Dream scene dream team

I actually thought when "Inception" came out that I'd be the only one to come up with the idea of compiling a list of other dream and dream scene and dream-within-a-dream scene movies. Well, dream on. Nonetheless, I thought that our staff of cinema savants could still contribute something new and illuminating to the subject, so I asked my critic colleagues at the Phoenix to select some of their favorite film dream scenes or dream movies and dream up something to write something about them.

Shaula Clark:

No one knows their way around surreal, psyche-scarring puppet insanity like Julie Taymor -- no one, that is, except maybe the Brothers Quay. And when the two come together to form Team Quaymor, expect a double-whammy of hallucinatory weirdness. In 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic/fever dream "Frida" (2002)Taymor's gold-glitter-dusted impalement scene


suddenly segues into an eerie little Quay interlude: inside Frida's bruised brain, the hospital operating room transforms into a curio cabinet filled with chattering, mewling, fleshy-tongued skeletonoids.

Tom Meek:

The essence of dreams in movies for me is most seminally embodied in the works of Jean Cocteau, especially "Orpheus"  (1950).


Watching a Cocteau film is about as close as one can get to peering into another person's sleeping subconscious. Fellini and Bergman too often imbue their films with similar trippy textures but don't achieve the complete, hypnotically transcendence of Cocteau.

As far as the dream as a critical plot element goes, "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)


is perhaps the grandest and most seamless example. And in horror there's Freddy Krueger and the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise.  In those films, unlike in Christopher Nolan's "Inception," when you die in a dream, you don't wake up in the real world. You're just dead. 

Some favorite dream sequences that I have had the pleasure to see again recently: The last twist in "Carrie," which may feel old and played out now, but where do you think it came from? The daydreams of an adolescent Eden and sex goddesses from the minds of Spicoli (Sean Penn) and Brad (Judge Reinhold) in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982) And a very virile (if robotic) Yul Brynner chasing Blythe Danner though an endless maze of hallways in "Futureworld" (1976).

Gary Susman:

No one does dreamy/nightmarish like David Lynch. For my money, his best dream sequence is the one that comprises the first two thirds of "Mulholland Drive" (2001). It doesn't become clear until that late twist [spoiler!] that Naomi Watts's wide-eyed ingenue Betty

is just the dream-state projection of real-life failed actress Diane (also Watts), who has imagined herself having a much more fulfilling life, one full of intrigue, romance, and still-unspoiled potential. But the key moment for me is not the shift that takes us out of the dream and into Diane's depressing reality, or any of the wonderfully bizarre-but-transporting encounters with sirens, freaks, and strange creatures during Betty's Alice-like journey through Diane's own personal Wonderland. Rather, it's the moment within the dream where Betty nails her audition, where the naive starlet proves herself capable of her own projection into a more erotic, mysterious persona. In that moment, you can literally watch a star being born. (Not just Betty, but Naomi Watts, too.) In that moment, you see the movies revealed as a playground, like our dreams, where we can transform ourselves, if only for a fleeting moment.

Michael Atkinson:

Think "Inception" was an original? Throw back to 1935, and Henry Hathaway's "Peter Ibbetson."


This intoxicated mid-Depression projectile is visually imagined like an old maid's opium daydream, with a Victorian-romantic narrative that still feels daring: after being separated as children, Gary Cooper and Ann Harding meet again with a husband between them, and after he's accidentally killed, Cooper's unpretentious architect goes to prison for life - but as the couple ages, they literally and continually meet, forever young, in their dreams. For decades. No equipment necessary. French critic Georges Sadoul wrote about this in his famous 1965 reference volume Dictionnaire du films, saying that "it is difficult to discuss this film without tending to invent certain details more than 25 years after being burnt by its flame." He didn't invent much in his synopsis, but the flame is very real. Available on DVD in Universal's Cooper box set.

Thanks for the contributions. As for myself [PK], I'd go back even further than Michael  - to 1924 with Buster Keaton's silent comedy "Sherlock, Jr." Wrongfully accused by his girlfriend's father of stealing a watch, Keaton's earnest movie projectionist dozes off during a screening and enters the film and succeeds not only solving his waking dilemma but also establishing an ingenious and beguiling fusion of real life and dream and cinema that has served as a template for all such films to come.

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