The one good usage of dream sequences in movies
Dream sequences in movies make my skin itch, almost as badly as it does during long sex scenes. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue not to call out my frustration
“I GET IT! YOU’RE DREAMING/HAVING SEX. NOW CAN YOU PLEASE WAKE UP/FINISH WHAT YOU’VE STARTED SO WE CAN MOVE ON WITH THE MOVIE, PLEASE?”
Before we start an argument over my lack of love for dreams in movies I want to put in a disclaimer. Yes, there are movies where dreaming is essential and an important part of the story. I loved Inception. I liked Danny Boyle’s latest move Trance quite a bit. Overall I’m a fan of movies that explore various aspects of the human mind, such as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Matrix. Unlike many others I also liked Vanilla Sky and Shutter Island, not to mention Minority Report.
When I’m talking about my hatred for dream sequences it’s not that kind of dreams I refer to. The dreams, usually in the form of nightmares, that I hate so much are the ones that are tossed into the movie for no particular reason. And here are my objections:
1. They feel like fillers
As much as I love Star Trek and consider TNG the best series of them all, I always cringe when I realize it’s going to be a holo deck scene or – in worst case – an entire episode with it. I always imagined that the amount of holo deck was related to the state of the finances. If they were short on money they did more holo deck. It was cheaper per minute. And that’s how most dream sequences are in movies. They feel like a cheap way to spend some time, to drag out on a story that didn’t have enough of substance to fill an entire feature film.
2. They’re pointless
You would expect from a movie that there should be a reason for every scene they put into it. Shooting costs money and the time of the viewer’s is precious too, so you shouldn’t want to make a movie longer than necessary. But surprisingly dream scenes seem to go under a different set of rules. Over and over again we see scenes where the main characters are engaged doing things that have nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. It’s like a separate track that suddenly appears without any real tie to the rest of the film. You don’t learn anything new about the characters. You don’t learn anything about the story. They’re floating around like an isolated island and you never how why it’s there at all.
3. They undermine my trust and suspension of disbelief.
Nightmares are especially overused in suspension and horror movies and that’s where I hate them most. They’re always used in a manner that makes you believe that what you see is what happening “for real” in the film. There will inevitably be some sound-based jump scares and then things will horrendously bad and then the main character will wake up dripping with sweat and you learn that it was only a dream. I will fall for that trick the first time it’s used in a movie. I do it every single time, because that’s how I watch movies: I immerse myself into them completely. But then the revelation comes that it was “only a dream”, which makes me feel like a fool, and as a result I’ll be much more on my guard for the rest of the movie. My level of suspension of disbelief falls to a minimum and I take a step back from the movie, observing it rather than bathing in it. “Ok, things are going bad, huh? I wouldn’t make a big fuss about it. I bet it’s just another dream.”
4. They’re immensely boring
I never tell other people about my dreams. My number one reason for this is that I never remember them, so there isn’t much of a choice. But even if I did remember them, I wouldn’t say anything about them unless someone begged for me to share it. And the reason for this is that I don’t want to expose others to what I hate so much myself.
Frankly I find it very hard to listen to other people telling me about their dreams. Every time it happens I start drifting away. My head keeps nodding and my mouth is smiling or my forehead is frowning, depending on the tone in the voice of the story teller. In reality I’m somewhere else.
Basically I see dreams as the equivalence of screensavers. I guess they’ve got some kind of function and that our brain needs to do idle work once in a while as a part of its maintenance. But this doesn’t qualify them as material for storytelling, be it as a part of a dinner conversation or in a movie. It’s engaging only to the dreamer herself. If dreaming sparks your creativity, my best advice is to save it for your diary.
One reason to include them
As far as I’m concerned I only see one usage of random dreams in movies. Provided they’re long enough, they’re pretty good for a bio break in case of emergency.
This post is a part of a blogathon arranged by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was: “Nightmares” (and yes, I may have stretched it a little bit in this post). Here are links to the other blog posts.