The cross-streaming of world cinema, English narration, and German directors gives the film a kind of otherworldly feel; it’s simultaneously informative and expressionistic, functioning in a kind of dream state where fiction and reality are all grist for the mill. At first, in fact, it’s somewhat jarring to see the clips juxtaposed as they are, dramatic narratives intercut with archival footage, fact intermingling with fiction. But at a certain point, the adaptability makes sense — after all, we’re far enough from these scenes that they’re all documentary, where even the props on a set or the scenes in a script aren’t just representational, but a reminder of how we lived then, “a universal family portrait,” as Swinton muses, “a book of faces.” And that’s what the movie’s all about.
“Every age thinks it’s the modern age,” she notes, and the clips back it up. If there’s a recurring image here, it’s of some proud inventor unveiling the device that’s going to change our lives, and the awe with which they’re greeted by the assembled throng. Swinton finishes the above thought by insisting, “but this one really is,” and maybe that’s to be taken literally, but I doubt it. When she’s philosophizing about communication and connectivity over footage of a crowded street corner circa 1925 or so, they’re creating a context where we can’t help but notice that no one is looking at their phone; we might consider how far we’ve come, or what we might’ve lost. But one day, our modern innovations will seem as quaint as that telegraph or telephone-that-only-makes-calls do now, and all of our Apple product presentations and virtual reality animations will merely serve as fodder for another movie like this one. And frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tilda’s still around to narrate that one too.
Dreams Rewired opens tomorrow in limited release.