In Hustlers, the new movie everyone’s talking about, Constance Wu’s character, a stripper named Destiny, has a dream. I don’t mean a metaphorical one (although she has that too — and it involves crushing the patriarchy and making bank), but a literal reoccurring dream. While under the stress of hustling unwitting men for all they're worth, Destiny keeps dreaming that she’s in the backseat of a driverless speeding car. When she realizes there’s no one in the driver’s seat, she scrambles to get there — but is too late and the car crashes. We see this vividly in one scene as Destiny manages to get to the front and gain control of the wheel, seemingly in the knick of time, but it gets stuck, and she crashes anyway. Yikes.
Turns out, this kind of nightmare is fairly common. It’s featured in psychologist and dream expert Ian Wallace’s book, The Top 100 Dreams: The Dreams That We All Have and What They Really Mean and it’s even in the top ten most common ones. He writes that this dream can mean a few things, depending on what kind of vehicle you’re in, and whether you crash or not. But in general, it represents “your ability to make consistent progress towards a specific objective,” often your career path, he writes.
He notes that a car often represents your personal ambition and drive, while a train or a bus might represent a team you’re part of. He notes that a crash might mean you’re coming in contact with with a conflict — one that’s unavoidable. In waking life, he recommends focusing on areas where you do have control over, but also relaxing your grip in situations where it’s out of your hands. For the record, many people don't believe in the psychology behind dream interpretation — but I am not one of those people.
I was still curious, so I also asked professional dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg to weigh in. “Interestingly enough, this is a common dream when we are ‘coming of age,’ when we are desperately wanting to or are naturally learning to ‘get in the driver's seat’ of life,” she tells Refinery29.
She agrees that not being behind the wheel can be a sign from the subconscious about not feeling or being in control IRL. “The question then becomes: Should I try to steer this situation? Or should I let go,” she says. Although being behind the wheel is generally a good sign, she says that if the car isn’t behaving normally, “that will give you a brutally honest commentary on how well or how poorly you are handling a current situation in your real life.”
She notes that starting in the back seat is an important detail when it comes to Destiny’s dream. While the passenger seat denotes being on the same level as the driver, but being along for the ride, the back seat is a “far inferior place.”
“[It’s] not unlike being an afterthought or being on the back burner,” Loewenberg says. “So for her to start from the back and scramble to the front suggests sincere determination to no longer ‘take a back seat’ to whomever or whatever usually takes precedence as well as the ability to be successful in doing so.”
Loewenberg also offered that it’s possible Destiny feels she must take matters into her own hands – even if she wasn't originally in the position (the backseat) to do so. Loewenberg continues that getting behind the wheel, but not being able to take control “would either reflect her insecurity in being able to handle the task at hand or reflect that the task is very difficult to control.”
“Long story short, I would say this dream suggests” ‘She ain't havin' it,’ Loewenberg quips. “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”