I finally watched the 1984 classic Dreamscape last night with some friends. (I don’t mean to imply that I usually watch this movie alone… I mean we finally rented it). Directed by Joseph Ruben, and starring a young Dennis Quaid and even-old-back-then Christopher Plummer, this dream studies thriller holds up to the years. Highly recommended for dreamphiles and oneironauts.
Intriguingly, Dreamscape came out 2 months before A Nightmare on Elm Street, and both movies feature a murderous character with hand razors who tries to kill people in their sleep.
Watch Wes Craven’s movie for the horror, and this one for the accurate depiction of dream imagery and nightmares.
Without spoiling the plot, I can say that Dreamscape reveals the dark side of consciousness studies with chilling accuracy. Young Quaid plays a philandering psychic in need of a quest, and dream scientists scoop him up and give him an offer he can’t refuse: to use his psychic powers in combination with their amplifying technology to penetrate the nightmares of others.
At first, the researchers want to ease the pain of nightmare sufferers by using Quaid as a witness and dream guide to their personal terrors. But of course the study is funded by a secret wing of the US intelligence community, and their motives are not so noble.
Speaking with my phenomenologist hat on, I”d say the nightmare experiences are well done, although one of my friends noted that the dream scenes are too stable. Other elements are true-to-life, tho: such as lighting only where the characters are looking, and, in general, themes of descent and shamanic underworlds dominating the imagery. Some of the monsters are amusingly cheesy, but there are also some great claymation moments of animal-to-human transformation.
I was also impressed with Dreamscape‘s visual depictions of dreaming. They especially nailed the experience of a wake-initiated lucid dream, starting with a spinning vortex, then clusters of sporatic lights and strange noises with little narrative continuity.
Dreamscape shows the dark side of consciousness studies in another way: the chilling way that psychological knowledge is often funded by, and applied in the service of, the military interests of the state. So I am in this way relieved that dreaming has proven to be unsuitable for military applications…. so far.
On the other hand, lucid dreaming techniques for nightmare sufferers may help the veterans of armed conflicts; this research is the leading edge of lucid dreaming therapy and complementary treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Oh yeah, this is a movie review. Dreamscape – it’s not scary, or particularly thrilling, but it’s one of the best depictions of lucid dreaming and nightmares attempted by Hollywood, even considering the low budget 1980s puppetry arts.