5000 Fingers Of Dr. T. (1953)
This is Dr. Seuss' first live-action movie--filmed with actors rather than animation, but his trademark combination of whimsy and dark themes is easily recognizable. The widowed mother of Bartholomew is determined her son must learn to play the piano. She engages Mr. Terwilliker to supervise endless practice. The waking-life Terwilliker is only mundanely authoritarian and insensitive, but Bartholomew goes to sleep and a dream encompasses most of the duration of the film. The dream Dr. T. is a tyrant with allusions to the Nazis (the film was made right after WWII) but also more generally embodying the terrifying power an unjust adult may easily hold over a child. Sets enhance the effect with impossibly high Bauhaus buildings which Bartholomew must scale on a flimsy ladder to escape music prison. Seuss commented on his use of dreaming in a memo to the film's producer, Stanley Kramer. "The kid, psychologically, is in a box. The dream mechanism takes these elements that are thwarting him and blows them up to gigantic proportions." It's an interesting film and may appeal to older children; young ones could be frightened by much of the content. 89 minutes. Rated G.
The Age of Man (1990)
Zeke Mazur and D Stolzenberg based this film on two dreams Mazur had after reading surrealist Michel Leiris’ autobiography of same title. Mazur narrates in a parody of the serious tone which crime dramas use to assure viewers they are being scrupulously precise —except in this case, all the exact details are of fantastic events. In the first dream, Mazur finds illustrated books by Leiris and Jean Cocteau. A series of images and pseudofacts from these follow until one still “from the rare color films of Cocteau” becomes a moving film of an erotic horror scenario in a jungle. Upon the end of this dream, the film cuts briefly to a documentary of a water processing plant—waking life facts echoing themes in the dream. The second dream links to imagery in the first: the jungle scene has a three headed monster abusing a girl’s navel, the second features a young woman with three navels. The filmmaking is obviously low budget but excellent at capturing the feel of dream imagery. The black and white footage and heavy use of stills are reminiscent of photography of the surrealist period so conjure up the early films of Cocteu or what one imagines Leiris might have produced if he’d illustrated his dream accounts. The mock documentary style is amusingly campy but also makes a point about the subjective reality of dream experience. The film is not commercially available but has occasional showings including at the IASD conference 2006.
Arizona Dream (1994)
Excellent! This is the first English language film by Bosnian director Emir Kustrica (his only other film widely available on video is Time of The Gypsies--also excellent but less directly related to dreams). Johnny Depp is a gamekeeper who counts fish in the NYC harbor until the marriage of his uncle Jerry Lewis to model Paulina draws him back to Arizona, the land of his childhood, and to his uncle's romantic if not mystic version of a Cadillac dealership. At first there are distinct dream sequences in which an Eskimo catches an odd fish with both eyes on the same side of its body, people walk down roads behind door frames, and our hero wakes to realistic scenes in which other people recount their dreams. The eccentric Faye Dunaway shows up to buy a Cadillac. Depp falls in love and begins to help her build the flying machines she dreams of. Gradually the waking/dreaming boundary blurs, Depp begins to recognize animals and other objects from dreams, the improbable flying machines begin to function, and elements from everyone's dreams merge into one consensual surreal reality. I think it has some of the best dream sequences ever filmed. It relies on surrealistic images and odd transitions to convey a compellingly dreamlike tone without any of the special effect of blurring focus or colored lighting used so stereotypically in other films. English language film shot in France. 115 minute version widely available on video; 140 minute director's cut version shows at art houses and campus film series. Rated R.
Johnny Depp; Jerry Lewis (Stars). Emir Kusturica (Director). (1996). Arizona. Warner Studios.
Beyond Dreams Door (1989)
Directed by Jay Woelfel, this low budget horror film has a more inventive script than average and a nice sense of dream imagery, but it’s marred by poor acting. A college student, who has not recalled any dreams since the death of his parents years ago, begins have terrifying chains of false awakenings. He turns to his psychology teacher for advice. At first the professor offers a plausible discussion of how the nightmares might relate to the parents death but soon more supernatural explanations intervene. While real-life dream-sharing often diffuses the terrifying nightmares, “Beyond . . .” plays compellingly with the common fear that to tell them will bring them to life or infect listeners. The simpler nightmare imagery is quite striking--a face speaking out of the ground, a friend’s mother chatting pleasantly while wiping copious blood off her hands. The main demon, however, consists of a laughably cheap costume which Woelfel struggles to shoot mostly in shadow. Overall, the film disappoints, but it has its moments.
A husband and wife team invents a device that can record one person's dreams or fantasies and feed them into another person's brain to experience; the government wants to exploit this for military purposes. Features some good special effects--dream scenes. Probably for sci-fi buffs mostly; not a film that transcends the genre. Stars Natalie Wood in her last role, along with Christopher Walken. 106 minutes. Rated PG.
Christopher Walken; Natalie Wood (Stars). Douglas Trumbull (Director). (2000). Brainstorm. Warner Studios.
Blood Tea and Red String (2006)
Christiane Cesgavske’s one-woman, stop-motion animated feature was 14 years in the making. Painstakingly hand-crafted stuffed animals and dolls move through simple fairy tale sets. Night skies feature pinhole stars; running water is created with lights on cellophane. “Blood Tea . . .” tells of a race of aristocratic velvet-frocked White Mice who commission the "Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak"—rat-like animals with crow's beaks--to construct a female doll. When the compelling porcelain figure is finished, the Creatures fall in love with her and refuse to release her to the equally enamored mice for any amount of gold. The Creatures keep the doll as an obliquely erotic companion and eventually sew a giant egg under her garments. The mice sneak in by night in a carriage pulled by a tortoise and steal her. As they launch into a drunken orgy featuring the title blood tea, the Creatures seek to recover her with the help of a shamanic toad. A spider with an eerie porcelain face helps and hinders each group in turn. The doll-with-egg-in-belly gives birth to a human-faced bluebird. Mice, rats and spider compete for the doll and her exotic child with tragic consequences. “Each man kills the thing he loves” seems to be message of the film. There are specific dream scenes—mostly around hypnotic plants that make travelers sleep—and the whole film had a dream or storybook feel. But it is the childhood nightmare or the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Its magic serves sudden, violent death as often as love or beauty. It’s a tale with childhood’s imagery but not a tale for children. This quirky work is showing initially only at large city art-houses but will probably appear on video. 69 minutes. Unrated.
The City Of Lost Children (1996)
Science fiction based around REM sleep. The villainous Cyclops, a disembodied brain in a vat connected only to one giant eye, looks after a family of defective clones. Each attempt to clone a complete human from the brain has resulted in a flaw in the dreaming process. Six of the clones have severe narcolepsy and are rendered incompetent by dropping into the dream state frequently and unpredictably. The most functional clone is the evil Krank. His defect is that he has no REM sleep and is therefore aging rapidly. His narcoleptic brothers rush to tell him their dreams, while the Cyclops kidnaps children to hook up to an EEG which is supposed to feed dreams into Krank, but instead repeatedly malfunctions giving them fatal nightmares. The heroes are a circus strongman whose little brother is kidnapped by the Cyclops and an army of children he leads to the rescue. The film stars children and is quite evocative of their perspective--the Santa Claus nightmare is a classic. However, this is not a film for children by today's standards. It is right in the tradition of the original Grimm's fairy tales, before they were cleaned up, of fantastically gruesome things out of children's nightmares brought to life. Will adults like it? Maybe, if you appreciate lots of dream sequences and other dramatic imagery. The sets look like a much kinkier version of those of Bat Man and the tone is Peter Pan meets Night of the Living Dead. Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (the same pair who brought you that whimsical cannibalism comedy, Delicatessen). In French with subtitles. 112 minutes. Rated R.
Ron Perlman; Daniel Emilfork (Stars). Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Marc Caro (Directors). (1999). The City of Lost Children. Columbia/Tristar Studios.
The Clockmaker's Dream (1904)
The Clockmaker's Dream (1904), The Astronomer's Dream (1899), and Dream of the Enchanted Forest (1900) by special effects pioneer Georges Méliès are three of the best of a vast number of shorts made at the turn of the last century using dreams to showcase multiple exposures, fades, and dissolves. In the former, the protagonist falls asleep and three women appear and teach him how to make different fantastic clocks. In the second, an astronomer dozes in his observatory and the moon eats his telescope. He tries to retaliate and eventually the moon eats him, too, chewing him up into little pieces and spitting him out to reassemble for more adventures. In the third, a sultan dreams of an imp who he chastises until he turns into Mephistopheles (a popular character in many of these films). Similar shorts by other directors use the formula of dreams of various professions. In Artist's Dream (1898), the title character awakens to find the beautiful woman he's embracing turning into his landlady demanding the rent. In the identically titled Artist's Dream (1900, Mephistopheles brings pictures on the wall to life and the artist interacts with each in turn. In The Cavalier's Dream, Mephistopheles taunts the title character with sumptuous meals which disappear. Many of these shorts present dreams as straightforward wish fulfillment. In Let Me Dream Again (1900), a festively costumed man and woman drink, play, smoke, and cuddle. Suddenly they both awaken, homely and depressed in an obviously loveless bed together. The Legend of Rip Van Winkle (1905) is based loosely on the Washington Irving story. Rip Van Winkle falls asleep and meets a mountain spirit, who transforms himself into a huge snake, and then into three more spirits.
These shorts have been difficult to find for decades, but I’m writing about them now because their copyrights are expiring and they are appearing on YouTube.com and sites more specifically dedicated to film archival. All of them seem more interested in dreams as a plot device than in capturing the essence of the dream state, but some depict the incorporation of real sensory stimuli or the confusion upon awakening nicely. It’s worth watching a few just for their place in the history of dreams in film.
The Clocks Were Striking 13 (1993)
The set for The Dream Institute of Technology almost makes this short film worth seeing. At ground level, visitors are greeted by a marble statue of the god Hypnos and an elegant library full of leather-bound dream volumes. In the dingy basement below, a barracks style sleep lab contains rows of sleepers, their EEG leads hooked to every sleep researcher's ultimate fantasy machine--a video monitor that displays the dreams in progress. The scientists are evil, the plot is stupid, and the acting is amateurish, but an avid dream enthusiast might get a chuckle out of the whole tableau. This film shows in short film festivals, not available on video. Starring Matt Malloy and directed by Virginia Robertson. 15 minutes. Not rated but content is PG range.
Dead Of Night (1946)
A classic British horror film centering around dreams, especially clairvoyant dreams. An architect is awakened and summoned to a house party where he has the feeling he has met everyone before in a recurring dream. Each of the guests proceeds to tell their most memorable dream. Eventually, in a turn of events I won't describe as it would spoil the suspense, these dreams are woven ingeniously as the day residue for yet another dream. Special effects used for dreams were crude in this era, but some of the ideas are clever. There is an especially interesting analogy about the memory for a dream being like a flash of lightening in that it is intensely vivid but the duration is not long enough for everything to be clear. Be careful not to confuse it with either of two unrelated American films by the same name: a 1972 release about a Vietnam War casualty or a 1987 one about a woman disfigured by her abusive lover who uses voodoo to restore her looks. 102 minutes. Not rated.
Michael Redgrave; Sally Ann Howes; Basil Radford (Stars). Dan Curtis (Director). (1994). Dead of Night. Republic Studios.
Deadly Dreams (1988)
In this grade-B science fiction flick, Lloyd Bridges plays a scientist who has made the discovery that DNA can be changed inside a living person during dreaming. In his own dreams, he is beaten up for discovering this way of manipulating people. When he awakens, he finds the scars from the dream beating to be real. Nevertheless, he eagerly applies the discovery for an incoherent assortment of nefarious purposes. Numerous other films such as Dreamscape have played with this mad-scientist-uses-dreams-to-influence-reality plot better. Also starring Janet Leigh as the gratuitous love interest and directed by Alf Kjellin who has made better films. 73 minutes. Rated R.
Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (made 1977, released 2004; NOT the same film as Death Bed 2002)
The backstory is more interesting than the film itself. Screenwriter/Director George Barry dreamed the title villain. He woke up and wrote a script about a demon who fell in love with a mortal. The demon constructed an ornate canopied bed with which to woo her, but when he succeeded, their unnatural coupling killed the mortal. The heartbroken demon’s spirit retreated into the bed which her parents took along with her body back to the ancestral family estate. A century later, passersby happen upon the abandoned mansion and sleep on the canopied antique. The sentient demon-bed manipulates their dreams for a night or two and then gobbles them up. Unable to decide if this is a horror film or comedy, it also downs some Pepto Bismal one victim has left on the night-table. The dream of the woman in the main couple who eventually do battle with the bulimic-demon-bed achieves a nightmarish effect by substituting a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach for the standard US variety. Scenes of actors and objects sucked into the digestive fluids of the bed’s interior are effectively dreamlike for low budget effects. However, mostly the film consists of leaden acting and children’s Halloween props. After Barry completed the film, he circulated a rough cut to studios and got no takers. Twenty-five years later, while surfing the internet, he stumbled upon a cult following of his never-released film. It had been pirated in England, New Zealand and Australia and (with subtitling) Spain. The first authorized dvd was released in the US in 2004 by Cult Epics label. Fans of Plan 9 from Outer Space or Trolls II are the audience for Bed . . .
Donnie Darko (2001)
First-time director Richard Kelly tells the story of suburban teen Donnie whose already disturbed psyche takes a sicker twist when an airplane’s engine crashes into his (unoccupied) bedroom. Jake Gyllenhaal (October Sky, The Good Girl) plays Donnie. Real-life sibling Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary) is his annoyingly well-adjusted sister Elizabeth. The film opens with Donnie sleepwalking across a moonlit golf course and awakening there the next morning. Gyllenhaal artfully combines panicky confusion and attempts at adolescent nonchalance throughout his descent into madness. From the external perspective, Donnie is merely a sleepwalker, but gradually the film lets us experience his subjective reality presided over by Frank, a six-foot rabbit who summons him first in dreams, and later awake. Though Frank is obviously an actor in cheap rayon fake-fur, he’s terrifying beyond what most filmmakers achieve with state of the art make-up and special effects. This is no Harvey or Easter Bunny. Frank’s glassy insect eyes bulge and his skeletal snout leers from beneath soft, stuffed ears. Late in the film when Donnie asks, "Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?" we're so caught up in the films eerie perspective that Frank’s retort makes chilling sense. "Why do you wear that stupid man suit?" The terrifying intensity of Donnie’s dreams and visions is contrasted with the banality of life at home and school- artfully making his psychotic perspective more real than ordinary reality. Donnie doesn't quite fit any real DSM category—REM behavior disorder combined with schizophrenia would come the closest. However, the film does capture a rich variety of the subjective aspects of psychosis—horror, alienation, manic amusement, and grandiosity at being let in on secrets of the universe by a giant rabbit. Darko was slated for release in the fall of 2001, but after 9/11, no theaters were willing to show dark comedies about airplane parts crashing into buildings. It went straight from film festivals to video. Now it’s establishing itself as a midnight cult film—the new millennium’s answer to Rocky Horror or Harold and Maude. 113 minutes. Rated R (Presumably warning against realistic teen sex and language, but it’s that demonic bunny I'd keep my kids away from.)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Star). Richard Kelly (Director). (2003). Donnie Darko. Twentieth Century Fox Home Video.
