good, even when we may feel the urge to flee from it.

That is not, however, a call in the opposite direction, to flee our desire for fantasy as if it were only appropriate for children and immature escapists. As C.S. Lewis argued, “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Quite the contrary, when we use the talents and resources God has given us to imagine new worlds and shape our reality, whether for beauty or for benefit, we honour Him and reflect His image in us. In the words of Francis Schaeffer, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

[Note: this article does not constitute an endorsement of the TV series, Reverie, by Focus on the Family Canada. Consult the full review at Plugged In as it becomes available to help you determine whether Reverie is appropriate for you or your family.]

© 2018 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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