Movies about dreams have always been interesting to watch.
They offer the director an opportunity to explore their creativity without the boundaries of reality limiting them. And at the same time, there’s a sense of extreme realism because, after all, dreams are part of our subconscious.
There’s often a meta context in movies about dreams that highlight the viewer’s intimate connection with the dream world Things don’t make sense but they kinda do because we all have experienced the chaos present in dreams. It’s the juxtaposition of surrealism and a structured plotline that make movies about dreams so popular!
In any case, storytellers always drew inspiration from them. Mythology, for example, is essentially a collective dream.
(Check out these 6 Hollywood movies based on mythology)
In this blog post, we’re going to explore 8 movies about dreams that explore our deepest desires…. and our deepest fears!
One of Nolan’s greatest masterpieces, “Inception” depicts many interesting aspects of oneirology.
The premise of the plot is that you can plant an idea in someone’s head through their dreams. This is an intriguing concept, truer than you think!
See, the idea that our subconscious influences us isn’t new.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”
The point of origin of our thoughts isn’t always the conscious part of our mind. The things that go unnoticed, wants and needs that are suppressed, will affect your decisions and you won’t even know it.
Nolan places the protagonists literally inside the target’s dream world. Through the power of lucid dreaming, they can control their surroundings (to an extent).
The prompts they use to distinguish reality from the dream are based on a real technique called “reality check”.
(Do you want to have a lucid dream? Check out this post)
Of course, things get complicated and they trigger a dream within a dream. This phenomenon is what we call a nested dream.
Even though the mission was a success, we find that everyone underwent an internal transformation after they faced their very shadow.
In the movie, the Shadow has flesh and bones. Guns and knives. Only when you get to know that aspect of yourself will it stop hunting you.
2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
A hidden gem amongst movies based on dreams. Mainly because it talks about maladaptive daydreaming.
A term used to describe a dreaming disorder where an individual is daydreaming excessively.
The protagonist is a regular guy, working at LIFE magazine, but he frequently starts imagining elaborate scenarios in his head.
The story arc is fascinating, with Mitty receiving a call to action from the universe. Slowly but surely, he starts living in the moment, escaping his daydreams.
Without spoiling the movie too much, I’ll summarize it with this quote
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel”
(If you want to learn more about maladaptive daydreaming, we have a whole post dedicated to this weird but common phenomenon)
Arguably one of the most culturally impactful movies of the last century, it raised the bar to what we should expect from allegorical films.
Most of you already know the plot, but I need to highlight an important point.
There’s a moment before Neo takes the red pill that he contemplates how his life could be if they wiped out his memory and let him return to a state of blissful ignorance.
I think that’s why many of us struggle with accepting parts of our subconscious mind. It’s easier to ignore the truth. Easier to pretend that the unsavory aspects of our personality don’t exist.
Because once you see the truth, whatever that might be for you, there is no turning back. Dreams can be the portal to that “other” side. Just be careful with going too far too fast…
“When you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
4. Total Recall
One of the major functions of dreams is memory reorganization. Basically, your brain is simply processing emotions, thoughts, and ideas you had during the day. It’s why sometimes we need a few minutes to sort out whether a memory is real or a dream.
Total Recall (the original and the remake) is a movie based on that premise. In a futuristic society, a company has the ability to implant new memories. The protagonist, after having many weird dreams about being a spy on Mars, decides to go for it.
The plot twist is that throughout the film, it’s practically impossible to discern if what we’re seeing is real or a memory. We get a few hints here and there but nothing conclusive.
The movie is based on a short story called “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” written by Philip Dick. Even though it’s quite different from the script, the premise has been used in a few futuristic/dystopian projects.
The film “Minority Report” was supposed to be a sequel to Verhoeven’s work. It is based on another short story by Dick, so I can definitely see the attempt to create a bridge between them.
Do you have dreams that have been repeating for years?
I still see dreams that have been occurring since I was a little kid. They’ve become so familiar I could sit down and write whole books about them!