Dorme (2006) French director Sylvia Binsfeld directed, wrote and co-starred in this beautiful short in which a little boy dreams of an adventure across the Milky Way, through moonlit seas, past wizards with sleep potions to his grandmothers’ house and then back to bed. Binsfeld utilizes computer effects to get surreally vivid stars, lanterns, and fireflies against the night sky. Much of the imagery is stereotypic of childhood magic but some is authentically dreamlike. A toy boat the boy has put afloat in the water transforms into a real one with him sitting in it. Later his mother dives into the water by the boat and transforms first into a mermaid and then into a 5-foot goldfish.
This played at many festivals and is available on DVD from Dream Weaver Films. 7 minutes
“The Dream” (2008)
Korean with English subtitles. Jin awakes from a dream in which he caused a traffic accident to find that such an accident has actually taken place in the street outside. The at-fault driver has fled, but police suspect a woman named Ran. Ran’s alibi is that she was at home asleep through the time of the accident. We see more of Jin’s dreams, however, and watch Ran sleepwalk in correspondence to their content, eventually bringing the two characters together. The plot is implausible and the characters flat, but Korean director Kim Ki-duk brings a lively aesthetic sensibility to the cinematography. The artfulness of both general events and the dream scenes elevate it above what the equivalent American sci-fi flick would do with the theme.
Dream Lover (1986)
(Not to be confused with a 1994 film by the same name but unrelated to nocturnal dreaming.) A young woman suffering from a post-traumatic recurring nightmare goes to a sleep lab where she learns to alter the content of the dream and to wake herself up when she wishes. Then it takes a sci-fi turn as mechanisms for breeching REM paralysis are introduced and terror spills over into the waking world. Although plot and especially dialogue are weak at times, the sleep physiology and dream control techniques are well done. Since all males in the dreams are potential rapists and the woman hardly enjoys her nightmares, the origin of the title remains elusive. It would fit DREAMS COME TRUE's plot much better. Good film; not for children, but older ones may enjoy it. 104 minutes. Rated R.
Kristy McNichol; Ben Masters (Stars). Alan J. Pakula (Director). (1993). Dream Lover. Warner Home Video.
Alice Hargrove, Lewis Carrol's inspiration for "Alice in Wonderland," reminisces about her childhood. The surreal sequences, often involving Wonderland characters, are actually presented as waking fantasies but are very dreamlike. 94 minutes. Rated PG.
Dreamland Express (1995) Britain's David Anderson combines live action, xerography, model animation, laser xerography, cel animation, pixelation and photographic animation into a unique surrealistic form of dream depiction. This short has been showing at animation festivals and is available on video along with "Deadtime Stories for Big Folk" and "In the Time of Angels"- two of his other short animation features that also contain surreal dreamlike imagery, although they are not as explicitly about dreams.
(Don't confuse with Ingmar Bergman's earlier film of the same name which is good, but unrelated to nocturnal dreaming) Director Akira Kurosawa dramatizes a series of dreams of his own on film. They range from childhood dreams featuring animals and fantasy characters to a general's PTSD nightmare in which his killed-in action platoon comes marching back to him to an old man's ruminations on mortality. They range in quality, but overall the film is very artistically done and a visual feast. 119 minutes. Rated PG.
Akira Terao; Mitsuko Baisho (Stars). Akira Kurosawa; Ishiro Honda (Directors). (2003). Dreams. Warner Home Video.
Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious (2010)
This documentary, directed by Roko Belic (Genghis Blues), was produced specifically to accompany the DVD release of Inception. It has some characteristics of the “Making of. . .” features found on many DVDs but distinguishes itself by focusing on the role dreams in the film and explores relevant psychological research. It utilizes interviews with a number of IASDers including Stephen LaBerge, Jayne Gackenbach, Allan Hobson, and myself. These are interspersed with scenes from the film, backstage looks at how dream effects were produced, and director Christopher Nolan and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt discussing how their own dreams informed the film. There are also typical dreamers recounting dreams and dream art representations interspersed. “. . . Subconscious” doesn’t go much beyond what would be in a television special on dreaming by way of general information, but it explores lucid dreaming in more depth. Comes with the Blu-ray disc/ DVD combo pack for Inception.
Blu Ray: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page. 147 minutes, rated PG-13. Warner Brothers. (2010) Inception
Dreams Come True (1984)
A young couple learn how to get "out-of-body" at night and enjoy astral love while their bodies sleep. Mediocre film. Dir: Max Kalmanocwicz. On video,but hard to find. Rated R.
Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947)
The first feature-length, avant-garde film produced in America arguably boasts the most impressive collection of artistic talent ever to collaborate on one project. Hans Richter is nominally listed as the coordinating director, but the film's dream sequences were directed by six leading visual artists who also designed the sets for their own pieces. Paul Bowles wrote the dialogue and a young John Cage composed the score. The unifying plot device is that a struggling artist discovers he can look in someone's eyes and cause them to sink into a deep sleep in which they will have a "big" dream. He leases an office; fills it with a couch, surrealistic art, and a bust of Morpheus; and goes into private practice. Clients come in one door from the waking world/waiting room; periodically they or he opens the other door which leads into a void, seemingly representing the unconscious or source of dream images where an overwhelming barrage of bizarre scenes, emotions, and interactions are all happening at once. The best dream sequence is the opening one by Max Ernst which appears to be based on the same dream as his painting, Girl Menaced by a Nightingale, which those of you who took ASD's guided tour of MOMA at last summer's conference saw. The dream's feel of perfectly ordinary objects being unbearably sinister is only partially achievable on canvas but is more powerfully reproduced in the moving, changing media of film. Without modern special effects, it is more impressive that Ernst used choreography, sleight of hand, and surrealistic sets to capture the dreamlike quality of content and transitions. There is a scene in which red velvet curtains behind a woman suddenly become her dress that feels exactly like the film-goer is dreaming. Ernst was obviously an astute observer of what qualities go into making an experience oneiric. The only other artist's sequence which tries for a realistic recreation of a night-time dream is Richter's in which a man stops himself from committing a murder but nevertheless finds a bloody knife in his hand. It generates more and more blood as he tries to clean it. When he grabs people imploring them to help, their limbs fall off where he touches them. One's body opens up to reveal a Magritte-style bird cage as his mid-section. Richter masterfully captures the growing chaotic horror of a nightmare. None of the other five sequences achieves this level of dream-like representation. Most of them use the metaphor of a dream as artistic license to comment on things other than the nocturnal. Marcel Duchamps' sequence is a gangster trying to incubate a precognitive dream about the outcome of a horse race. The protagonist instead has delicate, poetic visions trying to lead him away from his current lifestyle. He responds to these by shooting and wounding our dream-therapist for perceived malpractice. Alexander Calder's sequence contains two short dreams. One is artistic photography of his famous mobiles in motion; the other is of his less familiar mechanized circus figures, ingeniously made of everyday objects. Man Ray's dream is of a film audience compelled to act out everything which the central character in the film does. In Fernand Leger's, we watch a mannequin manufactured, dressed, wigged and eventually married to a "graduate of Yale" narrated by a hilarious doggerel song poking fun at relationship norms of that time. This film is not available on video, but is certainly worth watching for as it plays revival houses and university series on surrealism. 16mm format. 80 minutes.
When a doctor teaches a young psychic how to enter other people's dreams in order to cure their nightmares, someone else wants to use this technique for evil purposes. The plot is silly and a much better version of it appeared in the 1981 novel Death By Dreaming which is not credited. However, stars Dennis Quaid and Max von Sydow do their best with the material and the dream sequences which occupy half the movie have powerful images and use special effects well to simulate the dream world. 99 minutes. Rated PG13.
Dennis Quaid; Max von Sydow (Stars). Joseph Ruben (Director). (2001). Dreamscape. Image Entertainment.
The Dreamstone (1990)
Originally shown as a children’s cartoon series on BBC television in 1969, Dreamstone was released in 1990 with all 13 episodes as a feature length film. The animated fantasy takes place on a planet visible only to those who believe in it. On the light side lies the Land of Dreams and on the dark side is the Land of Nightmares. The white magician Dreammaker possesses the Dreamstone which he uses to send good dreams to people each night. He is aided by the Wats, who fly on leaves and by his pet dogfish Albert—a creature he saw swimming through the air in a dream and liked so much he brought him back to the real world. In each episode, the giant monster Zordrak, Lord of Nightmares plots a scheme to steal the Dreamstone so that he can turn everyone’s dreams into nightmares. He renders his henchmen invisible in one, he turns his throne into a flying machine in another, and finally he tries kidnapping Albert so he can't interfere. The graphics are simple and bold and the theme song if performed by the London Philharmonic. Dream-logic is handled nicely. Young children should enjoy most of the content except that The Dreamstone is more violent than some cartoons. Minor characters are killed in most episodes; some especially unfortunate Wats are devoured by Frazznats, Zordrak-allies who resemble a cross between a Venus flytrap and a shark. Good Times Entertainment. 130 minutes.
The Edge of Dreaming (2009)
Director Amy Hardie was already in planning stage for a documentary about death when she dreamed that her beloved horse was dying. The image was so vivid that she went to the pasture to check and found him dead . A few days later, she dreamed that her deceased ex-partner told her Hardie herself would die the following year. This film is an exploration of whether this dream was precognitive (an obvious spoiler was that Hardie was doing Q &A’s with the film’s tour), and it focuses on dreams even more than on death. We see Hardie’s psychoanalyst husband encouraging her to take the dream metaphorically. But she develops a lung ailment which pushes her further toward a literal interpretation.
In addition to her personal story, Hardie interviews medical and psychological experts. I’m very interested in problem solving dreams, so my favorite footage was stem cell biologist Irving Weissman opining that dreams show us ways to adapt to waking reality. He tells a story of how he dreamed of doing a dance he’d never done and awoke knowing the moves. Mark Solms also appears on camera explaining his own dream theory. Toward the end of “Edge . . “, events speed up but grow vaguer. Hardie implies she consulted a number of alternative practitioners, but we only hear an account of a small portion of one shamanic ceremony. Hardie’s lung ailment improves but the film is vague about what it as and exactly how much she’s recovered. The ending feels like she’s eager to wrap up; many threads are dropped. Overall, however, it’s intelligent, interesting, and has much stronger visual aesthetics than many documentaries--well worth watching. Screened on PBS’s show ‘Point of View” (POV) and toured theaters with Hardie in attendance. Available on dvd.
The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
By screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malcovitch & Adaptation). In yet another of Kaufman’s fanciful scripts a company, “Lacuna Inc,” has invented a method for erasing all memories of a significant other after the unhappy end of a love affair. The process is an electrically stimulated replaying of memories through one night of sleep in which they are erased. Perhaps Francis Crick would like this concept; it’s certainly counter to recent research on dream content as reflecting information being consolidated into memory. However, the film is not interested in being realistic about the technical details. With Kaufman’s usual goofy, surreal approach to illuminating serious issues, “Sunshine” explores the process of falling in love—and out of it. Its dreams are artful in the way the memories of the ex-lover, current reflections on them, remote childhood experiences, and external room sounds blend into surreal narrative. The film stars Jim Carey and Kate Winslett—the latter especially good in her portrayal of a histrionic, mildly borderline personality and all the charm and pathos that goes with that style of living. Recommend highly. 108 minutes. Rated R.
Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within (2001)
In this computer-animated film, alien "phantoms" have overrun earth. Biologist/heroine Dr. Aki Ross believes her nightmares may enable her to save the planet if only she can interpret them. The dreams feature appropriately oneiric imagery and abrupt scene shifts. The opening one with an extraterrestrial insect dragging Aki through a not-quite-liquid, not-quite-air environment is especially artful. Ironically, the main barrier to the dream scenes feeling completely "dreamlike" is that the rest of the film doesn't resemble waking reality. The images of the apocalyptic earth and transparent phantoms are intentionally wildly surreal and the plot is--presumably unintentionally--disorganized and illogical. The repetitive chase scenes and narrow escapes from phantoms would be excruciatingly dull and silly except that they're supported by the most artistic and sophisticated computer animation of any feature length film to date--and the whole film is somewhat "dreamlike" aside from the specific dream scenes. 106 minutes. Rated PG13.
The Forbidden Room (2015)
directed by Guy Maddin, is dreamlike in ways most films don’t try to be faithful to: there chaotic scene changes, and you never know if a character or plot will pop back up or fade away without resolution. Some storylines don’t get closure, while one subplot concludes neatly but then gets three more surprise endings. Even the opening credits are dreamlike; the fonts constantly change, similarly to the common lucidity prompt of “look away and look back” from text to check if you’re awake. Everything about the look of the film continues to morph throughout. There’s modern-looking footage, but also black and white, sepia, and super-saturated scenes. Sets range from realistic to cartoonish. Sometimes English subtitles duplicate characters speak English; other times, titles appear amid silent action in old boxed style. In yet other scenes, descriptions roll by in Spanish with no translation.
There are dreamlike characters: a banana vampire, a squid thief, body painted female skeletons, and a crooner made up of constantly changing images of dozens of different men. Nightmarish plotlines include a doctor who tries to cure an obsession with bottoms by gruesome open brain surgery in which he must awkwardly lift up the patient’s toupee to perform. Sailors trapped in a sunken submarine with their air supply dwindling are suddenly completely distracted when a woodman walks through one of their portals and they completely shift their attention to his recent adventures with The Red Wolves. There are overt references to dreams; “Dream volcano this is for you,” men chant as they throw random objects into the fiery crater, “fish, fowl, tire.” The Red Wolves kidnap a beautiful singer and hold her in their cave; she escapes them “through the doorway of a dream.”
The premise of “Forbidden Room” is of recovering lost films that range from the sublime (F. W. Murnau’s version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) to the ridiculous (“How to Take a Bath”, by exploitation director Louis Gasnier, who also bought the world “Reefer Madness.”) At his more fanciful, Maddin says he and the cast held séances to "invite the spirit of a lost photoplay to possess us." In practice, he consulted stills and synopses, and wrote a script partially from some of his own dreams when they seemed to relate to the topics. One scene straight out of his dream life is a birthday celebration in which a husband gives his wife all his possessions as birthday gifts and then swaps clothes with their butler who he has just murdered as if this will conceal or ameliorate the act. The film will frustrate anyone looking for conventional plot, but it will delight many dream enthusiasts with its wild ride through the unconscious. A companion piece, Séances, shot at the same time, will be released in 2016 as an interactive online installation: some of the same material will be included, but the effect should be even more chaotic as individual users will general different combinations of visual sequences, plot boxes, and dialogue for thousands of variations.
Goodnight Moon and Other Sleepytime Tales (2000)
Susan Sarandon reads the popular children's story of the same name which describes a baby bunny preparing for bed as animations recreate the charming illustrations of the book. The tale is interspersed with interviews of young children explaining what dreams are and giving advice on issues such as how to handle nightmares. In simple language, the kids encompass the major theories of psychology and philosophy amazingly well. Interviews are unscripted, but were culled from a huge initial pool. Between the narration and interviews, celebrities such as Billy Crystal perform dream-related songs including "Hit the Road to Dreamland" and "There's a Nightmare in My Closet." 30 minutes. Originally made for HBO. Recommend highly for ages 2 1/2 through adults!
The Good Night (2007)
Written and directed by Jake Paltrow, this film stars his sister Gwyneth along with Penelope Cruz, Martin Freeman and Danny Devito. Protagonist Gary (Freeman) is a former keyboardist and composer for a moderately popular band who’s now reduced to writing advertising ditties. He and his long term live-in girlfriend (Paltrow) project their self-criticism and disappointments onto each other. Even though the stale relationship is a Hollywood cliché, the film does an unusually good job of portraying how two decent people, once very much in love, can end up bickering constantly.
