THINGS I LIKED ABOUT INCEPTION:
“They tell you what you are trying to hide, but they tell it to you all mixed up, like pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit.”
The Dream: designed by Salvador Dali, filled with stylised, exaggerated symbolism relating to Gregory Peck’s repressed memories, which contain the keys to a murder and to Peck’s own amnesia. Director Alfred Hitchcock described it as “just another manhunt story wrapped in pseudo-psychology.”
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
“I’ve seen you in my dreams. Sounds like a sentimental song, doesn’t it? I’ve dreamt about you over and over again, Doctor.”
The Dream: the entire film is revealed to be one long dream, which at the end looks set to repeat itself (though some argue that the last few minutes actually do take place in the real world). Architect Mervyn Johns arrives at a country cotttage he’s never been to before but experiences ominous sensations of déjà-vu as the other guests relate their experiences of the uncanny. I like the way the climax of the dream incorporates all the characters and stories from earlier in the film and gives them an extra nightmarish twist.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)
“Night after night, the Major was plagued by the same recurring nightmare.”
Before I saw it for the first time, nobody told me The Manchurian Candidate was funny. But it is, and extremely weird to boot. Frank Sinatra and the rest of his platoon are suffering from recurring nightmares apparently set in a New Jersey hotel playing host to a “Fun with Hydrangeas” convention populated by Women’s Institute types, though in reality the dreams are the result of their having been brainwashed in Korea. The detail I particularly love is the way the colour of the women’s skin changes according to the ethnicity of the man who’s dreaming.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
“This is no dream! This is really happening!”
The Dream: Rosemary dreams she’s on a yacht with JFK, then she’s naked, then she’s being raped by the Devil in a roomful of naked old folk. Depicting this as a dream was a masterstroke (can’t remember if it was Ira Levin’s idea or Roman Polanski’s); filmed straight, the ritual would have been absurd (like the orgy scene from Eyes Wide Shut) but mixing it up with Rosemary’s subconscious makes it subjective, ambiguous and very creepy. It also, incidentally, slips in the information that Rosemary has been “chosen” because she’s a nice Catholic girl. This is arguably a drug-induced dream (or at least a chocolate mousse-induced one) but I’m including it anyway because I love the way it blends fantasy, reality and celebs.
THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972)
“Le sergeant a un rêve très sympathique à vous raconter.”
The Dream: The entire film can be interpreted as a series of interlocking dreams in which a group of middle-class people repeatedly try to sit down and eat dinner, but are prevented from doing so for increasingly outlandish reasons. In one scene, a young army sergeant describes a dream (the very fact that he’s describing it in the first place is dreamlike and bizarre) in which he’s walking down an empty street; first he bumps into a friend who has been dead for six years, then his mother, who is also long dead). Meanwhile, on the soundtrack there’s the ominous sound of a tolling bell and the constant murmur of an invisible crowd. Nothing much happens, but it’s very creepy.
“When you dream that you die, you die in life at the very same instant. Now we can go into an enemy’s dream, kill him, make it look as if he died in his sleep.”
The Dream: Dreamscape is a direct antecedent of Inception. Dennis Quaid (one of the good guys) and David Patrick Kelly (team evil) have the ability to enter people’s dreams. The President has been having nightmares about a nuclear holocaust and wants to sign a peace treaty; Christopher Plummer tries to stop him by sending Kelly into his dream. In the climax, Kelly chases Quaid and the President through a trainful of zombies and turns into a snake monster. Many people think the special effects are clunky, but I think they’re great.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”
The Dream: Freddy Krueger is a dead bogeyman who murders teenagers in their dreams. Wes Craven’s first film in what would be a long-running but increasingly jokey franchise is a genuinely eerie and imaginative slasher movie which exploits the confusion between dreams and reality.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)
“I’m just so excited to be here. I mean I just came here from Deep River, Ontario, and now I’m in this dream place.”
The Dream: even before three-quarters of the plot is revealed to be a dream, watching Mulholland Drive feels like dreaming with your eyes open. Unlike Inception, it feels as though every single element in the film has been placed there for a purpose: the scene behind the diner, the sinister cowboy, dreams within dreams, apparent non-sequiturs, the blue box, “Silenzio”, amputated plot threads left over from the film’s first incarnation as a TV series pilot, things that don’t seem quite right. To me, Mulholland Drive feels like the most uncanny depiction of the dream state ever filmed. I like to think that if ever David Lynch were to film my nightmares, they would end up something like this.
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