The promise and appeal of lucid dreaming is irresistible to many. After all, by taking advantage of this phenomenon, one can accomplish deeds limited only by his/her very own imagination. Thought to be much more than an advanced kind of virtual reality though, lucid dreaming has always been the sort of theme filmmakers world-over would very eagerly explore.
It is indeed just too interesting a premise to ignore…
Below is a list of the 11 most relevant and interesting cinematographic attempts to portray the phenomenon of lucid dreaming and to peer into some of its subtleties.
Since 2010, Inception – starring Leonardo DiCaprio – has been the benchmark for all movies dealing with lucid dreaming.
Squarely built around the phenomenon, the film follows protagonist Dom Cobb, a dream-sharing specialist, as he attempts the never-before-done. Instead of stealing corporate secrets directly from the minds of those targeted, he has to accomplish inception: the planting of an idea in the mind of the targeted person.
I personally was inspired by this movie to use a Spinning Top as my reality check. How does it work? Make it a habit to take your top with you wherever you go. Spin it every once in a while during the day. You will notice that it will stop spinning after a couple minutes at the most. If you ever find that it spins for longer than that, if you’re unable to spin it at all, or if you are unable to find your top, most likely you’re dreaming!
With an 8.8/10 IMDB rating, Inception is indeed one of the more successful cinematographic efforts of the last decade, and its depiction of lucid dreaming is extremely interesting and innovative as well. Special effects are superbly used for a change, effectively augmenting the viewer’s perception of the depicted dream worlds.
Despite their cutting-edge abilities, Cobb and his crew meet their match in the lucid dreaming arena. Can they out-maneuver their equally skilled lucid-dreaming foes?
Lucid Dream (2017)
Its original title “Loosideu Deurim” (a peculiar phonetic transcription of the English title?), this Korean creation is often called a cheap “Inception” clone.
While there are certainly some similarities between the two films, Lucid Dream very much holds its own.
Serving up the story of an investigative journalist named Dae-ho, who makes use of the power of lucid dreaming to find out where his son – abducted 3 years ago – is held, Lucid Dream is definitely not short on drama.
While the plot is decent and the movie as a whole is more than watchable, lucid dreamers will agree that there is quite a bit of ridiculous (and quite unnecessary) drama injected into how LD actually works.
Other than that though, Lucid Dream is an interesting watch, and having earned a rating of 6.1/10 at IMDB, it is no push-over popularity-wise either.
The Science of Sleep (2006)
The Science of Sleep (original title: La science des reves) is a rather peculiar French movie, about the world of lucid dreaming, and about a lucid dreamer who has a hard time telling reality and dreams apart.
Stephane Miroux is the protagonist of the movie and – to a certain degree – its source too, since a lot of the action originates directly from his dreams.
Having moved to Paris, following the death of his father, Stephane lands a boring job and becomes smitten with his beautiful neighbor, Stephanie. Moving his life in the right direction turns out to be a major challenge though, so he takes refuge in the world of his dreams, which he soon starts confusing with reality.
While the special effects used to depict Stephane’s dream world may not be technically impressive, they work well in the given context.
Having earned a 7.1/10 IMDB rating, The Science of Sleep may not be a film for everyone. Some have complained about its lacking coherence, but then again, given its theme, its haywire structure is not entirely unexpected.
Waking Life (2001)
By most accounts, Waking Life is a truly revolutionary piece of cinematography, a movie which – beyond critical acclaim – is also rather popular with the rank-and-file viewers.
The special rotoscoping technique used to turn real action into animation is in part what makes this movie so special. This way, the dream world through which the protagonist drifts as the movie rolls on, is presented in a unique light.
With such a unique delivery comes a similarly special plot: the main character is stuck in a permanent lucid dreaming state, from which he attempts to wake up, while looking for answers to such fundamental issues as the meaning of life, one’s relationship with other people, and where reality begins and ends.
The closing twist is the conclusion that the protagonist eventually draws: he cannot seem to awaken from his lucid dream on account of the fact that he may indeed be dead.
The 7.8/10 IMDB rating is testimony to how special this film truly is.
Some people claim that Dreamscape is in fact the main source of inspiration for Inception, and there may indeed be quite a bit of truth in that.
Starring Dennis Quaid, the movie carries a plot which is eerily similar to that of the 2010 blockbuster.
A young psychic with special abilities concerning lucid dreaming, is recruited to enter the dreams of the president and to plant an idea in his mind. Of course, along the way, he runs into unexpected problems, such as people dying apparently at the hands of another oneironaut like him.
