Well, since I consider all movies/films to be dreams of their creative team I could’ve listed whole films, but this is going to be specific scenes in movies that attain that visceral, imaginative and weird state of mind.
While they flash before our eyes, they capture the emotions and thoughts of our main characters in visual poetry. So without further ado, let’s all become arm-chair Freuds and take a peak into the surreal.
10. Agatha’s Vision (Minority Report, 2002)
Steven Spielberg’s attempt at imitating his dearly departed friend Stanley Kubrick with a futuristic thriller is well, at best, a mixed result. With a more focused script and better plotting this could have been Blade Runner for a new generation, instead it is an above average chase film with great effects and Tom Cruise doing what he does best, running for his life.
In Minority Report, a future exists where it is discovered three young people, aptly named Pre-Cogs, can see murders days in advance in their dreams. A new agency is then organized to interpret their dreams to prevent those crimes, Pre-Crime. Now, I could put down any one of the murder visions by said Pre-cogs, instead I’ll list the scene where the lead Pre-Cog, Agatha (played with great eeriness by Samantha Morton) describes what see sees being a home ‘full of warmth’. An alternate reality in which Anderton’s (Cruise) dead son never disappeared years ago. There is no visual sequence accompanying her description of this reality (there is no need, her narration convey’s everything needed) only the reactions of Anderton and his wife as they listen, tears in their eyes, to a future that should have been; watching their son grow into a man.
Agatha, up to this point had only been used to see violence and death, the absolute evil in people, but here removed from Pre-crime she can now see a brighter reality, with the promise of hope. She is able to convey this feeling beautifully to two people desperately needing to hear those things. It is a moment of genuine emotion (surprisingly missing in this Spielberg movie) in a film that needed more grounding in it.
9. You Have the Power (Dark City, 1998)
Alex Proyas’ grossly under appreciated sci-fi noir predated The Matrix by a year in giving a stark and grim fusion of man and machine. John Murdoch (in a rare Protagonist role for the always memorable Rufus Sewell) is a murderer trying to hide his most recent kill… no he’s a man with amnesia trying to figure out his own name… no he’s a disillusioned husband. Long story short he a rather confused man. In John’s gothic journey into discovering the truth of this sprawling Metropolis and its inhabitants he meets with the eerie Dr. Schreber (a wonderfully creepy Kiefer Sutherland).
Without spoiling too much of this excellent mystery, I’ll just say the good Doctor has all the answers to John’s questions, and more, implanted in his dreams. Proyas’ strange, dark and metaphorical tale of man vs. society at large remains relatively unknown, gradually developing a cult following in the years after it’s release. Though obscure, the message remains clear, our greatest hopes and fears lie in our dreams.
8. Judgement Day (Terminator 2, 1991)
Right in the middle of James Cameron’s action classic sequel there is seemingly a lull in the shoot-em up while our heroes take a much needed reprieve from fighting Mercury man from the future. As they gather supplies from friends, (food, gas giant gatling guns, you know the drill) Sara Connor (a never better Linda Hamilton) takes a power nap. She imagines a playground just on the outskirts of a city full of happy children going about their day blissfully unaware of the terror about to unfold. She sees herself with her own child and tries in vain to warn them when out of the blue her worst fears are horrifically realized. The day when the machines take over has arrived, Judgement Day. Sky-net has launched nuclear warheads around the globe to annihilate its human creators.
Sara in her dream bears witness to one city hit by one of these WMD’s, the result is unforgettable. Acclaimed for one of the most realistic portrayals of a nuclear detonation on film, it leaves us with no doubt of Sara’s resolve to change the future in the following scene. Up until that point it is a question how Sara evolved into a warrior from the mousey valley-girl in the first terminator. If that is what she sees every time she closes her eyes, we wonder how she managed to keep it all together.
7. The Fight Choreographed by Fred Astaire (Inception, 2010)
So we are going deeper then? A dream sequence in a dream sequence, wrapped in a mystery, in an enigma…etc. In some cases sheer spectacle outweighs relevance to the narrative because it’s just that awesome.
