June 15, 2012

"Worse still than real dreams, mine or yours—sandier mouthfuls, ranker lies—are the dreams of characters in books and movies."

Writes Michael Chabon:
Nobody, not even Aunt Em, wants to hear about Dorothy’s dream when she wakes up at the end of The Wizard of Oz. As outright fantasy the journey to Oz is peerless, joyous, muscular with truth; to call it a dream (a low trick L. Frank Baum, who wrote the original story, never stooped to) is to demean it, to deny it, to lie; because nobody has dreams like that. Nobody has dreams like the dreams in Spellbound, either; or like those in Little Nemo in Slumberland, Alice in Wonderland, Inception...

If art is a mirror, dreams are the back of the head. A work of art derives its effects from light, sound, and movement, but dreams unfurl in darkness, silence, paralysis. Like a recipe attempted in an ill-provisioned kitchen, “dreamlike” art relies on substitutions: dutch angles, forced perspective, absurdist juxtapositions, arbitrary transformations, and, as Peter Dinklage’s character points out in the film Living in Oblivion, a lamentable superabundance of dwarfs.
Here's that scene in Living in Oblivion. (Shorter clip here. Buy the whole movie here. It's really good.)

I feel like I should make some wisecrack of that book written by the now-President of the United States, "Dreams From My Father." Who just signed that "Dream" law. Dreams figure big in political speech, for a few reasons.

26 comments:

Erika said...

Goodness, do I ever adore Michael Chabon. (Not quite as much as Ayelet Waldman does, probably, but if she ever tires of him, I'd be glad to make sure he doesn't get lonely.)

I am reading Justin Cronin's The Passage, which relies heavily on the characters' dreams in telling the story, and I was just ranting to my husband last night how much I loathe it when writers use dreams to fill in backstory, bend metaphysics, foreshadow, clue us into themes, and so on. It's almost always telling as opposed to showing. And, dreams are always boring if they're someone else's.

Robert Cook said...

I loved LIVING IN OBLIVION, which I saw at the Angelica in NYC on its original release, as well as the previous (and debut) feature by director Tom DeCillo, JOHNNY SUEDE, starring Brad Pitt as the titular character

Robert Cook said...

Oh, and I also HATE dreams in stories and movies...the story itself is the dream, so adding a "dream" within the dream is superfluous and, well, what Erika said.

Michael K said...

Neville Shute, probably my favorite author of fiction, used dreams quite a bit to tell his stories. In "The Rainbow and the Rose" the entire story is told in dream sequences. Another favorite, "In the Wet" is also a dream sequence occurring in a man who is dying.

Shute died in 1960 and his novels are all still in print and there are Kindle versions of almost all.

edutcher said...

Don't forget the dream sequences in "The Manchurian Candidate" (the good one, of course).

Doesn't everybody always wake up screaming from a nightmare?

Ann Althouse said...

May I recommend "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?

edutcher said...

By all means, Madame.

About the best they ever did (granted, we only saw it once in a blue moon first run (saw many of the other episodes years later)) and IIRC, it was a special short done by an outside company, not one of the regular episodes.

chuck said...

muscular with truth

Hee, hee, isn't that precious.

Palladian said...

I find the sort of writing in Chabon's essay wearyingly unreadable. It always seems as if the person is Writing rather than writing. Of course I find most fiction wearyingly unreadable so it only follows that Writing about fiction is doubly unpleasant.

CWJ said...

OK, this is a first for me.

In response to our hostess: NO NO NO! Rinse, repeat.

CWJ said...

@Erika

Please recommend other things that I ought to read by Michael Chabon. I really disliked this link. But when I see real passion like yours, I'd like to try to see what you see.

rhhardin said...

Sometimes a girlfriend has a dream with you in it, and she's mad at what you did in it.

EMD said...

Please recommend other things that I ought to read by Michael Chabon.

He's best known for this.

EMD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Synova said...

That is why I HATED _Pan's Labyrinth_.

Making it a dream (or delusion) turned the entire movie into one, horrendous, stinking, pile of CHEAT.

Synova said...

Oh! And he dares to include "Inception". Finally, my soul mate!

Oh, just kidding. But failing-to-be-impressed with "Inception" was a lonely place to be.

At least "Sucker Punch" had truth-in-advertising going for it.

The only bad part of Total Recall was trying to make the end ambiguous. (Okay, that's a howler of Mr. Universe proportions... it wasn't the *only* bad part, but...)

Robert Cook said...

PAN'S LABYRINTH is a brilliant work of towering artistry, and makes a pot-boiler like AVATAR (as enjoyable as it is) look like the expensive and derivative comic book that it is.

Beldar said...

I've enjoyed some of Chabon's fiction. I'd like to see more Meyer Landsman mysteries set in the alternate universe of "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," for example. But I was less taken with "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."

Synova said...

"PAN'S LABYRINTH is a brilliant work of towering artistry,..."

Up until the moment, the *moment* that the brilliant towering artistry was revealed to be a CHEAT!

As I said... at least "Sucker Punch" warned you up front. (And that movie was every bit as violently sadistic as "Pan's Labyrinth" to boot.)

Craig said...

www.syfy.com/tinman/

cassandra lite said...

Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

Synova said...

I mean... seriously...

There is no reasonable way to explain that "this was delusion all along" and then take that delusion into the after-life.

The little girl is dead. There is no ambiguity. There is NO magic. There was only ever the delusions of a little girl. And as morbidly depressing (and thus counting as "literature") as this is, if at the end there is no magic, never was, and the girl is dead, her delusions are over. Period.

If there is a soft, fuzzy, happy afterlife for her, it is NOT her delusion. It's not going to look like her delusion. Her delusion has been exchanged for what is real. That's the DEAL.

Pan's Labyrinth abandoned the magic but wanted to HAVE it, too. That's a cheat, a second cheat on top of "it was all delusion". Double the cheat for your money.

Narratively "it's all delusion" is a cheat.

Structurally, destroying the magic and then attempting to soften that destruction with a lie, is also a cheat.

ampersand said...

In one of the OZ books , women take over and rule the Emerald City. I think they banished all weapons and men but it's been a while since I read it.
In another Oz book one of the main characters has a sex change near the end.
Of course in the first one the heroine murders two old women.

Dreams or nightmare? You decide.

Bill Harshaw said...

Many people believe the President makes laws and your statement: "Who just signed that "Dream" law" can contribute to that confusion. A law is passed by Congress and signed by the President. Congress hasn't (yet) passed any "Dream Act". An executive order signed by the President isn't a law. And the President didn't sign an executive order yesterday--he just said Homeland Security would change their priorities in enforcing the immigration laws.

granmary said...

The President did NOT sign any "Dream Law", he just decided to not enforce the law. He is breaking the law by not enforcing it.What else is new with this Dictator in Chief? By the way, shouldn't a constitutional law professor know that?

leslyn said...

Re the other dreams:

To be literately correct now we're supposed to hate dreams in books and movies? What's next on the chopping block? Bunnies?