I was sad to hear that Satoshi Kon, the ingenious guy behind the mind-bending animated film Paprika passed away a couple weeks ago at age 46 . I had been thinking about Paprika recently when I watched Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a film that also explores the possibility of entering into other people’s dreams in order to change the way they think about something. In Paprika, the focus is on a team of therapists who perform their work inside the dreams of mental patients, but malevolent interests also end up running amok in there, as you might imagine. In Inception corporate interests hire experts to infiltrate the dreams of competitors in order to perform espionage, but we can see the therapeutic possibilities there too (in fact, you could read the ending of them film as Ariadne’s attempt to finally release DiCaprio’s character into a dream he can manage to live within).
As unique and clever as Inception was — clearly Nolan is his own brand of genius — the idea that real life can invade dreamspace is certainly not new, and one could argue that the topic is perhaps best treated in film. The experience of moviegoing is probably as close as we’ve ever gotten to collective dreaming and it’s not surprising that film professors and theorists have used the language and tools of psychoanalysis to understand film ever since the medium was popularized.
The material connection between dreamspace and physical reality has always been a fascination of mine, and not just since I got hooked on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as a tween. But it wasn’t until earlier this year, after I saw a great piece in the New Yorker about nightmare research, that I started to really think about the profound role that films play in shaping our understanding of the interstial space between dreams and reality. Not only are films in a privileged place to depict this bizarre space (where the imaginary becomes real), but these compelling depictions end up worming their way into the collective unconsicous, literally providing the material for our own private explorations of these spaces in our own dreaming.
As I mention in an earlier blog on this topic, dream researchers have found that movie villains frequently star in our nightmares; whether or not our dreams are in color or black and white is determined by our TV and film watching; and the length of our dreams is also correlated with the type of video content we consume. There’s no doubt in my mind that our consumption of representations has a very real impact on our brains and behavior, but how on earth can we find any legible referents in the tangled relationship between filmic depictions of fantasy becoming reality and our own unconscious explorations of these themes, which have such a profound impact on our lived lives? I think I need to make an appointment with an analyst. Or a really smart film scholar.