The first time we see them settle into bed, Gary falls asleep and dreams of a gorgeous woman (Cruz) who invites him to kiss her. The next night he dreams of her--again she’s fascinated by and attracted to him. These recurring dreams always end prematurely as some real-life noise or light awakens him. Gary goes to a bookstore looking for books which “tell you what your dreams mean” and stumbles upon two about lucid dreaming. He realizes that controlling and prolonging the experiences is what he wants to do--not interpret. Soon he’s in a class with an eccentric lucidity guru (DeVito). The techniques consist mostly of flipping light switches to test reality and looking at your hands to prolong the dream. Gary also begins to cover his bedroom walls with sound-and light-proofing and spends more and more time asleep. There is a minor subplot about a rivalry between DeVito and the author of the books Gary reads. Best I can tell, this doesn’t track onto anyone real life dream experts, and the humor in these segments is mainly at the expense of the city of Berkeley rather than any author or theory.
A turning point comes when Gary discovers that his dream girl and even the environments in which he’s seen her are straight out of a rival company’s advertisements. His boss hires the waking-world model for an ad so Gary can learn if he’s foreseeing his destiny or engaging in wish-fulfillment unconsciously cribbed from magazines. I won’t give away the ending except to say it’s not the simple, clichéd version of whichever he picks.
In an attempt to capture the sense of dreaming, the film has Cruz remain silent, lips not moving, while her communications appear as subtitles. The waking world is shot in grayish tones and intentionally grainy resolution while the dreams are high definition with brilliant colors--in an interesting attempt to capture that sense of some drams as “realer than real.” Some reviews mention that Jake Paltrow said the idea for the film came to him in a dream--none of them make clear what aspect, but he does seem interested in dreams not just as plot-device and his character’s last dream is a creativity-inspiring one. Showed in standard theaters, now widely available on dvd.
Set on the stormy night in 1816 during which friends Lord Byron & Percy and Mary Shelley agreed to each write a ghost story which resulted in both Frankenstein and The Vampyre. In the bright, well-constructed script, Byron and Shelley converse about the nature of sleep and dreams with real quotes distilled from varied places in their writings. The dramatic camera work and special effects include many dream scenes and a night terror with perfect recreation of Fuselli's painting, The Nightmare. This is an excellent film as long as one has some tolerance for melodrama, surrealism, and kinky sex. Not for children. 87 minutes. Rated R.
Natasha Richardson; Julian Sands; Gabriel Byrne (Stars). Ken Russell (Director). (1997). Gothic. Direct Source Specia.
Yet another only-one-dream, but it's a problem solving one film:
Sandra Bullock is a medical engineer on her first mission aboard the Space Shuttle Explorer and George Clooney plays a veteran astronaut commanding his last trip. [Warning: worse than my usual spoilers ahead] When they are marooned in space with their shuttle destroyed, Clooney rescues Bullock but undoes a tether between them, allowing himself to drift off to a certain death, when it’s apparent that’s the only way she can reach the nearby Soyuz ship. Bullock reaches the Soyez but it’s engines are out of fuel. She eventually decides the most painless way to die is to cut off the oxygen supply. After she drifts off to sleep, she has what first seems like nightmare--a figure outside the ship is trying to get in. But then it’s Clooney and, oddly, he can open the hatch when Bullock‘s out of her helmet without any further oxygen loss or decompression. He tells her an impossible story about how he survived and then suggests that the Soyez landing boosters can be used to power it as far as a nearby Chinese ship. Bullock awakens, realizes Clooney’s return was a dream . . .and realizes the booster idea will work. She turns her oxygen back on, fires up the boosters and heads for the Chinese ship. It’s more literal than most problem solving dream, but some are this exact and they’re often the ones where the advice comes from a trusted authority figure. The film is otherwise very careful to appear realistic in it’s technical details, so the scene in which Bullock unquestioningly watches a dead person enter the ship without releasing the remaining air is evocative of how we don’t question impossible elements in most dreams. The film has beautiful 3-D special effects but that’s all the dream material in it. I’ve only given away the first third of the plot, so whether to see it depends mostly on whether space thrillers are your genre.
Heart of a Dog(2015)
by Laurie Anderson opens with the words ”This is my dream body—the one I use to walk around in my dreams. In this dream, I’m in a hospital bed. The doctor is holding a small pink bundle, and wrapped in the bundle, I see the face of my dog--a small rat terrier named Lolabelle. I kissed her on the head and said, ‘I’ll love you forever!’” No one in the dream hospital expresses surprise that Anderson should give birth not to a human baby but to a full-grown rat terrier. Then she feels a pang of guilt as she remembers that this is not a natural birth. She has arranged to have Lolabelle sewn into her abdomen so that she can give birth to her. This was distressing for Lolabelle. At this point the idealized dream drawings turn both frantic and funny—the first instance of how humorous Anderson can be while breaking neither poignant emotional tone nor profoundly serious philosophizing. This is the only overt dream in the film, but it’s filled with fantasies: what various breeds of dogs would say if they could speak, what dogs see--in shades of blue and green mostly, and, upon Lolabelle’s death, the stages of the Bardo she would pass through over 49 days. All this is illustrated with Anderson’s evocative drawings and paintings and dreamy camera work—often shot through rainy window pains, sometimes angling from a dogs-eye view. The structure of the dog’s life and death allows Anderson to discuss her thoughts on mortality, love, grief, meditation, memory, narrative, and art. She describes her mother’s death in contrast to Lolabelle’s: “What do you do at the deathbed of a parent you do not love?” Her recent loss of husband Lou Reed hovers over the film more subtly. Reed was alive at the start of the filming; he’s playing a doctor in a childhood flashback and he’s singing near the end. Old and new music by Reed and Anderson comprise the soundtrack. Often one hears Anderson ethereally singing lines like “I walk accompanied by ghosts,” in the background while a more forceful version of her voice narrates. If you see one film this year, see this—it’s profound and beautiful.
House Of Cards (1993)
The six-year-old daughter of archaeologists exploring Mayan ruins spends her time with a local shaman until tragedy ends their trip. Upon return to the states, she begins to have frequent nightmares, eventually becomes mute and withdrawn except for building elaborate edifices of playing cards. Her mother deduces they are miniatures of her dream world in which they are towers to reach the moon where spirits of the deceased dwell. Mom begins to build a life-size model to bring the girl back into real world. Lovely sensitive film which some older children might enjoy as well as adults. 109 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Kathleen Turner; Tommy Lee Jones (Stars). Michael Lessac (Director). (1999). House of Cards. Pioneer Video.
I (Heart) Huckabees (2004)
Director/screenwriter David O. Russell had a dream in which he was followed by a woman detective who wanted to observe his every move, not for any mundane investigatory purpose, but rather for metaphysical reasons—to understand the meaning of his life. Russell had already been inspired by his study with Buddhist scholar Bob Thurman to write a film about philosophical issues but had put the project aside because he couldn't find the right plot vehicle. He awakened from this dream realizing it would work for his film script. I (Heart) Huckabees revolves around environmental activist Albert (played by Jason Schwartzman) who’s doing battle with Brad (Jude Law), a junior executive of a vapid chain store (Huckabees). Albert hires existential detectives Lily Tomlin (based on Russell’s dream character) and Dustin Hoffman (based loosely on Thurman) They teach him basic Buddhist philosophy while figuring out how it apples to his life. When he discovers they are also working for Brad, Albert hooks up with their nemesis, a nihilistic existential detective played by Isabelle Hubert. The film is full of eccentric humor, profound questions and surreal scenes. In one segment, erotic film veteran Hubert engages in some very peculiar sex in a mud puddle. In another, Albert struggles to dismantle his world view and sees Hoffman’s facial features float off his face and eventually all matter is floating around as little cube-like quantum particles. Those of the critics who didn't like this film tended to describe it as illogical or incomprehensible—complaints also heard about another dreamed film, Robert Altman’s “Three Women.” Both do have distinctive qualities related to their conception in such a non-linear state of consciousness. I think most IASDers will appreciate Huckabees intuitive, dreamlike plot and imagery—and also be interested in the philosophical questions which it raises. 107 minutes. Rated R.
Jason Schwartzman; Isabell Huppert; Dustin Hoffman; Lily Tomlin; Jude Law; Mark Wahlberg (Stars). David O. Russell (Director). (1996). I (Heart) Huckabees. 20th Century Fox.
People who would be the body-doubles in most films are cast in the leads and leadenly mumble the dialogue of an inane script. The plot (with apologies to Coleridge): If you could pass through a mansion in a dream and have its door key presented to you by a hunky looking construction worker renovating it as a pledge that your soul had really been there, and if you found that key in your hand when you awoke...what then? The dream sequences are denoted by the dry-ice fog or red lighting surrounding the heroine as she wanders around in a flimsy nightgown looking confused. Waking reality is denoted by normal lighting conditions as she wanders around in a flimsy nightgown looking confused. The sex in this film is so inexplicit and silly that I do not think it would please even those willing to forgo all other usual requirement of film making in lieu of erotic images. This one's sex scenes arouse giggles more than anything else. I cannot think of any reason to see this film except: 1) you are the movie reviewer of a dream oriented publication or 2) you just have to see if it could be as bad as the reviewer claims. Directed by Andrew Stevens, starring Shannon Tweed (no previous film credits, but former Playboy playmate of the year). 93 minutes. Unrated.
Andrew Stevens; Shannon Tweed (Stars) Andrew Stevens (Director) (1996). Illicit Dreams. Republic Studios.
In Dreams (1999)
Neil Jordan's psychological thriller stars Annette Bening as a suburban mother who realize her dreams reflect the mind of a serial killer of children even before her own daughter is abducted. The eerie opening sequence of a childhood trauma enacted in a submerged ghost town captures the visual beauty, horror and surrealism of the dream world. Other early dream scenes use piles of apples and puzzling fragments of a child's nursery rhyme for a compelling oneiric tone without the usual cliche special effects. However, the film quickly deteriorates in overall plot and tone as well as in the execution of the dream scenes. The later dreams are merely a vehicle to convey realistic depictions of the killer's activities. Robert Downey Jr. has the best part and makes the most of it as the stark-raving mad transvestite killer. Stephen Rea is stuck muddling around with the silliest role as the world's stupidest psychiatrist. Instead of the ever popular depictions of therapists as sleeping with, killing, or cannibalizing their patients, Rhea's character confines himself to injecting Bening with more Thorazine every time she reports a precognitive dream. Director Jordan has made a career of alternating between brilliant independent masterpieces (The Crying Game) and insipid Hollywood drivel (Interview With the Vampire). In Dreams falls in the latter category. Appropriately distributed by DreamWorks. 160 minutes. Rated R.
Annette Bening; Robert Downey Jr. (Stars). Neil Jordan (Director) (2004). In Dreams. DreamWorks Skg.
In this Chris Nolan psychological thriller, thieves can enter other people’s dreams via IV drug drips. They exploit the technique for industrial espionage to “extract” trade secrets and for “inception” to plant an idea which the victim will think is his own. This is a heist film: the audience is set up to root for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and his fellow thieves. Unlike the films of David Lynch or Tom DeCillo, Inception is not rambling, surreal--or even very dreamlike. Rather, dreams are a plot device which affords more dramatic visuals than stealing diamonds from vaults ever could. Instead of the loose logic of the dream, there is a tight and intricate thriller plot.
The thieves are lucid dreamers (i.e. they know they are dreaming) but they—and even the dream world--still obey physical laws. The team must laboriously scale a cliff on ropes, not just float to the top. They must unlock doors, not walk through walls. Nolan has even added specific laws just for the dream world: you can’t dream you die, you would wake up. When one goes from a simple dream into a dream-within-a-dream, dream 1 continues with a sleeping body present. Each dream level slows time down subjectively by a factor of ten—progressively as you enter dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams. In the classic heist film, thieves carry out elaborately timed maneuvers as a clock ticks on when the guard will come around or when the alarms will sound. Nolan has created a world where his thieves carry out four different sets of intricate maneuvers against four clocks all ticking at different speeds. The team skis down a mountainside exchanging gunfire with their enemies in one dream level; in another, they sleep in a hotel whose halls crawl with similar armed assassins; while in yet a different dreamspace, their sleeping bodies are driven through a car chase scene; and in the physical world, they sleep on a plane flying toward a country which will arrest the protagonist for an at-first-unspecified crime unless they achieve their dream tasks at all three dream levels before arrival. The story is ingeniously constructed with split-second timing of amazing stunts and special effects.
None of this overall structure is very dreamlike, but there are individual moments of Inception which do capture the dream world beautifully. Nolan is especially fascinated by lucidity—in interviews, he describes himself as a lifelong lucid dreamer. There is a wonderful scene when Ellen Page’s character first becomes lucid. Her awe at the realization that her mind is creating all this and the way some details hold up perfectly while others fragment on close examination—this is exquisitely evocative of a lucid dream. False awakenings are handled well, with a character losing lucidity until something strange intrudes on the supposed waking world. Sensory incorporation shows up—the careening van in one dream world triggers odd balance effects in another; a sleeping body falling into a bathtub produces a huge wave pouring from a building as an intrusion into another dream. And some of the most realistic details are in the personal aspects of the plot—DiCaprio has lost his wife traumatically and the way in which his practiced content-control of his dreams is derailed by grief, survivor guilt, and the deceased beckoning him to join her all ring true. The film is also sophisticated about how one might go about implanting an idea to make it fit the target’s own personality and interpersonal relationships in such a way that it would flower. Even potential weaknesses—vague and clichéd aspects of the plot—are turned to clever advantage when one character, trying to shake DiCaprio’s conviction about what is waking reality, asks him if he doesn’t think it odd that he’s being chased around the world by armed strangers and accused of a crime that he doesn’t think he’s committed--doesn’t that sound rather like a dream?
IASD members might prefer less gunfire or more surrealism, but Chris Nolan has a perfect instinct for the blockbuster. I love the idea of millions of action-film fans the world over leaving theaters asking each other if they’re ever had a dream in which they knew they were dreaming--or whipping out their smart phones and Googling to find out if you really can learn to influence dream content. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page. 147 minutes, rated PG-13. Warner Brothers. Inception was released on DVD and BluRay in Dec. 2010 with extras which include the documentary Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious (reviewed here also).
Blu Ray: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page. 147 minutes, rated PG-13. Warner Brothers. (2010) Inception
Written and directed by Jamin WInans, this film is a sweet, if amateurish fantasy set in the realm of dreams. As suburbanites prepare for bed, two sets of supernatural beings zap down into their streets and begin their nights’ work. “Storytellers” dress in black and scale the sides of houses to reach second floor bedrooms--but we know they’re the good guys by their wholesome attractiveness. They creep across darkened bedrooms to lay their hands on sleepers’ foreheads, and we flash to the happy dreams they implant. Meanwhile, “Incubi” also flash down from the sky. They sport a flat sheet of distorting glass strapped over their face--the ultimate extreme of those bottle-thick glasses of the extremely near-sighted. Incubi resemble a hybrid of stormtrooper and technogeek. They approach sleepers and instigate nightmares. The film does a dramatically better job with the nightmares--which, in mere seconds of social humiliation or physical threat, evoke both terror and the dream state. In Storyteller-implanted good dreams, people win bingo games or lotteries or lose weight eating cake--these capture neither transcendence nor dreaminess.
