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Why Movie Directors Use Recurring Dreams

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2007-01-10 00:53:15     
Article by Leslie Halpern

The worst part about nightmares is their tendency to repeat themselves. An isolated nightmare may not be cause for alarm, but recurrent nightmares with the same theme become quite troubling for most dreamers. The same is true with movie dream sequences. Directors use the emotional impact of recurring nightmares to ensure that characters deal with hidden fears and imminent dangers.

Throughout the ages, recurring dreams were given more credence than single dreams. Even in the Old Testament, Joseph's dreams occur in pairs, which increase their importance and command the dreamer's attention. His dreams about his brothers' sheaves bowing down to his sheaves, and the other dream in which the sun, the moon and eleven stars bow to him are essentially the same. These recurring dreams may have represented unfulfilled wishes or unresolved problems in Joseph, but they had a nightmarish quality for his brothers who plotted to kill the egocentric dreamer in case the dreams were prophetic.

In an essay written 20 years after the publication of his landmark book "The Interpretation of Dreams" in 1900, Sigmund Freud wrote that only one exception exists to his central idea of dream as wish fulfillment: Recurring dreams of a trauma are not considered wish fulfillment, but are attempts to gain control over the trauma so the pleasure principle can begin.

Carl Jung also gave recurring dreams a higher priority, attaching little significance to the interpretation of single dreams. With a series of dreams, however, Jung said interpretations are more accurate because later dreams correct earlier mistakes.

Movie directors often adapt this idea of unresolved issues becoming recurrent nightmares by using increasingly horrific elements in each dream until the matter is resolved.

In the fantasy film "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," Harry's recurrent dreams all take place in the same location with the same characters and have the same theme, yet their presentations differ greatly and therefore produce different emotions in the viewer. Each dream provides a little more information and provokes a little more fear, until Harry eventually visits the scene of his dreams in his waking life. Only then can his nightmares come to an end.

Likewise in "Sleepy Hollow" (a mixture of Gothic romance, mystery thriller, and grisly horror film), Ichabod Crane is a man of science forced to come to terms with his fear of the supernatural through a series of frightening events in his life that trigger recurring nightmares of his past. Each dream provides another piece of the character's psychological puzzle. When Ichabod bridges the gap between science and superstition, he frees himself of his nightmares.

In the psychological thriller "Marnie," a young woman has a multitude of phobias including recurrent nightmares caused by a repressed trauma from her childhood. As each dream reveals more of her background, they also increase in their horrifying intensity. Until these issues are addressed, analyzed, and conquered, she is held hostage by her past, unable to fully love herself or those around her.

The most famous (and most recurring) movies about recurring dreams are those from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series. In these horror films, dream-linking teenagers must fight off a dead, disfigured child killer who comes alive in dreams so he can kill more children. These dreams are horrifying due to their content, repetition, and because all the teenagers dream of the same fiend: Freddy Krueger. One of the basic rules of dream sequences in movies, of course, is that if more than one person has the same dream, then it must be true.

Troubling and terrifying recurring dreams are plentiful on the silver screen, particularly in the horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery thriller genres. For a quick sampling of other characters struggling with their unresolved issues through recurring dreams, watch "In Dreams" (horror), "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (science fiction), "Eragon" (fantasy), and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (thriller).

Although the best directors strive for producing the greatest emotional impact in viewers and stretching the limits of cinematic sorcery in their dream sequences, it's worth mentioning that lesser directors sometimes use recurring dream sequences merely as a means of providing a back story for the characters without a lot of boring narrative. In a well-made movie, the artistic aspects of dream sequences are equally balanced with the practical need to tell the full story.

Copyright 2007 Leslie Halpern

Leslie Halpern, MLS, is the author of "Dreams on Film. The Cinematic Struggle Between Art and Science" (McFarland & Company), a book that analyzes representations of sleeping and dreaming in the movies. She also wrote "Reel Romance. The Lovers' Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies" (Taylor Trade Publishing), a book that reviews date movies for couples, and suggests romantic ideas inspired by these films.

Specialized in: Dreams - Film - Dreams On Film - Cinematic - Art - Struggle - Dream Sequence - Dream Theory - Visions - Dream Interpretation - Reel Romance - Real Romance
URL: http://home.cfl.rr.com
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