As we recently reported, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have brought the work of sci-fi scribes like Philip K. Dick to life with the invention of cutting-edge technology that allows scientists to peer through the keyhole at our internal visual landscape. They now have the ability to record our brain’s patterns by reconstructing the images our mind composes after exposure to visual stimuli (in this case, movie trailers). Eventually, researchers say they’ll be able to tune in to the secrets of our memories and dreams.
Filmmakers have long explored the vibrant dreamscapes of the human psyche. At its worst, cinema’s dream sequence is a lazy storytelling device. At its most compelling and complex, the hazy reverie of a character’s fantastical world draws you deeper into their narrative and offers a stunning palette for the senses. Inspired by science and cinema, here are several of film’s most visually intoxicating and riveting dream sequences. We can only hope that when scientists are finally able to tap into our mind’s eye, our dreams are as wild and gorgeous as these. What are your favorites?
La prisonnière (1968)
The final work of Les Diaboliques director Henri-Georges Clouzot provides little disproof of rumors concerning the auteur’s alleged penchant for sadism. La Prisonnière is loaded with ravishing imagery of vice, blending pop art and psychedelic style for a voyeuristic tale about a perverse love triangle involving a kinky photographer. The three-minute long hallucinatory dream sequence — which Clouzot designed his entire film around — is a staggering, erotic mind-bender.
La chambre (1988)
Contemporary dance choreography duo Joëlle Bouvier and Régis Obadia collaborated on a screen translation of their passionate and lyrical stage performance, La Chambre, for a nine-minute short. The 16mm avant-garde dance narrative centers around a woman dreaming in her bedroom. Movement, sound, and shadow combine for a haunting experience.
Dreams is the kind of movie that divides Akira Kurosawa fans due to its sometimes clunky, literal nature, but few can deny the incredible beauty of the Crows segment. Based on the actual dreams of the director, Crows takes us inside the world of Vincent Van Gogh (played by none other than Martin Scorsese), as one art student daydreams and travels back in time finding himself conversing with the artist about painting, beauty, and nature. The fledgling artist then wanders inside the actual work of Van Gogh — thanks to the colorful, eye-popping special effects of George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic.
The Indian classic Awaara dials into a dream world that is part romantic fantasy and part nightmare, wrapped in a dreamy musical spectacle. One of Bollywood’s biggest names, actor/director Raj Kapoor, anticipates heaven and hell amidst a rousing family/caste drama.
Mystery maestro Alfred Hitchcock hired iconic artist Salvador Dali to design the dream sequence for his amnesiac thriller, Spellbound. Gregory Peck works with psychoanalyst Ingrid Bergman to piece together the deadly events of his past. The striking scene breathes life into Dali’s legendary surrealist symbols.
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)
The giallo genre’s lurid fantasies are alive and well in Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. The film opens with a London woman’s recurring Sapphic nightmare, which could be the key to solving her neighbor’s murder. Death never looked so sexy. (Be warned: the above clip is NSFW)
Any number of scenes from Christopher Nolan’s dream heist blockbuster could be highlighted here. The film is a visual feast, loaded with dream sequences (and sometimes dreams within dreams). The Dark Knight director shelved the CGI effects for the most part, using as many in-camera tricks as he could to produce the movie’s unforgettable visuals.
Branded to Kill (1967)
Seijun Suzuki’s radically disorienting and ultra cool yakuza noir is like watching a fever dream brought to life. Poetic, bizarre, and truly original, the film’s eccentric protagonist is plagued by a morbid promise he makes to his lover in this clip. The stencil-like overlays of birds, rain, and butterflies are symbolic of the movie’s psychosexual leanings and are beautiful to boot.
The Fall (2006)
Tarsem Singh’s uniquely dramatic visuals are never less than breathtaking and always the high point of any film he directs. The Fall is no exception and continuously toes the line between fantasy and reality. Tucked within Singh’s expansive cinematic vision is a dark little dream — evocative of something The Brothers Quay might conjure up — that an imaginative little girl envisions while recovering from surgery.
Blood and Roses (1960)
One of the first Carmilla stories translated for the screen, Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses is a hypnotic and haunting take on the legendary female vampire saga. The monochromatic dream sequence is a gothic stunner, bloodstained and bursting with surrealistic touches à la Jean Cocteau.