Early in the film, a little girl named Emma has her soul stolen from her sleeping body by Ink--a man in a Halloween witch mask and ratty cape. Ink aspires to become an Incubus and the soul is his ticket. I won’t give further spoilers, but the plot revolves around the parallel struggles of Emma’s family and the (invisible to the waking world) Storytellers to save her. There are clever plot twists. One scene repeats twice and by the end of the film, one realizes that in which place it actually occurs implies entirely different things about waking reality and who’s dream we’re watching.
It would be easy to make fun of this film. The storyteller’s land glows with a heavenly golden light, but they spend their time practicing beginner kickboxing there. There is a character whom God has blinded . . . by sticking black tape over his eyes. However, such a sweet sincerity shines through, the silliness seems forgivable. Ink’s dreams are not that dreamlike--they are used largely for flashbacks or teaching moral lessons, but they serve those aims well. There’s an beautiful scene early on--framed as one of the dreamed memories--in which Emma is trying to get her father to play make believe with her and his conflict between abhorring anything imaginative and hating to disappoint her is exquisitely portrayed. Shot on a budget of $250,000, Ink played in some independent theaters and now widely available on dvd and streaming from venues such as Netflix and Hulu.
Inland Empire (2004)
Inland Empire is three hours of surreal, confusing nightmare. If you're a dream professional, you may find it fascinating. If you're a general moviegoer who favors films that make sense, you'll hate it. To the extent there’s a plot, it’s that Nikki (Laura Dern) is cast in a film about a murderous triangle based on a Polish folktale. The director soon admits it had been undertaken before and the principals were murdered. Nikki’s own life develops a triangle with her jealous husband and co-star. Parallel realities unfold—some framed explicitly as dreams, others as flashbacks in which previous women enact dreamlike versions of the same story. But the phrase “to the extent there’s a plot” is key. Prostitutes appear out of nowhere, singing and dancing in a chorus line or making cynical observations about men. Creepy giant bunnies sit in a fifties style living room, mostly doing nothing, but occasionally answering the phone to find no one on the line. They're fluffier than their cousin in “Donny Darko”, but fairly derivative. Tom DiCillo’s,1995 “Living In Oblivion” featured a tirade by a midget actor: “Is that the only way you can make this a dream, to put a dwarf in it? Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don't even have dreams with dwarves in them. The only place I've seen dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this!” may need updating to address the obligatory sinister rabbit. Oh, but--there’s a dwarf here, too. Dern is excellent, as are supporting cast Jeremy Irons and Harry Dean Stanton. However, the real stars are the scene shifts, oily translucent windows, and the foggy streets through which Dern flees endlessly. It’s very dreamlike—but it’s a bad dream you can't wake up from. The Boston Globe reviewer remarked, without surprise, that the woman sitting next to him whimpered through much of film. The friend with whom I saw it uncharacteristically dived into my lap at one especially horrific image. Outside the theater, as an NPR correspondent interviewed people departing, I heard phrases about feeling “harassed” or “tortured.” Other problems of the film are ironically shared with the hyper-realistic, slice-of-life genre. When “Inland Empire” is not being unpleasant, it’s often boring. Just as most filmgoers don’s really want to see literal, dull real-life but prefer a snazzier dramatization of its high points, we don’s want to see random, repetitive, confused dream scenes and prefer the transcendent moment of the “big” dream. Lynch does better when he mixes his fantastic imagery with some narrative—as the surrealism of Mulholland Drive or Twin Peaks. However, for all those cult filmgoers who think his premier effort was his best, he has finally made a movie weirder than Eraserhead. 2 hours and 59 minutes. Unrated.
Laura Dern; Jeremy Irons; Harry Dean Stanton (Stars). David Lynch (Director) (2004). Inland Empire. Studio Canal.
Institute Benjamenta, Or This Dream Called Human Life (1996)
This one is weirder yet. It is directed by the Brothers Quay (that's really what they call themselves, no first names) Their films have been called "dreamlike" and "nightmarish" before they used such directly in the present title and plot. The other two were shorts which worked. Institute... is like a very long short. The Quays haven't yet learned how to create a narrative strong enough to sustain a feature length film. It is great in terms of those things that can carry a short--dramatic visuals, clever ideas, but it consists of an incoherent string of these. To the extent there is a plot, it is that a naive young man comes to an institute where domestic servant skills are taught and either discovers or dreams that it is really a cover for bizarre sexual events involving deer. There is dreamlike foreshadowing even by day as the new student arrives and pauses on the stairwell, framed in a shot as if a pair of antlers mounted on the wall were sprouting from his head. Most of the day activities consist of monotonous training--polishing silver, folding napkins, and practicing the diction of ludicrously obsequious sentences. These are amusing for a moment, but go on interminably. The night episodes are first presented as real wanderings into cave-like basement areas of the institute with primitive paintings of deer engaged in sexual orgies. However, as the house becomes mountingly (so to speak) more surreal on each night's foray, the implication is that these are dreams. Our servant-in-training is eventually watching people with antlers enacting a variety of sexual violence. There are many excellent depictions of the instability of the dream world. He walks through rooms which look completely different when he look back at them. Signs change from hieroglyphics briefly to readable if nonsensical labels such as "Dried ejaculate of a stag, please sniff." The film is in black and white--so much more of the former than the latter that it's not as graphically obscene as I'm making it sound--everything is dimly lit and very hard to see. 121 minutes. Not rated.
Isi's Dream (2011)
This stop motion short film by Isi Sarfati showed at numerous festivals and won prizes including one from director Michel Gondry; it then screened it ahead of Gondry’s Science of Sleep through it’s run in Mexico. ”Isi's . . . “ depicts a real dream of Sarfati, using one thousand eight hundred still’s manipulated to make characters and objects move in surreal ways. A man, who must have had to pick himself up and reposition himself ¼ inch forward dozens of times, appears to slither like a snake past Isi. Another dreamlike moment is when Isi is so disgusted by a woman’s ugly baby that he magically produces a cute replacement, winning the woman’s heart while the ugly baby skulks away. A bit of trivia about the filming is that the project was so low budget that some of his extras didn’t even show up for the shoot; the guys in their underwear were total strangers in the park whom Sarfati persuaded to strip down and perform a conga dance. “Isi's Dream” streams free at multiple online sites including YouTube and Vimeo. Its emphasis on movement as distinctive in the dreamworld is novel, and it takes less than 3 minutes to watch.
Le Dernier Rêve, aka The Last Dream (2000)
This is a short film directed by Emmanual Jespers. A projectionist in a dilapidated theatre finds himself without patrons for one show. He puts on a reel and falls asleep. A documentary unfolds which is clearly meant to be partly the actual film and partly his dream, but it’s up to the viewer to unravel what’s “reel” and what’s dreamworld. It’s quite inventive for a low budget short, refreshingly strong on concept and les reliant on special effect to achieve its dreaminess. Shows at festivals of shorts periodically. French. 15 minutes.
Jerry Bessem, Cecile de France, Eric De Staercke, Bruno Georis, Quentin Milo(Stars). Emmanual Jespers (Director). (2000). The Last Dream.
The Lathe of Heaven (1979)
This PBS film is based on the Ursula Le Guin's novel of the same name. Protagonist George has "effective dreams"- they come true and change the past to conform to their outcome with only George remembering the way things were before each dream. A suicide attempt brings him to the attention of dream researcher, Dr. Haber, who tries to harness George's dreams for utopian change. But, of course, when you play god the results are worse than demonic (at least that's reliably true in fiction). Unfortunately the film is nowhere close to as subtle and philosophical as the book. There are chases and special effects - the latter looking hopeless dated by today's standards. It's not without any interest, but if you haven't experienced the tale in some form, I recommend La Guin's novel more enthusiastically. Long in rights-limbo, as of 2001. 100 minutes. Rated PG.
Bruce Davison (Star). David R. Loxton; Fred Barzyk (Directors). (2000). The Lathe of Heaven. New Video Group
The Lathe of Heaven (2002)
This is the second—and best--adaptation of Ursula Le Guin's dream-themed science fiction novel. Lukas Haas stars as George Orr who discovers that his dreams effect changes in waking reality. James Caan plays the psychiatrist who first disbelieves George but quickly comes to view him as a tool for both the doctor’s personal fortunes and misguided attempts to better the world’s ills. He suggests George dream a solution to the population problem and a mutant virus sweeps across Europe. Lisa Bonet is the love interest who appears in different guises as George’s dreams alter their world. The strength of the film is its imagery. Futuristic sets, gadgetry, and costumes are more compelling than in the 1979 film. They’re plausible partly because they’re extrapolated from the new millennium rather than from the 70’s, but also changes are understated—the future is sterile and technological but not as bizarre as in much sci-fi. The doctor’s ethereal display of glowing lights within George’s brain could easily be the next generation PET scan machine. Dreams themselves are barely depicted but waking changes from the dreams are clever condensations. This script improves on Le Guin’s original specifics in this arena. Day residue, the psychiatrist’s intentional suggestions, and chance remarks which George overhears as he sleeps all interweave into the reality that emerges. By reframing the confusion at a constantly changing reality onto waking, Lathe offers a fresh perspective on this quality inherent to all dreams. The film fails to capture all the rich philosophical issues of the novel, but it’s an artistic, captivating rendition worth viewing. Made for A & E cable. 100 minutes. Not rated.
Lukas Haas; James Caan (Stars). Philip Haas (Director). (2002). The Lathe of Heaven. A & E Home Video.
Living In Oblivion (1995)
This brilliant comedy deals with dreams at more levels than any other film. The action begins with the shooting of a film-within-a-film as repeated technical malfunctions become more and more ludicrous until the cameraman awakes. He gets up, heads to work, and the first day of filming begins with the romantic misadventures of the female star taking center stage until she also awakens. Then we begin to see the director's problems including that of shooting the dream scene of the film-within-a-film. We watch take after take malfunction amid delightful commentary on how you portray a dream in film from the smoke machine to the actress's vague stare. Although all this is focused on the director's issues, we never see him awaken--presumably this is symbolic of the fact that the finished film is always the director's dream in some sense. 90 minutes. Rated R.
Steve Buscemi; Catherine Keener; Dermot Mulroney (Stars). Tom DiCillo (Director). (2003). Living In Oblivion. Columbia Tristar.
Minutes into this film, director Claude Lalouche interrupts to request that viewers not reveal anything about it’s plot. While it’s debatable if this might not apply equally to all films, “Long Live . . .” does execute unusually intricate twists causing early scenes to take on progressively different meanings. The trailer consists of Lalouche’s interjection along with one other scene of a crowd gazing expectantly skyward at night. Without offering major spoilers, I’ll just say that the dream community will be especially interested that among this film’s characters are 1) a businessman who relies on his dreams to guide all important decisions, 2) a beautiful coed who tells her lonely middle-aged professor, “I’m enjoying your class; I’d like to be your wife,” because she dreamed they were married, and 3) perhaps a race of space aliens whose culture revolves around enacting their nighttime dreams. The script is especially astute in the variety of ways dream characters mirror--and diverge from--their waking life counterparts. “Long Live . . .” is inexplicably undercirculated despite the popularity of Lalouche’s other films, critical praise for this one, and a cast featuring Charlotte Rampling along with leading French actors of the 1980’s: Michel Piccoli, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Anoik Amiee. A dvd with English and German subtitles has been released only in Germany with region 2 coding which requires either a European or zone-free dvd player. The film is also available pay per view at French and German websites in those respective languages. It’s worth the search for a copy.
Lorenzo's Oil (1992)
This film is based on the real life story of Augusto and Michela Odone, played by Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon, whose 7 year old son Lorenzo is diagnosed with the fatal degenerative disorder ALD which results from the buildup of very long chain saturated fatty acids in his brain. Although the film has only one dream scene which would usually not merit mention in this column, it’s an especially interesting one as it’s a problem solving dream. Augusto has been reading up on the build-up of the long chain acids, has already started his son on unsaturated oleic acid which one lone study has reported lowers levels of the bad saturated chains for unknown reasons. Augusto sits in a library using large and small paperclips linked end to end to represent chains of saturated and unsaturated acids. He falls asleep and continues the task in a dream, seeing paperclip chains in front of him until Lorenzo appears and tugs at the paperclip chain diverting the clips from the saturated to the unsaturated chain. Augusto wakes up realizing it’s the same enzyme utilized for both process and there’s a “competitive inhibition” between chaining saturated vs. unsaturated acids. This explains not only why oleic acid slows the progression of the disease but also suggests that erucic acid is another supplement that should be added to his sons regimen. He does this and Lorenzo's disease is stabilized while children earlier in the disease completely recover. I wrote the real Mr. Odone to inquire if the dream was real. It’s not--the dream and even the chain of paperclips were inventions of the scriptwriter to dramatize the inspiration. The dream sequence actually looks quite a bit like Kelule’s detailed description of his benzene dream in which atoms “gamboled before his eyes” much like the paperclips swimming around. Like Kekule’s, it’s portrayed as a just-dozing off dream. The scene is consistent with nature of dreams if not with autobiographical history in this case. The rest of the film is well-acted but rather predictable.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Angela Landsbury. This thriller has some of the cleverest plot twists from the heyday of the spy films but also many of their usual weaknesses—cartoonish portrayals of Communist villains and sexist stereotypes – Angela Landsbury who plays the mother of brainwashed assassin Laurence Harvey was in reality just three years younger than she. Hypnosis and brainwashing get flat, inaccurate portrayals, but the dream scenes are more interesting and realistic than most films of that time. The brainwashed Korean War veterans suffer from nightmares that intertwine real scenes of their Communist brainwashers and an execution they were forced to commit with a ladies garden club lecture they were hypnotically suggested to experience. The camera pans away from an elderly woman lecturing about “Fun With Hydrangeas” and when it returns to the same spot, a Chinese spylord/scientist has replaced her. The details also vary appropriately for particular dreamers. The hypnotically suggested women are in white in Harvey’s dreams but black in those of a black comrade. 126 minutes. Rated PG13
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep star in this remake of the 1962 thriller about a brainwashed assassin. Updating the Cold War plot, the villains are now a Halliburtonesque corporation: Manchurian Global. As in the original, the brainwashed platoon has real memories breaking through in post-traumatic nightmares. Despite the benefits of three decades improvement in special effects, the dream scenes are neither as imaginative nor authentic as in the original. Possibly because it is now set during the first Gulf War, this one has women with henna patterned faces interspersed with Manchurian Global’s brainwashers for no discernible reason. They’re not shown in any real-life day residue, but they’re in everyone’s nightmares. Henna’s really trendy right now? Makes it look more dreamlike? These women were explained in some scenes of the original script that was edited out? The best visual details of this version are not in the dream sequences themselves but rather in the pages of the illustrated dream diary of the most disturbed survivor of the platoon. There are some good plot twists, most from the original with a couple others added, but the first rate acting talent is largely wasted on two-dimensional characters. 129 minutes. Rated R.
