Films about Dreams

I’ve noticed that films about dreams tend to appear on lists of the oddest movies time and again. To prove my point, I’ve listed 5 strange movies that happen to be about dreams, daydreams, or fantasies of some sort. Nothing is easier to depict strangely than dreams. By their very nature, dreams and nightmares have an irrational quality to them. It’s only natural that certain creative directors would want to explore the unconscious mind.

Waking Life - Brazil - Arizona DreamA more novel approach might be an attempt at a more literal, analytical dissection of dreams through filmmaking, but that brings me to a theory. There are three types of directors:

  1. those who pose questions
  2. those who give us answers
  3. those who give us a show.

Dream films are about presenting watchers with a set of questions that we answer ourselves. We’re given images and interpret them ourselves.

Arizona Dream (1993)

If it’s got Johnny Depp in it, then you know it has to be oddball cinema.

Arizona Dream has an 86% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which may rank it among the highest-rated of strange movies. Emir Kusturica directs Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Vincent Gallo, Jerry Lewis, and Paulina Poriskova through a movie about a fish, Eskimo dreams, and lots of other strangeness. One of the dream scenes at the end of the film might be considered a ghost sequence, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Brazil (1985)

Brazil is the story of a low-level government functionary (Jonathan Pryce) who has daydreams about a saving a damsel in distress–that is, a beautiful maiden. Robert de Niro and Katherine Helmond also play key roles in this black comedy set in a dystopian, even Orwellian future (though it’s Orwell turned on his ear). Terry Gilliam of The Zero Theorem fame directs in one of his trademark tales about the industrial world we live in.

Waking Life (2001)

This trippy film written and directed by Richard Linklater is about a young man slowly waking up from his dreams. This becomes an exploration of everything from lucid dreaming to existentialism to politics and even post-humanity. The film was acted by real people, then rotoscoped based on their acting. The cast include Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, and Steven Soderbergh. Wiley Wiggins plays the protagonist.

You know a movie is getting heady and philosophical when it has an all-star cast of living philosophers. Real-life professional thinkers like David Sosa, Kim Krizan, Robert C. Solomon, and Louis H. Mackey make appearances.

Richard Linklater would go back to this well again in 2006 for A Scanner Darkly, which I’m going to have to watch again, because I turned it off the first time. (Something about having Keanu Reeves trying to talk philosophy just turned me off–God bless him.) I preferred this Waking Life. If you watched A Scanner Darkly or think this sounds like drivel, I’ll point out it does have an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though I think critics sometimes give a pass to mediocre movies if they’re supposed to be smart. Just my opinion, though.

Black Moon (1975)

Black Moon could also make a list called “Movies about Unicorns” or “Films about Alice in Wonderland”, which should give you some idea of the oddities you’ll find in this production. Louis Malle was the director of Black Moon, which is about a girl trying to escape a civil war between men and women and ends up in another world…a kind of dream world.

Black Moon stars Joe Dallesandro, Alexandra Stewart, and Therese Giehse and was supposed to comment on the womens liberation movement of the 1970s. If you can come to conclusions on the movement based on what you saw in the film, write to me and I’ll give you a shout-out, because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. I did like the inclusion of Joe Dellasandro in the cast.

Joe Dellasandro is the former male prostitute turned underground film sex symbol of the 1970s. He starred in movies like Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula (also known as “Andy Warhol‘s Frankenstein” and “Andy Warhol’s Dracula”), where he’s famous (kind o) for his bizarre portrayal of a communist hero fighting that dirty aristocrat, Dracula. Yikes!

Anyway, Black Moon is a weird exploration of dreams, but it can’t be too whacky, since I saw part of it one night on Turner Classic Movies.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film along with an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The director is Luis Bunuel some 43 years after his surrealist masterpiece (alongside Salvador Dali), An Andalusian Dog. That’s good training for this story of a gathering of five upper-class bourgeois friends and the dreams of four of the group. The narrative doesn’t follow a logical path, though the characters seem to accept it as such. If you get put off by such traits in film characters, you might not like this one. Still, when you’re watching a movie about dreams and nightmares, you almost have to expect certain flights of fancy with the narration.

Elements of the plot involve a fictional republic, a theatrical stage, a female terrorist, sex, cocaine trafficking, a remote country road, more sex, and social snobbery. It’s almost like someone took a hat full of story elements and drew a certain number at random. Still, I’ll give Luis Bunuel credit for making entertaining dream sequences.

Odd Films about Dreams

These cinema classics have appeared on several lists of the weirdest films in the world. It’s no coincidence they all happen to be about dreams, or that’s how I interpreted these DVDs. Tell me if I’m wrong, people.

I know I’m overlooking some great movies about dreams, so I encourage readers to reach out and let me know about oversights. I’d like to see what other directors have to say about the human subconscious and what that has to say about our waking state.

4 thoughts on “Films about Dreams

  1. Nice job on the list. I’ve seen a couple of them, but now I’ve got some more ammunition for my next visit to Netflix. Here are a few more good movies about dreams that I was able to think of:

    Jacob’s Ladder
    The Cell – I especially enjoy the bizarre imagery conjured up in this one.

  2. Lots of movies are “dreamlike,” but if we’re restricting ourselves to movies that are specifically about dreams/dreaming, I’d suggest five more:

    1. The City of Lost Children (1995) – beautiful French steampunk fairy tale about an old man stealing the dreams of children because he can’t dream himself; the “Santa Claus” opening may be my favorite nightmare on film

    2. Paprika (2006) – anime is always good for invoking an R.E.M. state; this one has a sexy dream-detective and dreams invading the real world

    3. The Science of Sleep (2006) – a lovelorn, narcoleptic young man can’t distinguish dreams and reality

    4. Inception (2010) – mainstream and not as “dreamlike” as the others, but very fine movimaking

    5. Ink (2009) – low-budget sleeper (hee-hee) about a girl who’s snatched away into a dream world by an Ink-ubus

  3. Pingback: Mulholland Drive Explanation and Trailer | Odd Films Blog

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