Movies, Dreams in

Movies, Dreams in


The use of dream images in movies is quite prevalent. Through dreams, it is possible to represent a state of mind or a memory via a dream sequence that otherwise would be very difficult to portray. Thus, themes like projection, defense, distortion, symbolism, trauma, obsession, fixation, regression, the Oedipal crisis, persecution delusion, and the inferiority complex have been the subjects of many films. Freudian dream work was writ large in society’s films.

The films of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock are filled with remarkable coincidences and are characterized by an order imposed on the world through allegory, fantasy, romance, and dreams. Often an entire Lang movie, such as the Woman in the Window (1944) was presented as a dream. In this film, a university criminology professor denies that murder can be accidental and then becomes enmeshed in a set of circumstances that force him to commit one. At the end of the film, the murder is revealed to have occurred in a dream while he dozed in a chair at the faculty club. This movie is particularly involving, so that by the end of it the audience has the illusion of waking from the same dream, after experiencing the same emotions as the main character.

Hitchcock used dream images in various films, such as Spellbound, Psycho, and Marnie, in which psychiatric explanation reduces the power of dreams to words and formulas. A film like 1960’s Psycho lures us in with a suggestion of a dream-within-a-dream, with the possible consequence that the dream-within-a-dream is real.

For many people watching a film is like having a dream. The overpowering images on the screen can be frightening and make people feel the same kind of paralysis known in nightmares. Also, films seem real in the way dreams feel real. Their ability to make people believe they are part of the action is, for many, one of film’s most important achievements as a form of art.

Movies like The Deadly Dream by Alf Kjellin (1971) can raise the fear of never waking up. In this film Lloyd Bridges plays a scientist who has made the discovery that DNA can be changed inside a living person. In his 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. Finally, he is killed in his dreams.

Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979) can be considered musical movies that explain dreams as the result of physical trauma. In the former, Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl is hurled in her own mind and imagination into a magical world called Oz after a fall during a tornado. The coloring of her imaginative experience during her dream suggests the special reality that she enters during the oneiric experience.

All That Jazz presents the story of director Joe Gideon who suffers from a progressive heart disease. As the film draws to its conclusion, the hero lies in a hospital room and has a dream populated by entertainers and characters from his past, who return to be part of a last tribute to his life.

Characters in films like The Story of Adele H. (1975) by François Truffaut, and Robert Red-ford’s Ordinary People (1980) are assailed by dreams of traumatic events involving drowning incidents. Fears and uncertainties cause anxiety dreams in such movies as R.W. Fassbinder’s Despair (1977), and Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957). Bergman’s movie, in particular, is a tale of one day in the life of an elderly professor of medicine, who is being honored for fifty years of service in his field. Within the framework of the film we find a mingling of dream and reality, of past and present, as well as flashbacks and time shifts that play a curious trick upon the professor, who lives through a dreamlike day while he explores a past that is shot through with painful nostalgia and nightmare.

Similarly, the films of Russian author Andrei Tarkovsky are suffused with a dreamlike quality that resists the audience’s need to verify the logic, as well as the credibility, of the events presented on the screen. In fact, the viewer feels that something is wrong with the way things appear on the screen, but is incapable of detecting sufficient proof to discredit presented events on the basis of everyday logic. Especially in The Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1980), Tarkovsky succeeds in conveying daydreams about the past and the future through pure cinematic means. The Mirror is a dream film par excellence, reflecting the author’s reminiscences of his own youth, while Stalker is a hallucinatory anticipation of a world that represents the reality of the artist’s inner life.

The idea of the transparency of the dreaming and waking states is very popular in Japanese films, such as in Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Stories of the Hazy Moon after the Rain and Intendant Sensho. The best example of the representation of dreams in the Japanese film tradition is Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990), about the refusal of most Japanese society to take atomic danger seriously. Kurosawa explores the issue with the two episodes that imagine an apocalypse caused by an accident at a nuclear power station. In another episode, famous van Gogh paintings are transformed into dramatic space, and the vivid power of van Gogh’s art transports the young Japanese man into the era when it was created. The young man wanders in search of the artist through a full-scale world of his drawings and paintings.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.