11 Movie Dream Sequences Explained

Total Film goes Total Freud on movie character dreams...

 

We’ve rounded up some of the most famous dream sequences in the movies.

We're gonna tell you what they might mean... And then a psychologist will reveal what they’re really all about.

Special guest shrink Dr Rachel Andrew (right) works as a clinical psychologist in the NHS and private practice in Lancashire.

She assures us that her own dreams, for the most part, are of the happy variety.

Blade Runner (1982)



Dream a little Dream: Harrison Ford’s Deckard conks out on his piano and dreams of a unicorn cantering through a misty, magical forest.

Dr TF says... Do horses dream of running equines? Er, yes. Unless Deckard’s a replicant that is.

This is the unicorn in Ridley Scott’s Legend, foretold, the director counter-referencing all his films. In Deckard’s head.

Dr Andrew says... This romantic image depicts Deckard’s aspirations, which are in stark contrast to his world.

The unicorn symbolises hopes for purity, freedom and power. Unfortunately, equine dreams often reflect male fears of inadequacy and impotence.

The additional phallic horn of the unicorn suggests that Deckard has insecurities about his own abilities.

Next: A Nightmare On Elm Street

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A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)



Dream a little Dream:
Knife-hands tugs Depp’s telly-watching teen dreamboat Glen inside his bed. Teen-Depp’s mattress spurts like a geyser!

Dr TF says... Guilt for snoozing in front of the box instead of staying up for girlfriend Nancy. He’s neglecting her, emotionally and sexually, and now he’s gone and soiled the crisp white sheets.

Or perhaps Freddy doesn’t like Glen’s Rush poster...

Dr Andrew says... Dreams of death, under normal circumstances, do not signify death in real life. They are often our minds’ way of working through anxieties about loss and change.

Glen’s dream of his own death suggests a fear of his own adolescent transition. Despite his bravado, Glen has unconscious worries about the independence of adulthood.

Next: The Big Lebowski

 

 

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The Big Lebowski (1998)



Dream a little Dream: El Dudeski’s trippy Busby Berkeley fantasy features Saddam serving bowling shoes, Julianne Moore in Viking gear, scissor-wielding nihilists and genitalian ball/pin imagery.

Dr TF says... His Dudeliness doesn’t care about Saddam’s dictatorship, he just wants to take Moore on a hot bowling date and score.

God knows about the nihilists.

Dr Andrew says... This is a wish fulfilment dream depicting sexual prowess and sporting achievement. The perceptions of others are important to The Dude as he hopes to be seen as powerful and in control.

However, the viking outfit, presence of Saddam Hussein and little men with large scissors also reflect his fears in real life; emasculation and impotence.

Next: An American Werewolf In London

 

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An American Werewolf In London (1981)

 


 
Dream a little Dream: Wolf-scarred David Kessler dreams of a happy evening disturbed by throat-slashing Nazi werewolves. When he wakes up, they kill the hot nurse!

Dr TF says... Your standard “What if I don’t get to bone Miss Yummy-Plummy Nurse?” frightmare. Those throat-slashing Nazi werewolves could just have easily been mum coming in with a cup of tea.

Dr Andrew says... Kessler’s dream highlights the lucid, fear-filled images that often result from a traumatic attack. Feelings of panic and vulnerability stand out via images of monsters, Nazis and guns.

His ‘nightmare within a nightmare’ also reflects confusion and an inability to feel safe until he has processed his own horrific experience.

Next: Wild Strawberries

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Wild Strawberries (1957)



Dream a little Dream: Ageing Professor Isak dreams of handless clocks, deserted streets, freaky-faced men, horse-drawn carriages crashing and coffins with his own corpse inside...

Dr TF says... Isak wants to get his wheels on, do the Little Miss Sunshine voyage-of-self-discovery thing and seize life.

Except he’s old and he’s in a Bergman film, so he can dream on.

Dr Andrew says... It is common during old age for life and death dreams to become more frequent. The clocks and quiet streets symbolise the professor’s own life journey and the passage of time.

There is a theme of isolation throughout, and an ambivalence about death represented by Isak’s struggle with his own corpse.

Next:The Fly

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The Fly (1986)



Dream a little Dream: Geena Davis’ Ronnie dreams of giving birth, with Biggins-spectacled Cronenberg as the gynaecologist.

Out pops a wriggly larvae thing. Ewww.

Dr TF says... The dad’s a fly, almost. The head gynaeocologist sports insectoid glasses. Now, why wouldn’t Ronnie have insects on her mind at the delivery point? Seems perfectly rational to us.

Dr Andrew says... Pregnancy is a natural time for anxiety related dreams and these often reflect fears about childbirth, a baby’s physical form and a woman’s ability to adapt to motherhood.