An IMDB rating of 6.3/10 does no justice to this film, which pretty much came up with the story so masterfully delivered through the beautifying filter of 2010 technology, by Inception.
Vanilla Sky (2001)
Say/think what you will about Tom Cruise, but as an actor, the guy is certainly among the all-time greats.
In 2001’s Vanilla Sky, he plays a womanizing rich kid, David Aames Jr., who suddenly comes into a fortune when he inherits 51% of the shares of a major publishing firm, from his father.
While he does his best to “live it up,” his life veers into chaos, when his jealous “friend with benefits,” Julie (Cameron Diaz), decides to commit suicide taking him along for the ride.
Horribly mangled up in the car crash in which Julie dies, David awakens to a living nightmare. Incarcerated and accused of murder, he soon grows unable to distinguish reality from dream.
The 6.9/10 IMDB score the movie has thus far accrued, seems quite reasonable. It is a very watchable piece of cinematography though as the trailer below proves it too.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street is the definitive horror movie for most children of the 80s, and a true classic for everyone else. Though scares-wise it has long been outdone, Wes Craven’s creation brought Freddy Kruger’s character into popular culture, while giving the phenomenon of lucid dreaming quite a bit of exposure too.
A psychopath and sadistic murderer of children, Fred Kruger falls victim to mob justice, dispensed by the parents of those he has killed. Years later, he returns to torment the living children of those same parents in their dreams, employing an impressive array of terror-inducing tricks, to which the dream world where he now lurks, sets no limits whatsoever.
It is up to Nancy Thompson, one of the youngsters tormented by Freddy, to lure him out into the physical world and to stop his rampage.
Having scored 7.5/10 at IMDB, A Nightmare on Elm Street has stood the test of time, while spawning an impressive number of sequels.
Peter Ibbetson (1935)
At first glance, director Henry Hathaway’s Peter Ibbetson is hardly a movie about lucid dreaming. Rather, it is about love, of the kind that transcends even death itself.
The main character of the film is architect Peter Ibbetson (Gary Cooper), who is tasked by the Duke of Towers to complete a commissioned building for him. While on the job, Ibetsson discovers that the wife of the Duke (Ann Harding) is none other than his childhood sweetheart.
The flames of love rekindled between the two, trouble lies ahead as the Duke discovers the romance.
Ibetsson is eventually sentenced to life in prison for a killing he commits accidentally, and this is where the lucid dreaming angle comes into the picture: the two lovers are able to fulfill their relationship in the realm of dreams.
Though – from a technical perspective – time has not been kind to this 1935 creation, its 7.2/10 IMDB rating is living proof of the artistic value that it still fully represents.
The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix hardly needs an introduction to any true lover of cinematography. The movie is a definitive sci-fi classic, which has earned a massive cult following. Its 8.7/10 IMDB score is a good indication of its popularity, but what’s perhaps more relevant still is that this score resulted from almost 1.5 million user votes.
The protagonist of the film is a certain Thomas A Anderson (Keanu Reeves), known in hacking circles as Neo. Though he always had his doubts regarding the nature of reality, even Neo is overwhelmed when he learns the truth: our mundane reality is nothing but a sort of dream called the Matrix, created by a race of advanced machines which keeps the whole of humanity imprisoned, harvesting the biochemical energy and heat generated by the bodies, while the minds are kept busy within the Matrix.
Yet another testimony to the prowess and inspirational attitude of Japanese animators, Paprika is a science fiction movie about researchers developing a machine (the DC Mini) with which people can record and then re-watch their dreams. The device can apparently also be used to enter people’s dreams.
Mayhem ensues when the device falls into the wrong hands and large-scale dream-based abuse begins.
A trio of protagonists is tasked with the identification of the perpetrator. A police inspector and a fairy called Paprika are also in the mix.
Critically acclaimed, the movie has clocked a rating of 7.7/10 at IMDB.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Besides featuring superb acting by Jim Carey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the sort of movie that remains quotable over and over, even after more than a decade following its release.
A truly memorable piece of cinematography and raw art, the film presents the protagonist with a conundrum. Having decided to erase all memories of his ex from his mind, Joel Barish (Jim Carey) has a last-second change of heart.
From that point on, he begins drifting amid his unconscious memories, looking for ways to preserve them and to somehow reclaim his place among the memories of his ex-girlfriend, towards whom he apparently still nurtures romantic feelings.