The Matrix (1999)
Although overtly dealing with computer-generated virtual reality, this sci-fi- thriller employs persistent references to dreams in its play of reality vs. illusion. The laughable premise is that in the late 21st century, humans have been reduced to a battery-like energy source for machines while their immobilized bodies are being fed computer programs that simulate 1999 America. Computer hacker Keanu Reeves is one of the few who senses that he is living in a "dreamworld." This prompts resistance leader Morpheus--played by Laurence Fishburne--to contact and ultimately "awaken" him. The analogies to dreams are all negative--it is in the realm of consensual reality that truth and freedom thrive. The Greek God of Dream's appellation is used loosely, as this Morpheus is the anti-dream force of the film. Even hard core sci-fi buffs may find the plot a bit thin in this one. It's strengths are predominantly sensory: lushly noir futuristic sets, cyberpunk cool music and costuming, and state-of-the-art special effects that bring to life surreal melting walls, gravity defying martial arts, and other dramatic, dreamlike images. 136 minutes. Rated R.
Keanu Reeves; Laurence Fishburne (Stars). Andy Wachowski; Larry Wachowski (Directors). (1999). The Matrix. Warner Studios.
Mirrormask brings the aesthetics of graphic novels to a feature-length motion picture. Neil Gaiman, the author of the dream-themed “Sandman” graphic novel series co-wrote the screenplay with his frequent collaborator, illustrator David McKean. McKean also directed and the Jim Henson Company provided computer animation and other special effects which blend with costumed human actors. MirrorMask’s plot is reminiscent of Paperhouse, the 1988 film about a little girl who begins to dream of a world she’s been drawing and it also contains touches of The Wizard of Oz’s premise of a dream world where people from waking life show up as costumed, fantastic versions of themselves. In MirrorMask, 15 year old Helena’s parent run a circus but Helena longs to “run away and join real life.” She covers her wall with fanciful drawings to distract her from her adolescent angst. After an argument in which Helena tells her mother, “I wish you were dead,” the mother collapses and turns out to have a brain tumor. On the eve of her mother’s life-determining surgery, Helena goes to sleep and awakens—or rather as we know within minutes, dreams a false awakening--into a world resembling her drawings. She’s stuck here until the last five minutes of film when we finally learn the outcome of the surgery. The King of the dream world (Helena’s father in a fantastic mask and royal robes) assigns her the task of finding the charm which will wake the kingdom’s sleeping queen. Helena goes about this rote, fairy-tale plot amid gorgeous, surreal visual imagery. The backdrops of cities and forests resemble Hieronomous Bosch landscapes. Fish swim through the air, books fly like birds, giant stone people move in slow motion, and sphinxes with cat bodies and human heads pose bizarre riddles for Helena. The plot is mostly predictable—and when not, it’s more arbitrary and disjointed than clever. It’s a shame all this visual creativity wasn't applied to a richer story and characters, but MirrorMask is still worth seeing for its spectacular dream imagery. 101 minutes. Rated PG.
Stephanie Leonidas; Gina McKee; Rob Brydon; Jason Barry; Dora Bryan; Robert Llewellyn (Stars). Dave McKean (Director). (1996). Mirrormask. Sony Pictures.
The Monkey King (1970's)
This Hong Kong Martial arts film is quite unlike the westernized version of the genre typified by Bruce Lee's films. It's plot is based on the 400 year old Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West, which in turn loosely follows the life of the monk Xuan Zang (AD 602-664) in an allegorical rendition of his adventures mingled with Chinese fables, fairy tales, legends, Taoism and Buddhism. The film is most concerned with the monk's sidekick, The King of the Monkeys, who angers the Goddess Kuan Yin and is flung to a far corner of the earth and transformed into a man, doesn't remember that he's been either a monkey or a king. When the goddess takes pity and comes looking for him, he doesn't know his identity-except in recurring dreams which attempt to signal him that it is he who the goddess seeks. Meanwhile, he's retained the ability to walk on his hands, swing from branches, and use his feet in ways that make him an unparalleled martial arts master. The goddess overlooks these little hints as well as hair on the soles of his feet so that the suspense of the search - and the dream cuing - is prolonged. There are innumerable fight scenes that could be straight out of The Three Stooges. Men jump on each other's heads, poke eyes, and throw each other across rooms - all without anyone getting seriously injured. There are also ludicrous misunderstandings and juvenile humor. However, these stooges are clowning in sets that could have served Kurosawa. Asian sensibilities provide stark barren deserts, quaint villages, lush gardens, and exquisitely embroidered robes. The camera lingers on spring's first peach blossom. The acrobatics used to suggest primates are wonderful but the special effects are silly and the protagonist's make-up looks recycled from Planet of the Apes. The goddess - who's indistinguishable from a demon when she's offended - gets more interesting make-up. She changes from a lovely China doll to a giant, human-headed spider and, later, a hawk-woman. And that's just awake! The dream scenes are otherworldly - employing a blue glow, watery sounds, and slow movements to delineate them from the already surreal waking action. The subtitles on the video are difficult to read at times - but then it's a predominantly visual film anyway. Recommended for novelty only. Hard to find. Available mostly in cities with large Asian populations. Try Chinatown video stores.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Directed by David Lynch, Mulholland Drive is reminiscent of his Twin Peaks television miniseries. In fact, this film was a pilot for an ABC television show which was never produced. Like Twin Peaks, it deals with dreams both explicitly and implicitly. Naïve Midwesterner Betty (played by Naomi Watts) arrives in 1950’s LA to pursue her dream of acting and moves into her vacationing aunt’s apartment. However the apartment is already the refuge of Rita (Laura Haring), a worldlier young woman who is hiding there after narrowly escaping a murder attempt (or possibly she succumbed to it . . .?) The most overt reference to dreaming is a scene in which a minor character invites a friend to meet him at a diner because he wants to tell him a recurring dream, which involves the friend and is set in there. The suspense of the nightmare imagery is conveyed powerfully without relying on expensive special effects.
Mulholland Drive could be taken as a conventional mystery—who tried to kill Rita, until 2/3 of the way through when the film takes a dramatic detour from a linear sequencing and the characters change roles and relationships to each other. There are multiple ways to interpret this — Bardo Thol after death hallucinations (as in Waking Life, reviewed here), or "it's-a-Lynch-film-they-don’t-have-to-make-any-sense.” However, immediately before everything is turned on its head, the Cowboy - the film’s most sinister character in a field of heavy competition - utters the line, “Wake up now pretty girl!” The most heuristic explanation is that the first 2/3 of the film is a dream of Betty’s about her waking life, which we see at the end. The transformations of people and events are very wonderfully true to those dreams make - people partly their real self, partly the fantasies one has about them. The film captures more about the nature of dreams in its plot transformation than all the dry ice and strange lighting in the world could. The acting and cinematography are great. In terms of the script, the best guideline is if you’re a Twin Peaks fan, you’ll probably love it, if not, pass. 147 minutes. Rated R.
Laura Harring; Justin Theroux (Stars). David Lynch (Director). (2003). Mulholland Drive. Universal Studios.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Written and directed by Gregg Araki, opens with 8 year old Brian at a softball game that is suddenly rained out, and his parents aren’t there to pick him up. Next he’s coming out of an amnestic episode in the crawl space under his own house, unable to account for several hours or for how he got home. The film then jumps to Brian as a shy, nerdy teenager played appealing by Brady Corbet. He’s haunted by the cause of his childhood blackout and suffers nightmares of a menacing form looming over him. After seeing alleged UFO abductee Wendy on television, Brian becomes convinced his own missing time involves aliens. He travels to meet Wendy with his elaborate dream journal including drawings as well as nightmare accounts. Wendy encourages his interpretation that these represent an alien encounter. The film alternates between Bryan’s dreams of the menacing figure and his drawings which become progressively more like stereotypic aliens except that distinctive details intrude. In one drawing, the alien wears high top sneakers; in other dreams, there’s a second little boy there. The shadowy dream scenes and especially the dream drawings suggest how easily an all too human attack might get transformed by repressive imagery into an extraterrestrial one. Eventually Brian identifies the other boy in his dreams – a charismatic teenaged prostitute played by very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he much like dream scripts!) who turns out to remember all too well what Brian’s dreams only hint at. The film does an excellent job of depicting dreams, psychological reactions to trauma and the interaction of the two. Highly recommended.
My Winnipeg (2007)
written and directed by Guy Maddin. Described as a “docufantasia” by Maddin, the film centers on his struggle to leave his hometown and on the memories holding him there. Early in the film, we see an actor playing Maddin dozing on a train: “ . . . a dream train, chugging, dreaming myself out of the lap of the city. How to wake up enough to accomplish this?” But when does awaken, it’s with the inspiration to “film myself out of the city”—to make the film we’ve already started watching. Maddin dozes again and the whole film is cast as dream or sleepy imaginings. He tells improbable stories of the town—the town hall which doubles as the largest masonic temple in the world in which mediums dance messages from the dead and ectoplasm flows out to blend with the omnipresent snowdrifts. Horses escaping a disaster at the local stable freeze and become an accepted part of landscape. Maddin’s mother intrudes not only into his childhood sibling’s lives but also appears several stories tall peering into the train windows. The narration claims that Winnipeg has ten times the sleepwalking rate of anywhere else “because we dream where we walk, we are always lost—befuddled, asleep on foot, citizen of the night—why can’t we just open our eyes? We show up at our old homes, those of our sweethearts. We are allowed by law to carry the keys of our old dreamy domiciles, and one must always take in a lost sleepwalker--in Winnipeg, it’s the law.” Some scenes are explicitly dreams: “Every night I have the same happy dream that I’m back in my childhood home. I can’t stop dreaming of this house. It keeps changing in my dreams—older, bigger, smaller, lower--never just my home. The dreams are sweet—back home, but the waking is bitter.” And the concluding scene of his dead brother and mother cuddling and talking in a snowdrift was dreamed by Maddin’s daughter. If you’re not familiar with Maddin’s films this is a good one to start. It’s excellent in capturing the feel of dreams and childhood memories. And it’s a bit more accessible to the average filmgoer than his purely fictional works. “My Winnipeg” appears on many critics’ “10 Best of the Year” lists for 2007, and on Roger Ebert’s for the ten best of its decade.
Night On The Gallactic Railroad (1986)
This Japanese anime film is based on Kenji Miyazawa’s 1937 children’s book (translated titles vary) Night of The Milky Way Railway. The book is a classic in Japan and several different illustrated translations are available in the US. It’s classified as a children’s tale in Japan because of the child characters and fanciful content, but the story deals with death, hardship, and religious strivings in a manner that has ensured it a continuing adult readership. The film follows the book closely. Lovely animations bring to life the Japanese town, the Milky Way, and the floating lanterns of the ‘Milky Way Festival,’ which echo it. The protagonist is Giovanni (the movie retains Miyazawa’s odd choice of a European name for the Japanese character - some translations of the book have altered this.) Young Giovanni is ridiculed by his peers because he has to work after school instead of accompanying them to the Festival. Once he finishes, he falls asleep on a hilltop under the stars and most of the tale is his dreamed train ride across the galaxy. There is a bit of astronomy in the details of the train’s fanciful stops, but Miyazawa was more interested in representing religious motifs — both Buddhist and Christian. The film has richer imagery than any of the book’s editions, although it’s lost some of the details truest to dreams like the fireflies, which Giovanni’s seen awake echoing as the train lights once he sleeps. Here the dream is retaining mainly as a plot device. It’s worth seeing. Although Miyazawa intended it for children, the repeating themes of childhood deaths might be disturbing to younger ones. It is appropriate for older children and adults may enjoy it. The English subtitled video can be found in large video stores and those specializing in anime. 108 minutes. Not rated.
A jazz musician awakens from a terrible nightmare in which he kills a man and gradually begins to find subtle clues that something like this may have really happened. While he and his homicide detective brother-in-law set out to solve this mystery, the women in the film paint their nails, cook, and act panicked and helpless. The on-location filming of New Orleans' Bourbon Street and the soundtrack with many scenes shot in jazz bars add interest to the film. It also has a tightly constructed, suspenseful plot. The black and white filming of the nightmare is interesting in how it portrays dream qualities without the benefit of modern special effects. If you like Hitchcock, you will likely enjoy this film. Directed my Maxwell Shane, starring Kevin McCarthy and Edward G. Robinson. Plays revival houses. Either rarely or not available on video. 89 minutes. Not rated.
The Night Walker (1964)
Wealthy widow Barbara Stanwyck can't stop dreaming about her dead husband. Her nightmares prove to have an unusual cause. 86 minutes. Not rated.
Barbara Stanwyck; Robert Taylor (Stars). William Castle (Director). (1993). The Night Walker. Universal Studios.
Open Your Eyes (1997)
This Spanish film begins with main character Caesar's cassette recorder alarm whispering, "Open your eyes." He hits snooze and sinks into a dream of a deserted metropolis. Awake again, he tells his therapist the dream. Through the rest of film's intrigue of romance and murder, we never quite know when his eyes are actually open. Discrete dreams scenes blur with waking life where identities seem oddly fluid and discontinuities confuse. Caesar questions this only once when he meets a man he's been obsessively watching on TV - a possible but improbably coincidence; the man asks him, "Do you ever think you might be dreaming?" Whether Caesar's awake, dreaming, or something else yet, it occupies him through rest of the film. The film doesn't rely on surreal visuals effects as do most dream films, but rather uses discontinuities, plot facts that come and go as Caesar remembers or forgets them, and the actor's portrayal of confusion to suggest dreaming. The film plays with the same virtual reality themes as Total Recall and The Matrix but it does so in more artistic and interesting ways than either of those sci-fi predecessors. Written and directed my Alejedro Amenabar in Spanish. English subtitled version. 117 minutes. Rated R.
Eduardo Noriega II; Penelope Cruz (Stars). Alejandro Amenabar (Director). (2001). Open Your Eyes. Artisan Entertainment.
Not quite as good as similarly named House of Cards but still worth seeing. Some plot resemblance also--another little girl withdrawing into her dreams. This one finds that a sinister house which she has drawn begins to appear in a recurring dream. She discovers she can influence the dream by adding to the picture. She begins to believe that a handicapped boy she finds in the dream house is real and that she must bring him out into the real world by either dream actions or through her drawing. Well-done dream scenes that are very evocative of children's nightmares--and not an appropriate film for young children, probably too frightening for them. 92 minutes. Rated PG13.
Charlotte Burke (Star). Bernard Rose (Director). (1990). Paperhouse. Vestron.
This anime film from the Japanese director Satoshi Kon concerns yet another device by which scientists can watch—and enter—a person’s dreams. This one is dubbed the DC Mini and resembles a personal computer with a headset. A psychiatric institute has developed the Mini as an experimental method of dream therapy. Two of their machines and one of their employees has disappeared while the still imperfect device is being tested. Our heroine, the white-coated Dr. Chiba uses the Mini to enter her patient’s dreams as her less formal alter ego “Paprika.” She also begins to use it to investigate the theft of the devices, aided by its inventor, Dr. Tokita, and transparently hindered by the institute’s evil-looking Chief. A police detective initiates his own investigation by posing as a dream-analysis patient. The detective suffers from a reoccurring nightmare about chasing a murderer whom he discovers to be himself; its analysis forms one subplot. Everyone else, eventually the detective, suffers from a spreading viral nightmare about an initially cheery parade of inanimate objects—dementedly grinning dolls, manic stuffed animals, drumming frogs, dancing household appliances and even a red Shinto gate, marching in lockstep faster and faster, beginning to suck up human passers-by along the way. The film follows many of the conventions of anime—you can tell the good guys by their attractive--and, in some cases, peculiarly western--looks. Villains give themselves away with ugly countenance when plot twists would be otherwise well-engineered. Paprika will seem a bit juvenile to many adults, but it’s not appropriate for young children because of sex and violence: in one dream sequence, a villain strips Paprika naked and begins sliding his hand around under her skin. Kon uses the dream plot largely as a vehicle to show off animation effects—bizarre transformations, the constantly undulating fabric of the world, but the content of both recurring nightmares has some authenticity and interest as dreams. Paprika is probably not a film of broad public appeal, but it will interest those enthused about either dreams or anime. Playing in art houses through late 2007. 90 minutes. Rated R.
