Sleeper Cinema: 10 Freaky, Funny, and Fantastical Dream Sequences


With all of the positive critical buzz, we can’t wait for this weekend’s release of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bender Inception, which promises to be a dream-fueled film that blurs all distinctions between reality and what happens inside the mind. Inspired, we’ve decided to explore one of the most interesting cinematic conventions: the dream sequence. Dreams, unrestrained by any visual logic, tend to be where movies are at their most creative, and these classic clips exemplify that point. They range from funny, to cryptic to just plain scary and over the top. Which one’s your favorite?

Spellbound – Alfred Hitchcock (1945) A psychiatrist (Ingrid Bergman) races to help an amnesiac (Gregory Peck) who has been accused of murder recover his memory to find out what really happened before he’s tracked down by the authorities. The imaginative dream sequence, designed entirely by legendary surrealist Salvador Dali, is a symbolic exploration into the man’s mind in an attempt to piece together the facts of his case.

Wild Strawberries – Ingmar Bergman (1957) An aging physician (Victor Sjöström) travels across the Sweden with his daughter to receive an honorary degree, and is confronted by his lonely existence in a series of dreams and nightmares during their trip. In this sequence, the physician finds himself in an empty town, confronted with two time pieces that seem to represent the emptiness of his life and an awareness of his own mortality.

Vertigo – Alfred Hitchcock (1958) Scottie (Jimmy Stewart), a detective suffering from acrophobia, is tasked with tracking Madeleine (Kim Novak), an old buddy’s wife. He’s swept into a complex plot of lies and intrigue when he falls for her, and she seemingly commits suicide by jumping from a bell tower. Haunted by his guilt over letting her die, Scottie meets a woman who is strikingly similar to Madeleine, and his confusion leads him to have startling visions in which he tries to piece together what really happened.

8 1/2 – Federico Fellini (1963) Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroian), a director struggling to bring his next film to fruition, retreats into his memories and fantasies to regain his inspiration. 8 1/2 is filled with dream sequences, but it is the first scene, where Guido is stuck in traffic and subsequently floats away into the clouds, that is the most famous. It is a vision of a man stifled by public scrutiny, struggling to discover a new source of creative freedom to inspire himself once again.

Rosemary’s Baby – Roman Polanski (1968) A young couple moves into an Upper West Side apartment building filled with creepy neighbors who are way too interested in Rosemary (Mia Farrow). This dream sequence starts off innocently enough, with her taking a serene boat ride on the ocean. Then her husband (John Cassavates) undresses her, and it becomes obvious that it isn’t a dream after all. Rosemary is sexually sacrificed to the devil in a strange ceremony and becomes “mysteriously” impregnated with his spawn — only she doesn’t realize it.

Blade Runner – Ridley Scott (1982) The dystopian cyberpunk classic follows Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he hunts down a group of escaped replicants before they can do anymore harm. The film struggles with themes of what it means to be human and whether the replicants, or cyborgs, have within them any shades of humanity. The unicorn that Deckard dreams of has created debate as to whether Deckard is a replicant or not. Some believe there is a connection between this dream and the origami unicorn Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) makes at the end of the film.

Brazil – Terry Gilliam (1985) Sam Lowry’s (Jonathan Pryce) life is a Kafka-esque bureaucratic nightmare replete with overwhelming paperwork and an overbearing mother. After a seemingly innocuous mistake in paperwork leads to the death of an innocent man, Lowry’s life is turned upside down. His only escape from the overwhelming dullness of his everyday life are his dreams of being a mythological warrior whose goal is to save his dream woman.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure – Tim Burton (1985) After Pee-wee’s (Paul Reubens) bike disappears, he travels across the country trying to recover it and meeting odd characters along the way. In this scary nightmare, he finds himself tied down on a table as a group of clown doctors and nurses dissect his bike.

The Big Lebowski – The Coen Brothers (1998) In an absurd case of mistaken identity, “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges) is shaken down for owed money, which leads to his rug getting ruined. Desperate for it to be replaced, he and a group of friends set out to track down all the interested parties — including the Big Lebowski’s daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore). After being drugged, The Dude lapses into a deep sleep, where he envisions a surreal dreamscape of bowling imagery and Maude’s art.

The Science of Sleep – Michel Gondry (2006) In this dreamiest of dream films, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal), a naive if somewhere immature young man, has trouble discerning the difference between what’s real and what is just a dream. He falls in love with his neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and copes with his struggle to win her over using his imaginative dream world. In this scene, Stephane fights against the tediousness of his job while also producing and starring in his own talk show where he becomes master of his own dream imagery.