Hollywood Movies and the Nature of Dreams
There is a reason that Hollywood is known as the dream factory or dream machine. Hollywood and dreams have much in common. For starters, neither operates in the everyday world of linear time and space, as both are adept at manipulating time and space.
Most of the time it’s difficult to tell exactly when dreams begin and when dreams end, they operate within their own inner reality. A dream can appear to take place over a long period of time; yet, we know most or many of them take place in a few minutes or even a few seconds. Movies usually last between ninety minutes or two hours, but the amount of time they cover is much greater. Rarely does their story take place in real time. One exception was the movie Nick of Time (1995). They operate on the same premise as dreams. The time frame of some movies last a day or so, while others cover years (i.e. Gladiator). Thus, there is a big difference between what we refer to as real time and movie time, just as there is a difference between real time and dreamtime.
In movies and in dreams, space is treated quite differently than it is in our everyday world. In both cases, they manipulate space by not following laws of physics. There is no need to go from A to B to C, and so on, in order to get to G. You can jump from A to G, and G to C, and C to E, without batting an eye.
Finally, the structure of the process of dreaming and the process of viewing a movie are also quite similar. Both operate on a system of three phases – a beginning, middle, and an end. Aristotle dreamed up this three-phase system some 2,500 years ago. It may not be as easy to see this structure when examining the process of dreams, but if we think of it in the following way it may become clearer:
In phase one, the dreamer enters a hypnogogic state, in which the everyday conscious mind suspends its critical perceptions and relaxes the mind, allowing the subconscious to find its way to the psyche. All the disrupted components, such as fear, anxiety, obstacles, etc., are presented in this phase. The goal for the dreamer is to process all this information through phase two. The goal of processing all this information through phase two is to reach a resolution in order to reestablish a sense of equilibrium in body and mind, which is phase three.
How is this process structured in Hollywood movies? Pretty much the same way – although, like dreams, it’s hard to distinguish the difference between the three phases unless you understand the process of the psyche. Right before the movie begins, the viewer notices the lights are dimmed. This is in order to simulate the hypnogogic state in order to relax the critical faculties in the viewer and get them ready to take part in the dream they are about to witness on the screen. If you doubt this, try to remember when that big fat guy sat down right in front of you before the movie began. What happened ten minutes or so into the feature? Didn’t he slump into a more relaxed, physical state? Usually, at that point, you can stop cursing him under your breath, relax yourself, and enjoy taking part in the dream. The protagonist in the movie story represents all the dreamers in the audience. And if you notice, like in Phase one of dreams, the same thing occurs in Act one of the movie. It’s filled with disruptions – all kinds of frustrations, obstacles, and problems – continue to pile up on the protagonist until they make a decision to do something about this – that’s where Act two begins – when they begin processing through all of their problems. At this point, they reach a level of awareness realizing what it will take to reach their goal and reestablish their equilibrium. That final process of resolution is Act three.
So, we see that the process of dreams and the process of movies are basically the same thing.
Dream Phases Movie Phases
Phase 1: Disruption Act 1: Disruption
Phase 2: Action taken to solve the disruption Act 2: Action taken to solve the disruption
Phase 3: Resolution lead to equilibrium Act 3: Resolution leads to equilibrium
Notice that they follow the same process. We can further enhance or elaborate on the acts in Hollywood movies by illustrating the basic formula for the perennial Hollywood audience (ages 12-24):
Act 1: Boy meets girl (or vise versa)
Act 2: Boy loses girl
Act 3: Boy gets girl, resolution and equilibrium is established (they live happily ever after)
Another variation of this is the adventure movie:
Act 1: Boy meets villain
Act 2: Villain overcomes boy
Act 3: Boy overcomes villain, resolution and equilibrium is established.
This is the process of movies and dreams: disruption, processing the solution and resolving in order to establish equilibrium in the body and mind. If this doesn’t occur in dreams, it can lead to nightmares or disturbances because there is no resolution in the world of the dreamer, and therefore their equilibrium won’t be established. Too many of these kinds of dreams can lead to all kind of psychic problems. In movies, if the storyline is not resolved, the audience also leaves disturbed and are missing the resolution.
What makes Hollywood movies so appealing universally is the fact that, most of the time, they do resolve and end with a sense of justice. Sense of justice is basically another way of saying “reestablishing equilibrium.” In the Greek statute of justice, she holds the scales – a symbol of the establishment of equilibrium, or balance. Watch an audience, especially the 12-24 year olds, who come out of a movie that does not follow the Hollywood formula or play fair with the resolution. They’ll feel cheated. Something is not right, and it’s disturbing for them. What they’re grappling with is that the movie had no sense of justice – no “happily ever after” or no “good triumphs over evil.” Movies like Leaving Las Vegas or Gone Girl border on this lack of a sense of justice. Neither can hold a candle to the intensely disturbing German film, Funny Games, by Michael Haneke.
Both dreams and movies thrive in a non-rational world that lies beyond linear space and time. It’s interesting to note that movies, in particular, began in earnest roughly in 1905, when they transformed from novelties into storytelling. 1905 also saw the publication of the first paper by Albert Einstein, which was the precursor to the Theory of Relativity – a revolutionary theory that would shatter the boundaries of linear space and time. In fact, by 1905 Freud was making serious excursions into the world of the unconscious, which would lead to his essential theory that man is basically an irrational being. Again, this put another nail in the coffin of the empirical world or cause and effect, and rational thinking. The world of Victorian propriety and Newtonian order was coming to an end because of these two great minds. Add to this Freud’s temporary disciple, Carl Jung, whose exhaustive work on dreams and their symbols brought about a framework for a collective unconscious for all mankind, in which he found that symbols and myths were universal. In many ways, movies are an expression of what these three great minds discovered – a world of non-rational reality and non-linear time, filled with myths and universal symbols. It’s no wonder that movies became an appropriate symbol for the twentieth century.
Anyway, it’s something to muse about.
In my next blog post: Did you know that many religions were not amused by movies and found them the work of the devil? And you know what? They had a point.
To be continued in Part 4…