Satoshi Kon (Director). (2007). Paprika. Sony Pictures.
Peter Ibbetson (1935)
This film is based on a novel by the same name written by George du Maurier three years before he penned Trilby. (Trilby’s film adaptations were all retitled in favor of it’s other main character, Svengali.) While Trilby/Svengali revolved around the state of hypnosis, Peter Ibbetson—book and film—takes place largely in the world of dreams. In a short opening vignette, the film shows a neighboring boy and girl discovering each other as a childhood first love before being ripped apart geographically by adult events. Then the film leaps forward and the adult Peter, an architect played by Gary Cooper, is arriving at a wealthy Duke’s home to take on a commission. After a foreshadowing dream, he recognizes the Duke’s lovely wife as his childhood love. Passions are rekindled and soon the Duke is dead and Peter is in prison. Here begins the main story. Peter experiences a false awakening one night and finds the Duchess in his cell. “It’s a dream,” he exclaims. With typical dream logic, the iron bars haven’t stopped her from entering and he watches he float back out of them. However, when he tries to follow, the bars stop him. But as she begins to visit for longer and he learns how to walk through the dream version of the bars and they travel to idyllic settings. The film doesn’t use the word “lucid” but it’s exploring the parameters of just that. They show both of them falling asleep and sharing the dream—so we’ve got dream telepathy going on also. The still imprisoned Ibbetson pronounces himself the luckiest man in the world due entirely to his dream life. The romance plot is corny by today’s standards, and the film employs profuse fog and glowy lighting effects to denote the dream world, but it’s interesting to see this early attempt to think through of implications of lucid dreaming. Multiple adaptations of the novel have been produced over the years, including a Ford Theater Hour television Peter Ibbetson (1951) starring Richard Greene, and a Campbell Playhouse radio Peter Ibbetson (1951) directed by and starring Orson Welles—both of which can be found streaming online. A silent film titled Forever (1921) had it’s last extant copy misplaced during the 1970’s; only stills survive from it or from a 1917 Broadway play starring John Barrymore in the Ibbetson role with his brother Lionel as the hapless Duke. The radio version features the best acting, but dreams are such an inherently visual medium that the 1935 film has an advantage. All versions of Peter Ibbetson come across
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2006)
This film opens with a quote from the Roman historian Sallust: "These things never happen but are always,” suggesting the viewer is entering a mythic reality. . . or the realm of dreams. Identical-twin filmmakers Stephen and Timothy Quay specialize in spooky, surreal shorts integrating stop-action animation, puppetry and occasionally—as with this film--live actors. The protagonist is played by Cesar Sarachu who also starred in their only other feature film, "Institute Benjamenta" (1995). John’s gaunt face is effective as he passively watches dreamy events unfold, but the supporting cast is disappointing. In general, the Quays are not as good with real people as mechanical ones. The plot of Piano Tuner is that, on the eve of her wedding, a beautiful opera singer is murdered?/drugged?—we’re never sure--on stage in front of her conductor fiancé by a deranged doctor who spirits her corpse?/drugged body? off to his retreat. There he revives her into the Zombie-like existence of most of his “guests.” The evil doctor hires a piano tuner played by played by Sarachu to repair seven automata in preparation for a concert with the opera singer. The automata showcase the Quay’s talent for turning old dolls, bits of clockwork mechanisms and eviscerated organs into eerie moving entities. By day, the tuner works on these odd glass- encased figures such as a woodsman who cuts his leg while chopping a tree and bleeds into a pond over and over. By night, probably in his dreams, he observes his fellow guests emerge from the sea each night and run backward through the forest in surreal, hesitant bursts. The tuner also hears an unearthly voice and falls in love with the singer who mistakes him for her composer fiancé. They struggle to escape before being swallowed by an earthquake at the concert’s climax or encased as automata under glass forever. The disaster actually happens on screen and it’s still not clear which of these seemingly opposite outcomes it is—most likely both in the unique logic of dreams. This lame plot has nothing to do with the merits of the film which lie in the fancifully beautiful visuals. “Piano Tuner . . .” is worth watching; however, if one’s just beginning with the Quays, I recommend their shorts more highly. Their rich imagery gets full play in bursts of fancy as brief as actual dreams. A DVD aptly titled "Ten Astonishing Short Films 1984-1993" is widely available and contains both their most popular film, "Street of Crocodiles," and their one film that is totally, explicitly a dream, “The Comb.” “Piano Tuner . . .” should also appear on video soon. 99 minutes. Unrated.
Potsworth & Co. (1990)
This was originally a 13 episode animated television series titled “Midnight Patrol: Adventures in the Dream Zone” which ran on the Cartoon Network. It is written drawn by Hanna Barbera, better known for the “Pound Puppies” series. Four episodes have been released under the name of the main character—Potsworth, an anthropomorphized dog--as a feature-length children’s film. Each night, Potsworth, his owner Carter and three other human friends go to sleep and enter the realm of “the Dream Zone.” There, they become the Midnight Patrol to maintain peace and order in the Dream Zone. Their nemesis, the evil Nightmare Prince, tries to spoil people’s dreams, but Potsworth and his patrol always save the night. The episodes have cute graphics and a nice sense of dream imagery and is appropriate for young children. 85 min.
Princess Minky Momo (1982)
Princess Minky Momo translated from Japanese "Mahô no purinsesu Minkî Momo" (1982) Minky Momo is a princess from Fenarinarsa or the Land of Dreams. Fenarinarsa used to be a part of the earth but humans began to ignore their dreams and Fenarinarsa drifted away. Princess Minky Momo is on earth posing as a human to help earth regain its dreams. Her earth parents run a pet shop and Minky has brought three animal friends from Fenarinarsa with magic powers. “Dreams” sometimes refer to night dreams, but more often to daytime fantasies and inspirations, so the film has little more to do with dreaming than any fantastic, magical anime film. It’s appropriate for elementary school children; as it features mainly girl characters and girl-paraphernalia, it likely may not appeal as much to boys.
Princess Tutu (2002)
The heroine, Ahiru ('duck' in Japanese), is a junior high school ballet student. By day she is caught up in her a crush on a quiet fellow student Mysto (‘mute’). By night she’s having dreams about being a duck. Awake (where events are just strange as asleep), she meets Herr Droslemeyer from the Nutcracker. He tells her that Mysto is a prince escaped from a fairy tale and that she, Ahiru, is actually a duck dreaming she is a girl. Drosslemeyer agrees to help her become the fairy tale princess TuTu so that she can win Mysto’s heart and bring him fully into the world. Scenes of waking up confused by the sudden transition between dream and physical world are done very realistically to dreams, but otherwise the events owe more to fairy tale and anime traditions than anything else about dream—which are used largely as a plot device. Though it earned a TV-14 rating in American ratings for bits of nudity and violence (that's cartoon nudity and violence mind you), it’s aimed at 11-14 year old girls with its idealized cross-species romantic plots and endless ballet paraphernalia. It won’t interest young children or adults much but it was a smash hit with pre- and early- teen girls in Japan.
Red's Dream (1987)
In this four minute short produced by Pixar Animation Studios, a red unicycle languishes in the back sale corner of a bicycle shop. With the shop closed for the night, the unicycle dreams of being at the center of a circus juggling performance. As with many films, dreams are assumed to be largely wish fulfillment, but there are a few authentically dreamlike moments. The sound of rain falling outside the bicycle shop morphs into a drum roll as the action shifts to the circus ring. The clown who’s been riding the unicycle while juggling abruptly disappears and now the unicycle juggles as if it had been doing so all along. This short is in the tradition of the early silent films of by Georges Méliès and other turn-of-the-last-century directors where the dream served as a premise for experimenting with newly-possible special effects including multiple exposures, time-lapse filming, substitutions and dissolves. Computer animation had featured few and poor night scenes before “Red’s Dream” and Pixar used the dream premise to develop compelling nocturnal visuals with their new animation software. As with all Pixar efforts, it is charming and beautifully executed. Pre-school children especially should love this film. It’s available on the old VHS collection “Tiny Toy Stories” and the newer DVD “Pixar Short Films.” Multiple low-resolution versions are posted at YouTube. Blu Ray version on Amazon
Russian Ark (2002)
“Is this a dream?” asks the unseen narrator of Alexander Sokurov’s surreal film. The answer seems to be yes—at least a dream as vehicle for a series of visually rich, plot-free tableaus from 300 years of Russian history. Ark is what “Waiting for Godot” would be if Catherine the Great and communist bureaucrats dropped by to relieve the tedium occasionally. Our disoriented narrator wanders through Leningrad’s Hermitage; our view is through his eyes. People appear every few minutes attired for various historic periods. We see WWII carnage on the lawn outside, the last Tsar dining with his doomed family, and a fancy dress ball with 2000 perfectly costumed extras. Our narrator is invisible except to “the Marquise,” a 19th century French diplomat who’s equally lost. Their confused attempts to understand their state of existence alternate with blithe acceptance of impossibilities - depicting dream-reasoning nicely. The title signals the metaphor of the Hermitage as an “ark” into which all eras of Russian history have entered and been preserved. The dreamlike discontinuity, the visual grandeur, and the few interesting observations—such as the Marquis’s opinion that Russia’s wannabe western European aspirations spoiled its distinctive style—all these manifest in the first 20 minutes. The film continues for another slow (albeit dreamy slow) and repetitive 75 more. Ark was shot in one continuous take—an unprecedented technical achievement, but not necessarily one that adds to the filmgoers’ experience. Directors and film scholars celebrate this movie more than the average viewer. My own reaction to the film is unique to the circumstances of my waking-life visit to the Hermitage. Most people view the museum as members of a densely packed crowd. I was there in August, 1991; ASD’s Dreaming in Russian conference had unexpectedly coincided with a coup attempt and the resulting disintegration of the Soviet Union. Tourists had fled Russia so footsteps echoed down empty corridors the day I visited the Hermitage much as in this film. The handful of people who would share this idiosyncratic déjà vu experience are other ASDers on that trip—this one’s for you. In Russian, with English subtitles. 96 minutes. Unrated.
Sergei Dontsov; Mariya Kuznetsova (Stars). Aleksandr Sokurov (Director). (2003). Russian Ark. Wellspring Media, In.
This gorgeous, bewildering masterpiece directed by Wojcich Has is based on a 1815 novel by Jan Potocki. The book is 700 very dense pages, and the 182 minute film has pared it down some, but still probably boasts the most convoluted plot of any film ever made. The oft invoked phrase “story within a story” doesn’t begin to cover the multiple narratives which aren’t nested like neat Chinese boxes, but rather comprise a tangle of strange loops that intersect each at the most disconcerting moments. Dreams, false awakenings, and perhaps sleep walking intermingle with waking journeys. . . or is it perhaps all one unending dream? The tale centers on an ancient inn which contains a leather bound volume in which travelers record their adventures. Some arrive to find the inn bustling with servants who won’t spend the night in it because of evil spirits; others find the place deserted and full of cobwebs . . .until they fall asleep there. All find the journal and begin reading or writing in it. The recorded tale becomes the next scene of the film. Characters we encounter briefly in one story later in end up back at the inn writing in the book and falling asleep. Two beautiful women--princesses sometimes, sisters often, witches, ghosts, evil spirits--appear to those who sleep there. The sleeper usually awakens under a gallows with hanged men overhead, a cabalist peering down with concern, or a noisy band of gypsies passing by. Later stories begin to refer to earlier ones--a random detail a character recounts will explain a mystery from a much earlier traveler’s journey. While dreams are used largely for plot structure, it’s not the cliched Hollywood “Lets have a bad ending before a happy one.” Rather they’re used for the disorientation a chain of false awakenings produces. The best quality of the dreams here is how vividly the moments of awakening portray that indescribably confusion as an especially vivid dream world is abruptly replaced by the waking world.
The Science of Sleep (2006)
Michael Gondry's predominantly French language film (with bits of English and Spanish dialogue) follows Stéphane, a young man who sleeps a lot, dreams, and has trouble distinguishing these dreams from reality. The film opens with a cheesy surreal cooking show “Stéphane TV” in which he narrates the recipe for a dream: “Random thoughts, a dash of friends and lovers, and memories of the past” while dropping the ingredients into a spaghetti pot. This causes a dream to unfold on a giant TV screen behind him which he eventually steps into. It’s not very dreamlike, but it makes for a mildly interesting meditation Later dreams have more authenticity when intruding real world sounds are briefly incorporated into dream scenes before waking Stéphane, or when a wonderful sense of dream-space is created with a room we recognize from his apartment building combining with an exotic cave. In his waking life, Stéphane works at his dreary job, conducts a conflicted relationship with his mother by phone and develops a crush on his next door neighbor coincidentally named Stéphanie. Stéphanie makes whimsical stuffed animals that begin to feature in his dreams. It’s made clear with a heavy hand in the scripting that viewers are supposed to find Stéphane charming and to root for him to get the girl and a better job. However, he’s so whiny, childish and self-absorbed, it’s hard to imagine a woman or employer taking to him. Gondry makes a mistake in having magical things happen in seemingly waking reality—such as having a one-second time machine work. There’s a scene in which Stéphane has mechanized one of Stéphanie’s stuffed horses to cavort around fantastically. It’s lovely in itself but it undercuts a very similar dream later in which a real horse is dressed in a costume to resemble the toy. Director Gondry has typically collaborated with the brilliantly original screenwriter Charlie Kaufman—most notably in “The Eternal sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” This is the first film in which he’s written his own script and it make that most of the delightfully quirky thinking has been is Kaufman’s whereas Gondry does have nice sense for fanciful visuals. 105 min.
Gael Garcia Bernal; Charlotte Gainsbourg (Stars). Michael Gondry (Director). (2006). The Science of Sleep. Partizan Films.
Secrets Of A Soul (1926)
Early in his career, the great German director G.W. Pabst conceived the project of presenting the new science of psychoanalysis to the masses through cinematic narrative, in a film demonstrating how the Freudian “talking cure” miraculously dispelled neurotic symptoms. The pseudo-documentary form of the film would thus be a case study and the plot would be the process and progress of therapy. Martin Fellman’s dream is the specimen dream of cinematic psychoanalysis—or of psychoanalytic cinema. It’s still one of the most complex and fascinating depictions of a dream available on film, but what remains most interesting about it is its means of fulfilling its original intention as a kind of advertisement for the psychoanalytic method. The plot itself is daring, and one of the great virtues of the film is that it conveys so much through hints, indirection, and symbolism. It is the extended dream sequence, of course, that is the most celebrated aspect of the production. Replete with trains approaching tunnels, babies floating upon water, and what is now widely recognized as phallic symbolism (in the form of cupolas, church bells, and yes, even a pith helmet), it served as a virtual compendium of imagery and techniques for later filmmakers—most importantly, Alfred Hitchcock. Silent Film. Can be found in many libraries and some online video sources. 94 minutes. Not Rated.
