“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger”
In this column, we will highlight films that have directly or indirectly inspired the most cherished and popular movies of contemporary cinema. Every movie comes from a tradition of similar films (except Avatar, of course).
Our goal is to give the reader reference points for his or her favorite movies, in order to help spark an interest in film history.
We will discuss the antecedents of a popular movie in reverse chronological order–working backwards through film history. This week, we will focus on Inception.
While Inception can safely be called the first blockbuster (or movie) in the dream-action-thriller-heist genre, it is certainly not the first movie to be made about dreaming and dreamers.
Though film wizard Christopher Nolan brought the “dream movie” to a new peak, the genre has a distinct place in film history.
Had a crackpot crew of inception-agents wanted to inspire Christopher Nolan to make Inception, these are some of the films they would have screened in his subconscious.
As huge movie nerds, we sincerely hope that you check out some of these films.
The Science of Sleep (2006)
Where Inception was concerned with posing abstract philosophical questions about dreaming, illusion and reality, The Science of Sleep focuses on the vivid emotional content of dreams.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays a lonely, struggling artist in Paris, whose imagination threatens to overwhelm his day-to-day life. Directed by the insanely creative Michel Gondry (same guy who did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the film tackles some of the same existential concepts that informed Inception but with a distinctively comic and heartfelt tone.
Dark City (1999)
While Inception owes a huge debt to the dream-logic and surreal action of The Matrix, it also bears the influence of another 1999 film that dealt with the precarious, subjective nature of reality: director Alex Proyas’ Dark City.
Dark City is structured like a film noir but with a twist–the protagonist suffers from memory loss and begins an investigation into everything that he has forgotten. Though we won’t spoil anything, we can tell you that his amnesia isn’t just a matter of a bad bump on the head–there are larger implications about his fragile understanding of reality.
At heart, Inception is an absurdly complicated heist movie. Though Rififi is by no means a “dream movie,” it is nevertheless one of the most influential and enduring heist movies in film history.
The plot of Rififi deals with a middle-aged gangster who, after being released from prison, is roped back in by his protégé for one final job: the robbery of a French jewelry store for its most valuable diamonds.
The heist itself is just as thrilling as the snow fortress sequence in Inception, which is even more impressive given that it does not contain explosions, guys with machine guns riding on snowmobiles or Leo DiCaprio screaming into a walkie-talkie.
Un Chien D’Andalou (1929)
Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali devised this iconic surrealist film using free association. As such, it follows an uncanny dream logic that will leave you reeling. At times disturbing, always compelling, this is a must see for someone looking to see an unmediated dream film.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
This silent film psychological thriller is credited with introducing the “twist-ending” into film. This movie asks similar questions about reality as Inception, using insanity instead of dreams as an alternative to reality. All the same, the film explores a highly-stylized, expressionist dreamscape that is both disorienting and frightening.