Well, Kurosawa did it with his movie “Dreams”. Although calling it one movie might be too simplistic. It’s a collection of eight vignettes that blend reality with magic:
- Sunshine Through the Rain
- The Peach Orchard
- The Blizzard
- The Tunnel
- Mount Fuji in Red
- The Weeping Demon
- Village of the Watermills
Kurosawa’s work truly encapsulated what it feels like to be in a dream. The blurry line between reality and imagination, the surrealism, the feeling of floating through different planes of existence.
It’s an eccentric project, offering a visceral experience to the viewers. A dream on your screen.
6. The Science of Sleep
Similar to #2, intense and vivid dreams interfere with the life of the protagonist, bleeding over his relationships and work.
It’s a testament to how creativity can push us to the limits of our minds. The great artists found themselves oscillating between reality and their inner world, often blending them together.
The young artist navigates the turmoil of his emotional life, painting a surrealistic portrait along the way.
Inspired by a bedtime story, the director attempts to infuse the seriousness of an adult’s love life with the childlike wonder we seldom use.
Beyond the comedic undertones, there’s a serious lesson in this film. The protagonist is stuck in a job that doesn’t allow him to express his creativity. That’s why he has to find other ways to quench his thirst. It’s the repressed aspect of his personality that drives him in the end.
Just like a proper dream…
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street
This is the only horror film on this list. After all, sometimes our dreams become nightmares we have to face! But the good thing is that no matter what, they’re still a dream. You cannot be harmed… or can you?
The slasher movie takes advantage of irrational fear, turning the volume up! Freddy Krueger, rather his spirit, has the ability to invade people’s dreams and kill them in real life.
Four teenagers struggle to escape his metal claws since the serial killer is invincible. Only when they pull him in real life can they fight him.
This is a classic Jungian paradigm; our worst fears become manageable when we’re able to consciously confront them.
In the movie, the protagonists realize that Kruger is feeding off of their fear. When they ignore him, he simply vanishes!
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” has become a classic because it portrays the nightmarish fear we’ve all experienced at one point during our dreams.
8. It’s a Wonderful Life
I remember watching it when I was 18, on the cusp of adulthood. You can argue that someone who’s just beginning his life won’t be able to fully appreciate this film but for whatever reason, it really struck a chord with me.
While it’s not necessarily a movie about dreams, it is rather fitting how George Bailey can appreciate what he has and objectively see reality through a dream-like vision!
On a surface level, Bailey is a successful family man. Slowly, we realize that he had to make a lot of sacrifices, abandon his personal dreams, and postpone his life. He believes that he has wasted his years.
In the present day, a financial mistake pushes him over the edge and he decides to end his life. Fortunately, an angel appears, showing how life would’ve been if he wasn’t alive.
A reminder that we can often lose sight of what’s important. But our subconscious never forgets. It always reminds us what to appreciate and what to let go of. All we have to do is listen!
It was all a dream!
“If we shadows have offended, think but this; and all is mended that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear and this weak and idle theme no more yielding but a dream.”
The internet is filled with wild theories about movies. It’s always fun to read the ingenious plotlines fans come up with.
There’s one particularly interesting plot device that can be applied to almost every single script; it was all a dream!
The idea is that the protagonist is actually dreaming of everything happening in the film. But it’s only implied by subtle hints.
Movies like “Click”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Vanilla Sky”, etc are supposed to follow this trope. In many cases, it can be a boring cliche. But when used right, it can be a tool to underline the absurdity of how we perceive reality through our minds.
After all, how can you be so sure that you aren’t dreaming right now…
What do you think?
George K has been immersed into the world of myths and dreams for a very long time now, attempting to find the numerous symbolisms and meanings attached to them. He is a prolific writer along with being an independent researcher. Contributing his knowledge and learnings to several magazines and blogs, he has the unique ability to simplify and explain even the most intricate subjects.