G. W. Pabst (Director). (1926). Secrets of a Soul. VHS released in 1969 by Grapevine Video.
Sherlock Junior (1924)
In this silent film classic, Buster Keaton plays a janitor and movie projectionist who pursues his aspirations to become a detective through a correspondence course. He falls asleep on the job and dreams that his transparent double leaves his body to enter the world of film. The fanciful sight gags are all achieved with simple props, primitive dark room techniques, and, of course, the actors' amazing stunt work. It's a delightful vehicle for Keaton's distinctive brand of comedy and pathos. Available on video at stores with extensive classics collections; occasionally shown with live music at art houses.
The Sleeping Beauty/La Belle Endormie (2010)
Written and directed by feminist Catherine Breillat, this is an especially dream-related variation on the fairy tale. An evil fairy casts a spell decreeing the newborn princess will prick her finger and die, and a good fairy modifies this into “sleeping for a hundred years” (so far common to most tellings). But here, yet another fairy adds that the princess will dream throughout that sleep.
The prick of the finger comes early in the film and the prince arrives late, so most of the action is cast in the dream world. There is some attempt to make Beauty’s adventures dreamlike: immediately upon the prophesied prick, she’s suddenly in a dungeon with skulls and a boil-covered executioner; escaping there, an empty train picks her up. The princess is lucid at least some of the time. When she comes across a berry bush, she debates between mouthfuls: “I know I’m not supposed to eat wild berries . . . especially delicious poison ones . . . but it’s a dream. . . but I could die . . no, not in dream. . . if you die in a dream . . . you wake up.”
Beauty falls in love with a character who prefigures the prince to whom she will awaken. From there, her “dream” is essentially the plot of another fairy tale, The Snow Queen, with Beauty on a long quest to win her beloved away from the bewitchment of the cold Queen. This tale contrasts with the female passivity of Sleeping Beauty and allows for feminist points Brelliat wishes to make. She also renders overt the theme of sexual awakening within The Sleeping Beauty tale. This is not a version for young children--there’s quite a bit of nudity and two sexual encounters. The Bandit Maiden, otherwise authentic to the Snow Queen plot, is given a lesbian twist. When Beauty is finally awakened by her prince, she has ambivalent sex with him also. There’s no “happily ever after” just because a handsome man has shown up.
The cinematography is gorgeous--there’s a breathtakingly beautiful scene as Beauty travels across frozen tundra on the Bandit Maiden’s reindeer with the aurora borealis flaming in background--but the aesthetics are more those of fairy tale illustrations than of dreams. The feminist alterations to the plot are laudable but a bit heavy-handed. Originally commissioned by French television, an English subtitled version is widely available on dvd or streaming.
Sleepwalk With Me (2012)
Mike Birbiglia wrote, starred in, and co-directed this film portraying his early struggle with a fledgling stand-up comedy career, pressure to marry his girlfriend, and first symptoms of REM Behavior Disorder. “A comedy for anyone who’s ever had a dream. And then jumped out a window,” reads the subtitle on the films’ posters. While Birbiglia plays his younger self, indie film actors bring his his family and friends to life with with nuanced, psychologically-astute performances. The humor and pathos of Birglia’s professional and romantic struggles make for a quietly charming low-budget film.
The elements which will interest IASDers most, however, are the dream scenes and the depictions of Birbiglia acting out the dreams in his real life settings. The film doesn’t get very caught up in aesthetics or attempting to make the scenes dreamlike beyond claustrophobic camera angles. The focus is on the content, ranging from winning third place in a dust-bustering contest to being told a cruise missile has been programed with is coordinates. (That’s the scene in which he crashes through a second story window). The we always see Birgbiglia awake up puzzled by whereabouts. He’s usually wreaked havoc and apologizes to any witness, saying he’s had a weird dream. One friend who’s shower he’s gotten into believing it dispenses pizza sauce, observes “You know, you’re not actually supposed to act them out; they’re like films--you just sorta watch them.
After Birgbiglia sleeps at his parent’s home and kicks the clothes hamper viciously while ranting about it being a jackal, his father gives him a copy of WIlliam Dement’s The Promise of Sleep. There is some verbatim reading from this book and in general the film contains accurate information about sleep and dreams. Symptoms and potential treatments for REM behavior disorder are described in detail, and other sleep disorders crop up in Birglia’s comedy routines. After a simple but accurate description of narcolepsy, Birbiglia remarks that female narcoleptics can fall asleep in the moment they reach organism and “that there’s another term for that--sometimes we just call them men.” WIlliam Dement makes a cameo appearance as himself in a scene in which Birbiglia is so sleep-deprived that he hallucinates the doctor there instead of his book. As a comedian, he can’t resist joking about the last name. REM behavior disorder is also played for laughs. Even jumping out of a second story window and coming close to dying got audience laughs in the theater I was in, but the film does feature have Dement stating clearly that it is dangerous and sufferers occasional die or kill someone else. The way someone can arrange a sleep evaluations is made clear in the course of the story. It’s the only film ever to roll closing credits over shots of electrodes, leads, gel, a Grass polygraphs, and finally the star hooked up to all these. Worth seeing! The film is touring art houses as this issue goes to press. No doubt it will be available on dvd soon.
Spellbound shows many of the marks of an early film noir, such as its preoccupation with shadows and doubles, shifting identities, morally ambiguous heroes, illicit sexual relations, and betrayal by figures of authority, but it proposes a sunnier ending, which renders it both truer to the ideals of American Freudianism than the moralistic atmosphere of film noir and more resistant to the pessimistic wisdom of psychoanalysis. The famous dream sequence was a bit of a stunt, the kind Hitchcock excelled at, something that piqued the curiosity of both the masses and the true cineastes. It is a dream that conveniently disguises all the significant details of a murder our amnesiac hero has witnessed, rendered inaccessible to consciousness by the mechanisms of trauma. Hitchcock uses actual Freudian symbolism in portraying the relationship between Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck a lot more deftly and wittily than in any dream sequence: they’re forever opening doors and windows, concealing guns and knives, and unlocking secret places. As with any good Freudian dream, what really strikes us about Spellbound is how it succeeds by revealing just what it labors to conceal. The trouble is that every element that makes it such a satisfying experience in the movie theater also reveals it as a set of contrivances and illusions. But as with dreams themselves, when we view films we may at least want to sort out the engendering of illusions, which dress our fantasies in appealing and convincing disguise, from the capacity of art, like dreams, sometimes to lead us to truth. 111 minutes. Not Rated.
Ingrid Bergman; Gregory Peck (Stars). Alfred Hitchcock (Director). (1945). Spellbound. Fox Home Entertainment.
Still Of The Night (1982)
Roy Scheider plays a psychiatrist whose patient is murdered. He reads through an old file looking for clues and finds a dream that the patient recounted but never discussed further in which someone is about to kill him. The psychiatrist becomes convinced that if he interprets the dream, he will know the murderer's identity. Meryl Streep plays the dead patient's mistress and likely suspect. In keeping with the tradition of psychotherapists in films, Scheider's character falls in love with her. Jessica Tandy plays his psychoanalyst mother who provides home cooked meals and expert dream consultation. The dream which we see enacted over and over is well done. The slowly unfolding interpretation is quite realistic, complete with clever visual puns. Unlike most dream-related films which tend to be fanciful or surreal, this one is a tight mystery in the Hitchcock tradition, with the emphasis on waking secondary process analysis of the dream. 91 minutes. Rated PG13.
Roy Scheider; Meryl Streep (Stars). Robert Benton (Director). (1982). Still of the Night. MGM/UA Studios.
Ten Nights of Dreams (2007)
This is based on a story by Japanese novelist Soseki Natsume, who in 1906 wrote, “I am an ambitious man who wants the people of 100 years hence to solve my riddle." Ten different Japanese directors, each with a distinctive style has turned one of the ten dreams in Natsume’s story into a segment of the film. Live action is interspersed with animation. In one segment, the dreamer is a samurai is visited by a sage who challenges him to find enlightenment before the clock strikes the next hour if he wishes to live. This frequent goal is questioned by the suggestion that anything that can be strived for is a nightmare. In another, a child leads the protagonist through his wife's dream about broken idols and miscarried children being reincarnated in her womb. A dream begins with a mummy who pursues a woman but gradually morphs into decreasingly threatening figures. One boy rides a gigantic boat on a seemingly infinite sea; another begs to keep the giant tentacled beast he finds while fishing for crabs. Last, there is a comic wrestling match against a giant anthropomorphic pig. We are probably no closer to solving Natsume’s riddle (which he never succinctly articulated and one critic cattily paraphrased as “what am I running on about?”), but we are entertained by it in this usual film. Playing festivals and art houses in late 2007. 100 minutes. Not rated.
Three Women (1977)
A country girl attaches herself to a more sophisticated co-worker while a silent woman artist paints anthropomorphic erotic mandrill baboons on the bottom of every swimming pool in town. Gradually the women change identities amid symbolic water imagery. The tie to dreams is that director Robert Altman (MASH, The Player) reports that he dreamt the entire movie and filmed it just as dreamed. It is an excellent movie. Highly recommended to anyone who does not require a tight, logical plot. 124 minutes. Rated PG.
Shelley Duvall; Sissy Spacek (Stars). Robert Altman (Director). (2004). Three Women. Criterion Collection.
Un Soir, Un Train (1968)
This is the second film from director André Delvaux, the son of surrealist painter of dreams, Paul Delvaux. It’s protagonist, Mathias (Yves Montand) is a middle-aged professor of linguistics at a Flemish university. His relationship with a beautiful young French woman Anne (Anouk Aimée) is strained, partly because of animosity toward francophones in Belgium. They quarrel shortly before they are to board a train. Mathias gets on alone and is relieved to see Anne follow him, but he falls asleep in his compartment before getting to speak with her again. Awakening from a nightmare about a train crash, he finds the train has stopped in the snowy countryside. Anne has disappeared. Matias and two other men get off the train to investigate and it pulls away without them. Walking into a small village they find dancing revelers who speak in a language Matias has never heard. The film cuts between past and future and implies there may have been a real train wreck: in which Anne has died? Or Mathias? The film was influenced by the absurdist existential metaphors of Kafka in such works as The Castle; in turn, it served as a forerunner to films like Jacob’s Ladder and Waking Life which explore how one can know one is dreaming—and whether an after-death bardo-state mimics dreams or waking.
Until The End Of The World (1991) German director Wim Wenders made this between his two popular angel films, Wings of Desire and Far Away, So Close. William Hurt heads an all-star cast with a predominance of English (minor characters speak subtitled Russian, Japanese, and Aboriginal Australian). Set in 1999, Hurt's character is on the runn from the CIA and assorted other militaristic nasties, with a device invented by his scientist father (Max von Sydow) which records mental experiences onto videotape. He first applies this to such simple tasks as feeding signals back into another person's brain so that the blind experience what someone else has already visually processed for them. Eventually he ends up in Australia, where the Aborigines whom his anthropologist mother (Jean Morreau) has befriended are hiding her and his father in secret caves lined in breathtaking images of Dreamtime. There they decide that recording nocturnal dreams is the ultimate application for their device. Interestingly, Wenders does not dwell long on the ability of one person to watch another person's dream as does every other science fiction film positing such an invention (see Dreamscape, Dream Lover, & The Clocks Were Striking 13, reviewed in previous issues). Instead, he quickly switches to the equally interesting corollary that each person will now have access to all of their own dream content in complete detail as never before. However, at this point he must have consulted Francis Crick and Graham Mitchison for dream theory, for events begin to tell us that paying a lot of attention to recalling your dreams is bad for you, unnatural; it sinisterly undermines the waking life of the experimenters. Fortunately the aborigine experts on Dreamtime have an antidote for this, but I won't tell you the whole plot. This is actually a wonderful film if you forgive some obtuseness about dreams. The visual elements are gorgeous, not only the dream sequences, but also panoramic travel scenes. Hurt flees through some of most spectacular scenery of rural Asia and Australia as well as through Wender's wild futuristic versions of Paris, San Francisco, and Tokyo (where hotels now rent ultra-elegant coffin-size sleeping berths). His 1999 versions of evening-wear, MTV, street crime, and automatic teller machines are demonically clever. One mercenary tracks Hurt with a malfunctioning Russian-manufactured computer program,"Bounty Bear" - this bizarre hybrid of advanced artificial intelligence and children's games graphics could stand alone as a satiric cartoon. The film is long and slow-moving toward the end. It would benefit from some editing, but it is an ingenious, lyrical fantasy which I would encourage ASDer's to catch if you get the chance. 168 minutes. Rated R.
Waking Life (2001)
This Richard Linklater film was shot with actors and then painted over to produce animation. Even with the crew of 31 illustrators, this would not have been possible before computer animation techniques that allow the artists to do major frames and then automate transitions. Each artist’s style is slightly different, so the film’s visuals vary between so stylized that they totally obscure actors and sequences where the viewer can make out photography. The night scenes are especially gorgeous, but at times the film looks like one is standing too close to an impressionist painting. It’s the plot that will interest ASDers most. Early in the picture, the main character wakes from what appears to have been a dream, gets up, walks outside, takes hold of his car’s door handle, and floats up tethered to it. A chain of false awakenings follow in which characters discuss philosophy—Sartre, Kierkegaard, but especially dream vs. reality issues. “Dreams are real as long as we experience them, can we say more of life?” “The biggest mistake you can make is to ever think you’re awake, we’re all asleep in life’s waiting room.” And, ”Most people basically sleep-walk through their life and wake-walk through their dreams.” At first, dramatic events jar the young man “awake”—a car bearing down on him, a shooting in a bar. Then characters explain to him about lucid dreams and how to tell if you’re dreaming. He begins to test for light switches which don’t work, and illegible words and clocks. Talking to a woman, he rapidly reasons through the sequence, “I can’t read my watch. In fact, I haven’t worn a watch since the 4th grade! How does it feel to be a dream character?” 99 minutes. Rated R.
Wiley Wiggins; Ethan Hawke (Stars). Richard Linklater (Director). (2002). Waking Life. Twentieth Century Fox Home Video.
Kat is 17 when her dissatisfied housewife mother disappears. Kat focuses on her high school social scene and doesn’t want to think about how she feels at the abandonment, much less where her mother may have gone. However, by night, she dreams of her mother—wandering in filmy white through the title blizzard or lying naked on snow covered ground. Waking associations tell us these refer to refer to childhood games of hide and seek with her mother under white sheets.
The film doesn’t just show dreams—it discusses them. Kat tells her therapist about the dreams and the therapist informs her that actually dreams are meaningless. “We all have strange dreams but in most cases it's just your brains way of letting off steam at the end of the day,” she opines.
The detective assigned to her mother’s disappearance disagrees and wants to hear Kat’s dreams in detail. Neither the film’s mystery plot nor its dream scenes are as good as in Araki’s earlier film “Mysterious Skin.” The snowy scenes with the ethereal mother are beautiful and do look dreamlike, but once the plot begins to unfold, the symbolism of the blizzard begins seems heavy-handed. The film ends with a twist that’s more bizarre than clever--contradicting all previous character setup. “White Bird . . . “ has it’s moments. Kat’s relationship with her two best friends is quirky and subtly heartwarming. Araki’s sexual scenes are always well done, whether passionately erotic or awkward and dysfunctional—and characters do hook up in surprising combinations throughout the film. “White Bird . . . “ is interesting and worth watching if you’re a voracious consumer of independent films, but “Mysterious Skin” is a better place to start if you haven’t yet discovered Araki.
