The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): The twist ending was allegedly birthed by this German Expressionist favorite, which reveals in the last scene that the macabre, bizarrely set-designed events we’ve just seen were delusions of our evidently insane hero. If this seems tacked-on, that’s because it was: Studio heavies were nonplussed by the original downer finale. Hacks (and St. Elsewhere writers) took note—although, to his credit, M. Night has never gone with an “It was all a dream!” capper. Yet.
Peter Ibbetson (1935): When he’s sentenced to life in prison, Gary Cooper and childhood sweetheart Ann Harding meet in their dreams, even after death. Normally a more staid director, Henry Hathaway (Kiss of Death, Airport) goes appropriately purple, complete with castles being willed into existence only to crumble as easily as they were constructed.
Dreamscape (1984): In one of the more ridiculous premises in movie history, Dennis Quaid plays a young psychic who has to enter the low-budget dreams of the president (Eddie Albert) to protect him from another, evil psychic (David Patrick Kelly). 1984 was a big year for people fighting in dreams: Nightmare on Elm Street was released that winter.
Waking Life (2001): There’s a word for dreaming of Timothy “Speed” Levitch: Nightmare.
Paprika (2006): Where Dreamscape’s dreamscapes are hampered by its low budget, there’s few limitations in animation. Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers) takes a similar premise—a psychiatrist invents a device with which one can enter dreams—and supplies appropriately loopy imagery. Menacing geisha dolls menace, frogs form marching bands, people burst into blue butterflies and, in the pièce de résistance, a rampaging parade of junk saunters through city streets.
Inception (2010): Christopher Nolan is more writer than visual stylist. “I tend to just naturally gravitate towards a more ordinary-looking film,” says he—so here’s hoping he approached a film about bizarre dream imagery as a challenge. ■
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