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Dream Weavers

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

JUNE 14, 1999:  I had a dream the other night. I was in a station wagon, I think, with some members of my family but I can't remember exactly who. We were on an interstate headed toward Washington, D.C. And then somehow we weren't on it anymore. We could see it, running parallel to us, but the road we were on narrowed and darkened and turned into first a parking lot and then a little dirt track, and we couldn't figure out how to get back to the highway...

I'm not looking for analysis. What I'm trying to get at is the mercurial, sudden nature of dreams, the way things are one way and another way at the same time—that disorientation and flow of events that makes even "good" dreams a little troubling. It's a difficult feeling to describe and an even harder one to depict, as the majority of cinematic "dream sequences" demonstrate.

For example, there are the titular visions of In Dreams (R, 1999), a sub-par thriller that wastes the talents of everyone involved. Director Neil Jordan has made some great dream-ish work; both The Butcher Boy and Company of Wolves have moments of inspired unreality. Here, however, he's stuck with a weak story about a woman (Annette Bening) who somehow taps into the mind of a serial killer (Robert Downey, Jr.) when she's asleep. Of course, things get personal when both her daughter and husband disappear. A few early sequences are promising—particularly a procession of fairy-winged girls through a woods—but the narrative holes and general mean-spiritedness of the whole affair sabotage it quickly. Like the rest of the film, the dreams get less interesting as they go along.

The most famous and arguably best dream sequence of the decade came in episode three of David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990), maybe the best television drama ever (and certainly the strangest). That episode ends with FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan, casting the mold that would produce The X-Files' Fox Mulder a few years later) having a dream that features flowing red curtains, a dancing midget, and a mysterious woman who says she isn't who she is. And everybody talks forward and backward. At once spooky and satirical, it's a moment of Lynch at his creepy best.

Dream sequences in general and that scene in particular got a hilarious send-up in Tom DiCillo's film-within-a-film comedy Living In Oblivion (1994, R). When an indie director (Steve Buscemi) tries to set up a dream scene for his low-budget opus, using the obligatory dwarf and dry ice, nothing goes right. And the mounting production problems, DiCillo slyly suggests, are more true to the paranoid dream state than anything in Buscemi's script.

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