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Monday Movies Goes Down a Level

It’s not always easy to listen to another person’s dreams. Are they interesting? The Coens know that “they always is to the party concerned.” Especially if you have the good fortune to wake up next to the same person most mornings, you may find yourself listening to the telling of a dream.

Several years ago I began to approach this challenge by concentrating on visualizing the images in the dream as it was told to me. Shortly thereafter, it occurred to me to journal my own dreams in screenplay format. The idea first appealed to me as a way to practice my scene-writing skills, but it soon became an experiment without a hypothesis.

I found, upon commencing last week, that the process highlights the least cinematic component of dreaming: the revelation of knowledge. For example, there’s no legitimate way in screenwriting language to suggest “he knows that no one must ever find the box beneath the bed where he keeps a human head wrapped in newspaper.” It’s useful knowledge for an actor — “what’s my motivation?” — but “he knows” is not easy to imply visually. I don’t think this is the most important part of dreams, but it does jump out when you try to describe them in an otherwise appropriate medium.

In Paprika, the final completed feature of anime legend Satoshi Kon, a team of corporate research scientists have created the “DC Mini,” a technology that allows the user to enter and affect dreams by means of a sleek and toothy headset. A spritely avatar named Paprika travels the dreamworld with the mastery of Neo in the Matrix, but her powers will be tested after a baddie steals the technology. (Neither Paprika’s identity nor that of the thief are immediately apparent.) As the story begins, one of the scientists falls into a raving, waking dream, and as he jumps from a window, we find ourselves in his ominously surreal parade in which “The mailbox and the refrigerator will lead the way!”

I love this parade. It repeats throughout Paprika, more thrilling and frightening each time. The villain — whose motives only marginally cohere, into a froth of Luddism and power-lust — eventually triggers the collapse of the dreamworld into the real. It’s the exact opposite of the layered clockwork* of Inception (moderately recommended at the Weblog, groused about by me here), and more fun.

Death at a Funeral (2007) — Matthew MacFayden winningly underplays his character at the center of this farce. Unfortunately, everyone else talks too slow, whispers too much, and pushes their jokes too hard. (Peter Dinklage does a pretty good job.) Frank Oz directed, and at times the characters seemed like British actors imitating Muppets, though Heist did not have the same problem. The accidental-drugs joke is repeated three times, to good effect. The script overall isn’t bad, I just wanted it to feel more British.

Source Code — Like Zowie Bowie‘s excellent first movie, Moon, this uses the repetition of a central element to stage a dramatic scenario unsettled by a moral/ontological problem. Unlike Moon, Source Code never quite finds anything like the shattering moment where Sam Rockwell’s character reaches his daughter on Earth. I have some thoughts about it that I can’t get into without major spoilers but if I write them up at the other joint I’ll drop a note in comments. To tease it slightly: Harriet McBride Johnson would object to the third act; and it only takes a slight view askew to turn a mushy live-in-the-moment lesson into a Being John Malkovich-style horror ending. Michelle Monaghan is a waterfall but Vera Farmiga is an ocean.

Go down a level into the comments section and let us know what devilish flickers you saw as if in a waking dream this week.


April 4, 2011 Posted by | dreams, Monday Movies | , , | 3 Comments