From Dali to Nolan, dreams have always been a large go-to story device and inspiration for filmmakers since the creation of the film camera. The, still relatively unknown, art of lucid dreaming (the ability to consciously control the dream state) however, has still only been approached by few iconic auteurs. This list aims to expose those movies that have challenged this often philosophical theme and how some of them have changed, and even made, cinematic history:
(Note: The films in this list have been chosen as they feature the ideas and/or discuss lucid dreaming directly in the narrative – be warned, there be spoilers ahead.).
5. The Good Night (2007)
Featuring a fascinating, international ensemble cast from Jarvis Cocker to Martin Freeman to Penélope Cruz via Danny DeVito and [a rather obscure cameo from] Michael Gambon – this independent film from “younger brother” Jake Paltrow explores the often volatile world of middle-age frustration and human relationships.
The premise finds Gary (Freeman), a former member of a successful British band, stuck in New York scoring commercials suffering somewhat of a midlife crisis. His relationship with girlfriend Nora (Gwyneth Paltrow) is seemingly dead in the water whilst band mate and egomaniac Paul (Simon Pegg) is acting as a constant reminder of Gary’s failure to supersede the band’s success.
The Dream Angle
Early in the film Gary’s dreams begin to be depicted – surreal, atmospheric locations in which Gary finds himself looking rather confused until Anna (Cruz) begins materialising. Gary falls for Anna instantly causing his waking life to seem increasingly bleaker, giving him reason to seek out a dream expert in the form of Mel (Danny DeVito). Stood in front of a banner boldly stating “LUCID DREAMING”, Mel and Gary delve into the art of dream control.
In terms of accuracy, ‘The Good Night’ is almost a fast track lucid dreaming 101 class. Jake Paltrow covers some of the most commonly used techniques in dream control with surprising specificity. Mel professes that one should look at their hands before falling asleep and study every imperfection for they are a “safety blanket” in the dream state; also to look in a mirror and check indoor light switches after falling asleep – these are all classic techniques known as reality checks amongst the real LD community, used to determine if one is indeed dreaming or awake. Once it is established one is in the dream state, control can begin to be asserted. DeVito then goes on to pontificate about how conscious dreaming is an emotional exploration and isn’t dangerous but can be “emotionally alarming”.
The depiction of the dreams themselves seem to have been influenced by David Lynch’s 1990s television series “Twin Peaks” with a hint of Kubrick’s love of architecture and colour. The sequences often vary in light, featuring sudden shifts of tonality and usage of reversed actions and dialogue (with subtitles) cry homage to the visions of ‘FBI Agent Dale Cooper’ whilst the locations look positively “A Clockwork Orange”.
For those who have no prior knowledge of lucid dreaming, “The Good Night” will serve as basic introduction to the what, why and how it is practiced. People with more familiarity will not learn a great deal of the discipline. In terms of storytelling, the film feels a little hollow with regards to the characters’ journeys and Cruz’s screen time feels wasted, however, the performances are enjoyable and the chemistry between characters is relatively well established. The 93 minutes are worth investing time into for a story with an original, realistic application of well trodden ground if not only for one of the most brutally abrupt climaxes in an otherwise placid story.