Ronnie’s dream is actually a very healthy one, allowing her mind to work through natural concerns prior to the new arrival.

Next: American Beauty

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American Beauty (1999)



Dream a little Dream: Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham daydreams about a 16-year-old who lactates petals, plants rose-petal kisses and washes in a bath of roses.

Dr TF says... Burnham thinks his shit stinks of roses, so he dresses up a man-sized crush on a girl-sized dame in flowers and fancy

Basically, he’s a perv, with a simple grasp of metaphors.

Dr Andrew says... These images do not merely depict Burnham’s sexual fantasy; they reflect his life regrets and frustrations.

The teenage girl bathed in roses symbolises his nostalgic longing for the freedom, purity, opportunities and beauty of youth.

This dream is not about her, it’s about the adolescent awakening of a middle-aged man.

Next: Dumbo 

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Dumbo (1941)



Dream a little Dream: Little big ears gets accidentally tipsy and dreams of shape-shifting psyche-delephants, reproducing without sex, playing trunks as trumpets and the like.

Dr TF says... Dumbo’s your basic pachyderm on peyote: that wasn’t just booze in that bucket.

And we want some of it, ’cause the little dude’s conjuring whole new galaxies of possibility here.

Dr Andrew says... This sequence illustrates a typical childhood nightmare through its vivid simplicity.

It draws on common children’s fears, as well as those of elephants(!), by incorporating snakes, crowds, loud noises, adults and water.

The constantly changing, disorienting background reflects Dumbo’s feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control and alone.

Next: Spellbound

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Spellbound (1945)


 
Dream a little Dream: Troubled psychiatrist Dr Edwardes (Gregory Peck) dreams of big eyes, bloody great scissors, posh gambling dens, broken wheels, rooftops and vertiginous tumbles.

Dr TF says... It’s meta-textual. “I’m haunted,” says Edwardes, “but I can’t see by what.” No, because producer David O Selznick snipped Hitchcock’s Dali-dream budget!

And the wheel? Maybe Selznick cut taxi costs too and made Peck cycle to work.

Dr Andrew says... This dream demonstrates how Dr Edwardes’ mind is processing traumatic events.

The sequence contains individual representations of repressed memories, and has a strong theme of the world as a frightening and dangerous place.

The symbolic elements allow Dr Edwardes’ detachment from any painful thoughts and prevent him from becoming emotionally overwhelmed.

Next: 8 1/2

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8 1/2(1963)



Dream a little Dream: Caught in a car-jam, Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido dreams of entrapment, escape, flying like a kite and being tugged back down to earth.

Dr TF says… Guido is Fellini’s alter ego. And Fellini ruddy well wishes people would stop banging on about the flying-Christ scene in La Dolce Vita and recognise his soaring, gravity’s-no-limit godlike genius instead.

Dr Andrew says… The claustrophobic car sequence reflects a man feeling stuck with life and looking for empowerment.

The dispassionate faces of those that surround Guido, and his being tied to a kite indicate he feels unsupported, while his fall into the sea suggests a fear of rejection.

Next: Mulholland Dr

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Mulholland Dr (2001)


 
Dream a little Dream: Naomi Watts’ Betty fantasizes about foxy brunettes, taking control of auditions, Edith Head costume designs and living the Hollywood high-life.

Dr TF says... This means Betty hasn’t seen a Lynch film.

She can dream about being pink and perky all she likes (and she can certainly dream about lesbian romps – who are we to complain?), but there’s still all that scary shit behind Winkies’ diner and sickness in her soul.

Dr Andrew says... Much more than a dream, this is more like an elaborate construction of an alternative reality.

This fantasy details Betty’s innermost needs and allows her to inhabit a world where success, power and fulfillment can be achieved.

A traumatic incident can trigger disassociation like this, allowing reality to be avoided temporarily although rarely totally forgotten.

Now that's done, we're sit down for a good long chat with Dr. Andrew, and try to sort out some of our "issues". Why don't you leave us a comment in the mean time.

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Comments

    • scarter2000

      Jun 6th 2009, 0:15

      And, the dream shows that Deckard is a replicant, as Gaff leaves an origami unicorn with him at the end of the movie, which shows they know about the dream, which proves it is an implant :D

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    • AYBGerrardo

      Jun 6th 2009, 22:10

      Aww man what about Watchmen! That's a great one for psychology!

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    • IGPNicki

      Aug 18th 2009, 6:11

      What? No Brazil? He fights the Samuarai... or Sam-you-are-i, because he's basically fighting himself, he's a part of the system he's fighting. http://www.igp-scifi.com

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