In Federico Fellini’s Words: Movies = Dreams

Talking about dreams is like talking about movies, since the cinema uses the language of dreams; years can pass in a second, and you can hop from one place to another. It’s a language made of image. And in the real cinema, every object and every light means something, as in a dream.

Federico Fellini

Fellini once said about cinema, its charm and hypnotic charisma it had, that it was “a dream we dreamt with our eyes opened”. Surrealist authors like André Breton believed that every movie is surrealist since it has the structure of a dream; he enjoyed all types of movies. Some movies are self-consciously surrealist, and the narrative is a confusing and nightmarish dream. As we watch them, we are experiencing “a nocturnal hallucination”, to borrow the term from the title of a German 1923 expressionist movie. Nevertheless, in line with Fellini’s words, we can say that every movie which can be qualified as cinema uses the language of dreams, and thus, it is like a dream. Barbara Creed writes:

Dreaming and viewing both take place in the dark; the subject is not in control of the flow of images which in both contexts seem to originate from a point outside the conscious control of the individual. Goudal argued that the physical conditions of film viewing enhanced the dream-state. The darkness of the auditorium closed out distracting images from the real world while the music shut out any sounds. The dream-state was further intensified by the way that the images unfolded, not in accordance with rules of logic but in terms of their own logic.

Arthur Schopenhauer, in his The World as Will and Representation poses a question: “We have dreams; may not the whole of life be a dream? or more exactly: is there a sure criterion for distinguishing between dream and reality, between phantasms and real objects?” Immanuel Kant answered to this question with the statement that the connection of the representations among themselves according to the law of causality, shows that life is not a dream. In other words, in dreams the causal connections, between the cause and effect are often indistinguishable, while in life this is supposedly not the case. Schopenhauer responds that even in life, we are not in a position to make causal connections link by link between any experienced event and the present moment. Schopenhauer also writes that “the Vedas and Puranas know no better simile for the whole knowledge of the actual world, called by them the web of Mâyâ, then the dream, and they use none more frequently”.

In his The Tempest, William Shakespeare writes: “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on, and our little life,/ Is rounded with a sleep.” If we follow these arguments to their conclusion, we can see that in movies, the connection between the cause and effect, often cannot be made with certainty. We are experiencing a dream in which “years can pass in a second, and you can hop from one place to another”, and it is extremely difficult to make connections “link by link” between the events which happen at one point, and their relation to, let’s say, the beginning of the film. For example, in Tarkovsky’s Mirror causal links between the scenes can be hardly discerned, since the events take place in the fictional childhood of the author and then move on to his adult years, they are interchangeable and are simply series of autofictional memories. Movies can be analyzed, just like dreams can via psychoanalysis (although, we cannot aim at total understanding) but while we simply watch a movie we witness dream-logic. As Schopenhauer put it, in life, the situation is similar. To conclude, I propose the following definition of cinema: Movies are dreams dreamt by the dreamer.

7 responses to “In Federico Fellini’s Words: Movies = Dreams”

  1. That was such intelligent insight. I was fortunate to see 8 1/2 during my university years. I then realized that Starflyer 59’s music video of “No New Kinda Story” references that and The Seventh Seal although the latter is painfully obvious in hindsight. The correlation of movies and dreams are certainly fascinating. It reminds me of Paprika by Satoshi Kon. Not just because of the convergence of dreams and reality, but movies themselves play a part of Inspector Konakawa’s character arc. He used to love movies, but hated them after his film director friend was killed and the memory plays over and over in the dream where he’s floating in a hotel hallway (Inception didn’t even TRY when they stole that scene). One could argue that movie can be dreams in a more tangible form that anyone can see, in theory. You really made me think with this one!

    Liked by 1 person

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