Joseph-Gordon Levitt was in a wire harness, in a rotating hallway set and taking on stunt men to achieve the effect on scene. Christopher Nolan’s resolve to use practical effects to all lengths rewards him time and again in his work and especially here. There are more scenes from Inception I could list: Paris folding in on it’s self, the dreamscape collapsing, the ending sequence (probably?), but the Zero-G fighting style scene will remain in public conscience, just as Fred Astaire’s dancing on the ceiling, for decades to come.
6. Through the Looking Glass (Through A Glass Darkly, 1961)
Director Ingmar Bergman’s chamber play on film is a stark portrait of family, faith and madness mixed together to aid in describing communication between people and their God. As a Family, the patriarch played by Bergman favorite Gunner Bjornstrand, gathers for a get-together on a small private island they seemingly are able to interact with each other; however, it is evident that something else is brewing. The focal point of this family drama is Karin (Played flawlessly by Harriet Andersson), an emotionally and mentally unstable woman recently released from a mental institution. As she starts to have another mental breakdown, we see her act out her hallucinogenic visions. We never see what she sees, we only are observers to the madness, just like her father, brother and husband. As Karin slips deeper and deeper, her family finally decides to take her back to the main land for further help. Karin after a fit of rage hearing the approaching helicopter, describes exactly her terrifying vision, that God is not the kind and loving devine being, it is nothing more than a spider crawling on the floor.
Will Karin ever recover from her crisis of faith? It is not certain, what is that her Father, Brother and Husband all will support her unconditionally. We must all remember just how powerful the real is over the unreal.
5. Melting Clocks Got Enough on This… (Spellbound, 1945)
You just knew Hitchcock couldn’t stay off this list for long, right? In one of the Master of Suspense’s least known physiological thrillers, Ingrid Bergman is Dr. Constance Peterson and Gregory Peck is Dr. Anthony Edwardes, both physiologists at a mental hospital in Vermont. As Dr. Peterson becomes smitten with the charming and intelligent co-worker he begins to exhibit signs of a mental disorder. As he takes leave for New York City it is revealed that he was an impostor with the real Dr. Edwardes presumed murdered. Well, she thinks this can only mean one thing… the man needs help (how could anyone believe Atticus Finch as a cold-blooded murderer?). When she catches up with him she convinces him to travel to see a therapist who deals with dream interpretation her mentor Dr. Brulov (played with eccentric charm by Michael Chekov). The two of them ask Edwardes to recall his recent dreams. The result is one of the more memorable sequences in Hitchcock’s extensive filmography.
Yes, people will get on me if I don’t mention that surrealist Salvador Dali created the entire sequence using psychoanalytical symbols such as eyes, curtains, scissors, playing cards (some of them blank), a man with no face, a man falling off a building, a man hiding behind a chimney dropping a wheel, and wings. All mixed together to form an imaginative, strange and needless to say surreal experience.
4. Federico Fellini’s Ode To Writer’s Block (8 1/2, 1963)
Like the great composers before him, Italian Maestro Federico Felini was in a rutt about his ninth work. So he made a film about how hard it is to make a ninth film, go figure. In ’8 1/2′, Director Guido battles his producer, actors and himself to succeed in finishing his ninth piece, the one people will remember him for. In his hallucinatory day-dreams Guido compares these struggles to crisis of faith, love and life itself. Translation: there is nothing more important to a director than the film he’s creating.
As with other entries I could list many, many scenes of vivid and visceral imagery. Most people will remark on the beginning sequence with Guido trapped in a car filling with smoke, his only escape is flying off the roof of the car like a kite (it all makes sense in context…). Others might look back on Guido’s idea of ‘married life’, with a herum of women who exist just to make him happy. I’ll choose to list the ending due in no small part to the culmination of the ideas, literally and figuratively, in the film.