You are not you. You are me.
By Bert Ehrmann
August 20, 2010
The most talked about and critically acclaimed movie this summer is Christopher Nolan's Inception. While I greatly enjoyed that film, I was a bit disappointed that while Nolan injected the film with a lot of great ideas the overall story was none-the-less paper thin. But, regardless of what I thought of the movie, Inception is just the latest in a long line of movies to focus on dreams/dreaming.
The first film I can think of that takes place within a dream is The Wizard of Oz (1939). Here, Dorothy (Judy Garland) is hurt after a tornado smashes through her family farm and while recovering dreams that she's magically transported to the wonderful world of Oz where she meets some characters who look suspiciously like friends/workers around the farm.
All nine, yes — there are nine of 'em, A Nightmare on Elm Street movies from 1984 to present day take place partly within dreams. In Elm Street, janitor turned child-murderer turned all around scary-guy Freddy Krueger is burned alive by a group of families and is mysteriously resurrected as a knife wielding slasher. Freddy prowls the dreams of the children, now teens, of those who murdered him. Those killed by Freddy in their dreams die in real life which is a common theme of movies that deal with dreams.
Also following this edict of death in a dream leading to real-life death is Dreamscape, also from 1984. In Dreamscape, scientists teach psychics a way to enter people's minds while they sleep/dream and these psychics are able to interact with the dream/dreamer. While there are good psychics who want to help people, namely Dennis Quaid, there are also bad ones who slip into important people's dreams, namely the President of the United States, in order to attempt assassination. (I've honestly not seen this movie in many years and mostly remember the giant snake-man one character has nightmares about and a post-apocalyptic world dreamed of by the President.)
There's also another class of movie that while they don't take place within dreams instead takes places within artificial constructs the human mind interacts with. But, this is so close to dream themed movies they're practically one in the same. Probably the most well known of these types of films is The Matrix (1999) where, instead of being in a dream, the characters consciousnesses are instead connected to, and can interact with, a super-computer that has enslaved the human race.
The TV series Harsh Realm, also from 1999, also takes place in a virtual world similar to The Matrix. With Harsh Realm, though, the situation is a military video game that's been taken over by a character who rules this silicon universe with an iron fist. Though why it's an issue for a government to be concerned with someone taking over a video game was never really explained and series that was cancelled before the first season had finished its run so I guess we'll never know.
One film that has the distinction of taking place inside both a virtual world and a dream is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Here, Jim Carrey plays Joel, a man who wants the memory of a relationship gone bad erased from his mind but changes his mind during the procedure and tries to hide those memories in other memories in order to save them.
The movie that reminds me most of Inception, though only in overall plot and theme, is the film Total Recall (1990). Without giving too much away about Inception, spoiler-freaks look away now, much of Total Recall deals with whether or not the character of Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is actually a super-spy who's being hunted by government agents or if he's just crazy and is essentially imagining the whole thing.
And while this same question is central to the Leonardo DiCaprio character of Cobb in Inception, though replace "crazy" with "dreaming," in Total Recall the question takes a backseat to action, girls, guns and explosions. However, it's hard to analyze the deeper meaning behind a movie like Total Recall that has lines like, "If things have gone wrong, I'm talking to myself, and you've probably got a wet towel wrapped around your head. So, whatever your name is, get ready for a big surprise: YOU are not YOU, You are ME."