Who Killed Jessie? (1966)
The Gene Siskel Film center aptly summarized this hybrid animation/live action film as “Brainstorm meets Barbarella.” A female medical researcher invents a serum that turns nightmares into happy dreams. When she gives her first demonstration of this on a cow, she discovers a serious side-effect: bits of the original nightmare are manifested in the real world. In this case, flies now swarm through the medical theater. Banned from further formal research with it, she gives a clandestine injection to her sleeping husband who happens to be dreaming about a buxom comic book super hero—Jessie—who is being chased by two muscular villains. She thinks the injection has worked and departs before observing the full effects. Her husband wakes up with Jessie in his bed and the cartoon villains tearing up his kitchen. The remainder of the film consists of trying various antidotes. It’s a farce of course, but its always interesting to see the “Brainstorm” style monitor displaying dreams in progress. The film also gives interesting glimpses of Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. Directed by Vaclav Vorlicek. “Who Killed Jessie” is not commonly available on video, but it tours art houses and museum series with other Czech animation or fantasy festivals. 80 minutes.
Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) (1957)
This Ingmar Bergman film is a kind of Pilgrim's Progress, but executed with the complex understanding of character of the dramas of Ibsen or Strindberg. The plot of the film is simple - Isak Borg makes the long car trip to the university town of Lund to be honored for his life's work as a doctor. Borg is a character who lives as much in dreams, fantasies and reveries as in his present reality. His day begins with one of the most famous dreams in film history, loaded with symbolism of clocks, coffins, and empty streets that many critics have labeled "Freudian," though Bergman himself has only hinted that is an homage to German expressionist films. It is - a class confrontation with mortality. There are many tantalizing themes to take up in Wild Strawberries: the tension in Protestant theology; two characters named Sara, who appear in Isak's old age as well as his youth, suggesting a notion of the anima or Eternal Feminine at the heart of the film; even the slight hints that Bergman is quite aware of the film's indebtedness to Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But the uniqueness of this film - consistently appearing on critics' lists of the ten greatest masterworks of cinema is truly in its structure. Bergman showed us the continuity of dream, fantasy, and memory, and how much of our lives may be absorbed in them, and in meaningful subjective experience, in the course of a single day. The most significant function of art, as of dreams, is subversive-to show us that the words we use in the day are inadequate to our real experience, and that we must always remain open to new ways of framing and understanding that experience--new images, new subjective events, that can deepen our limited understanding of the world. Wild Strawberries constitutes its own theory of representation, and whatever else we find it, it teaches us something just by holding that our accustomed account of the relation of the individual to the world, and of the nature of perception and memory, is inadequate to our lives--and this is the most important work that the fictional worlds of cinema can do. Available on DVD from Criterion. 88 minutes. Reviewed by Bernard Welt
Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Naima Wifstrand, Max von Sydow (Stars). Ingmar Bergman (Director). (1957). Wild Strawberries. Columbia Tristar.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Has any other dream-themed film been the subject of so much attention as The Wizard of Oz? L. Frank Baum's original novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is responsible for the two key features that underlie the film's mythic resonance: the dream (or vision) plot, initiated by a cyclone that lifts Dorothy Gale, house and all, out of Kansas and sets her down in a strange new land; and the focus upon the heroic qualities of a simple,unassuming, all-American little girl. Without consulting any dream dictionaires or compendia of universal symbols, any untutored fan of The Wizard of Oz can identify the munchkins as a child's fantasy of cutting the adult world down to her own size, or the yellow brick road as the path to wisdom, which is long, narrow and surrounded by dangers and challenges. To a large extent, the purity of the focus upon the quest in The Wizard of Oz is what has assured its timeless status: like all good myths, it is eternally evocative and mysterious, and yet anyone can understand it. Even if, as a quest myth, Oz is one of many that all tell the same tale, it is also a dream-- Dorothy's dream. And we all have our own dreams, however much or little they may mean to others when we share them. Dorothy reminds us that the ancient approaches to dreaming--the view of the dream as a place we travel to, where we have life-changing adventures, acquire guides and companions who will stay with us for as long as any we will meet in waking life, and take the long, narrow road that leads to some partial comprehension of our own fears and hopes-- still have power and validity, and that the meaning of the dream is not only in what it says to us about our individual selves, as most of 20th-century psychology has concluded, but in what we bring back from th dream to share with others in our waking world. 103 minutes. Unrated. Excerpt of review by Bernard Welt. The review in its entirety can be found in DreamTime magazine, 2007, v24, Winter issue.
Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan (Stars). Victor Fleming, Mervyn LeRoy, King Vidor (Director). (1939) The Wizard of Oz. Warner Home Video.
World Traveler (2001)
This film is not overtly about dreams, but rather it was inspired by a dream of Bart Freundlich. The NYC based screenwriter/director dreamt of waking up in a house on the foggy coast of Oregon. “I went onto the porch and had this sense that the day was beginning and the fog was lifting,” he reports. “I thought then that I wanted to make a movie that culminated with this emotion. Someone is wandering around, lost in their life and suddenly one day they wake up and the fog lifts and they embark on a path that is more clear and gratifying.” The ending of the film most directly follows the dream, but Freundlich says the “feel” of the dream pervaded all of it. Unfortunately, despite good acting by Billy Crudup, Julianne Moore, and Karen Allen, “Traveler” proves a tedious journey for most viewers. The 30 year old main character (Crudup) spends much of his time reflecting on slights done by his father right after he’s deserted his own young son and wife for a road trip. Both film and main character may be viewed more sympathetically if one keeps in mind the model of a dream--in which other characters really aren’t real people with equal needs. “Traveler” does share some interesting qualities of dreaming, especially the passive, spectator-like view the protagonist holds of his own life until the end which corresponds to the “awakening” Freundlich within reported in the dream. Not recommended except for ASDers who are interested in studying how dreams affect film. 103 minutes. Rated R.
Billy Crudup; Julianne Moore (Stars). Bart Freundlich (Director). (2003). World Traveler. Columbia Tristar.
David Blum has given a wondrous gift to the world with this documentary film. The autonomous beauty of the soul's images during illness surprise us with their beauty, as if soul prepares more for what is coming than with what the body may be suffering. Here is astounding evidence that as the body recedes, soul carries on, sustained entirely by images.
Dreams: Dramas of the Night (1996)
Educational video presenting the work of Rev. Jeremy Taylor. This video begins with Rev. Taylor lecturing briefly about his ideas on the meaning of dreams. This includes an especially nice introduction to Jungian archetypes and their appearance in dreams. Then eight dreamers present one or two dreams each and Rev. Taylor comments on each one. The dreamers are a lively, varied group of young people who recount--and occasionally act out--their dreams eloquently. Dr. Taylor has intriguing comments and uses the specific dreams to make general points such as the significance of recurring dreams and how physical death may be a metaphor for other sorts of transformations. The main shortcoming of this film is that Rev. Taylor doesn't interact with the dreamers directly and we never get to hear any of their reactions to his comments. This doesn't allow for much sense of how dreamwork is done, but it is still an engaging introduction to Rev. Taylor's ideas about dreams and their significance. Available on VHS at www.jeremytaylor.com.
I Must Be Dreaming (1983)
Narrated and advised by Robert Van de Castle, this video features other ASD'ers such as Carol Warner and Henry Reed. It includes practical advice on how to increase dream recall, shows how dream interpretation can work in both individual and group settings, and demonstrates the basic physiology of REM sleep in Dr. Van de Castle's sleep lab. Recommended as an entertaining and educational video for high school or undergraduate dream classes and beginning dream groups. Time Out Productions, Ltd. 60 minutes. Available from Robert Van de Castle, Charlottesville, VA.
Journey Into The Night--Sleep And Its Secrets" Reise in Die Nacht--Der Schlaf und Seine Geheimnisse (1997)
This documentary directed by Karina Ressler and Brigitte Holzinger presents many areas of sleep research including--but not focused predominantly on--dreaming. It features interviews with William Dement talking about making sleep medicine a health care priority, Roseanne Armitage suggesting that people dream across all sleep stages but remember predominately those that occur during REM, and Stephen LaBerge describing sleep paralysis & lucid dreaming. The excellent visuals in this film include computer and other animation, photos of dream and sleep paintings, and video of the animal species whose sleep cycles are discussed. There is an animated depiction of sleep stages with cartoons of brain and muscle activity and especially good graphics for dream content in REM. They have included video footage of narcoleptic dogs and support groups for human narcoleptics from Dement's film Keep Us Awake (see below). The interviews occurred in English and German. The copy which showed at ASD's fourteenth international conference in Asheville was not subtitled so that only about half of the film was understandable in each language. A German subtitled version is already available and an English subtitled one is planned. Appropriate for classroom use. 40 minutes. Available from Brigitte Holzinger, University of Vienna, Austria.
Keep Us Awake (1977)
This documentary was produced by William Dement at the Stanford Sleep Laboratory. It presents a detailed outline of the symptoms and diagnosis of narcolepsy (a disorder characterized by sudden attacks of REM sleep). It shows Dr. Dement taking one patient all the way through the diagnostic process: interview, sleep lab evaluation, prescription of both pharmacologic (Ritalin and Imipramine) and behavioral (naps) treatment. A segment about a support group for narcoleptics has them sharing their war stories (falling asleep in the middle of a promising first date). In another support group, their children are discussing difficult responsibilities such as rescuing a parent who is in danger of drowning in the bathtub during a cataleptic attack. There are scenes of narcoleptic dogs dropping suddenly mid-play on the Stanford lawn. It is cute and even amusing to watch a miniature poodle topple harmlessly to sleep on the grass in contrast to the footage of humans suffering the same problem. Since narcoleptics have such vivid dreams and because most other phenomena of narcolepsy - including hallucinations and sleep paralysis - consists of the spillover of dream phenomena into waking, this film should be of interest to most ASDer's although the format is most appropriate for classroom use. Available from William Dement, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
Linked: The Dream-Creativity Connection (2010)
Saybrook doctoral student Angel Morgan interviews 20 people who use their dreams in the service of their waking creativity. Playwrights, musicians, painters, and a teacher describe memorable dreams and how they’ve used these in their work. We see and hear many examples of the art. Ms. Morgan also acts out dream sequences, performs music based in her own dreams and provides commentary. She includes excerpts from interviews with dreamworker Allen Flagg, the husband of Kilton Stewart’s widow. The film is quite uneven. Among the most interesting scenes are interviews with students at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, a high school for the artistically gifted. A promising young artist covers cardboard boxes with wonderful dream paintings while she and her classmates express their passion for representing their dream experiences. There is a trailer at http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi3091531545/ and the film is available from Ms. Morgan at thedreambridge.com .
Matter Of Heart (1986)
This documentary interviews friends and followers of Carl Jung about his dreams, theories, love affairs, and relationship with Freud. Very accessible style, should be interesting to anyone from the general public to Jungian analysts. Directed by Mark Whitney; featuring Marie Louise von Franz, Joseph & Jane Wheelwright, and many other prominent Jungians. G-type content although it would bore young children. 107 minutes. Unrated.
Marie Louise von Franz; Joseph Wheelwright; Jane Wheelwright (Stars). Mark Whitney (Director). (2004). A Matter of Heart. Kino International.
The following three are parts of a Discovery Channel series, The Power of Dreams, which aired on television in the US in June and in Europe in July of 1994. They are of very high production values, and would be appropriate for classes from Jr. High School upwards as well as of interest to the general public.
The Power of Dreams, Part I: The Search For Meaning (1994)
This segment compares Freud and Jung's views on dreams with contemporary approaches to interpretation. It features Ernest Hartmann visiting Vienna and reminiscing about his childhood meeting with Freud, and shows a Jungian dream group lead by Robert Bosnak. Modern trauma-related approaches are illustrated by Milton Kramer counseling Vietnam veterans with nightmares and Rosalind Cartwright's research on using dreamwork to aid divorce recovery. William Dement is interviewed about the discovery of Rapid Eye Movement sleep. Allan Hobson demonstrates his "Nightcap" device for home monitoring of REM sleep and propounds his view that searching for meaning in dreams is "a fool's errand." Not rated.
The Power Of Dreams, Part II: The Creative Spirit (1994)
This segment features creative artists Billy Joel describing all of his musical compositions coming from dreams, William Styron about the title character of Sophie's Choice appearing in a dream and Isabelle Allende on dreaming the scene at the end of House of the Spirits. It includes beautiful footage of the ruins of the Greek dream incubation temple of Asklepios, scenes from Robert Bosnak and John Lipsky's play Dreaming with an AIDS Patient, and Alan Siegel leading dream groups for survivors of the Oakland Firestorm. Kelly Bulkeley discusses the role of dreams in ancient literature and Stephen Laberge presents his work on lucid dreaming, including a demonstration of his device, the "Dreamlight."Not rated.
The Power Of Dreams, Part III: Sacred Sleep (1994)
Edwin Stronglegs Richardson describes Native American traditions about dreams and Kelly Bulkeley is shown teaching nursery school children about dream catchers. Dreams as preparation of death is discussed as a concept in diverse cultures from the Australian concept death as return to the Dreamtime to Rev. Jeremy Taylor leading a dream group for elderly Californians to the Dali Lama discussing dreams in relationship to the Bardo state of the Tibetans. Alan Siegel discusses "turning point' dreams and leads a group for expectant fathers. June Singer discusses Jung's anthropological studies and historical footage is shown of these as well as some dramatic re-enactments of Jung's dream accounts. Not rated.
Victims Of Dreams (1994)
Produced by David Notowitz & David Shapiro under the direction of Bill Domhoff. This film explores the PTSD nightmares of Vietnam War veterans. It features interviews with Jane White Lewis, Milton Kramer, and Ernest Hartmann about their views of nightmares. Several veterans give moving accounts of the dreams which have haunted them since the war and there is dramatic sleep lab footage of a man suffering from behavior disorder of REM sleep acting out violently in a sleep lab. A few of the interviews are difficult to hear, so subtitles have been added to those sections. The material easily transcends the technical flaws. Highly recommended for college classes on either dreams or trauma. 30 min. Out of Circulation.
The Way Of The Dream (1987)
This 10 hour documentary consists primarily of interviews with Marie-Louise von Franz about her own views and those of Carl Jung on clinical uses of dreams. Her discourse is supplemented only occasionally with art images and brief dream accounts from others, however this is much more entertaining than it might sound. She is as bright and profound as anyone familiar with her writing would expect, but also very witty, earthy, and a great raconteur of anecdotes. There is none of the dry, overly scholarly quality that characterized her written work at times. This film is highly recommended for anyone interested in dreams, although one will probably get the most out of it if you have done some basic reading on Jungian theory or have seen a more basic film such as Matter of Heart (reviewed above). Produced by Jungian analyst, Fraser Boa. This film is shown by local Jung societies and available from a few large inventory video outlets.
The Way Of The Dreamer (2005)
The Way of the Dreamer featuring renowned author, teacher and shamanic counselor Robert Moss, is your ticket to a limitless adventure. This exciting 8 program video library provides answers to questions that fascinate us all: Do we dream the future? Can we communicate with the departed in our dreams? Can dreams help us heal physically, emotionally, and spirituality? Do dreams provide us access to devine guides and guardians? Can we use our dreams to make our waking lives better? Through his creative Active Dreaming techniques, which blend ancient shamanic dream practices and the best of modern dreamwork methods, Robert gives us a fascinating entree into the rich and vibrant world of dreaming. "We are born to fly," Robert tells us, "and in dreams we discover that the soul has wings." [This DVD has not been reviewed.] 3 Discs 250 minutes. Unrated.