Oneiric (film theory)

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In film theory, the term oneiric (/ˈnaɪərɪk/; "pertaining to dreams") refers to what proponents describe as the depiction of dream-like states or to the use of the metaphor of a dream or the dream-state in analyzing a film.

A connection between dreams and films has been long posited. It has been noted that the phrase "the dream factory" "has become a household expression for the film industry".[1]


Early film theorists such as Ricciotto Canudo (1879–1923) and Jean Epstein (1897–1953) argued that films had a dreamlike quality. Raymond Bellour and Guy Rosolato made psychoanalytical analogies between films and the dream state, and claimed that films have a "latent" content that can be psychoanalyzed as if it were a dream. Lydia Marinelli states that, before the 1930s, psychoanalysts "primarily attempted to apply the interpretative schemata found in Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams to films." More recently, Robert Eberwein has "cull[ed] dream scenes from the entirety of cinematic history" in an attempt to establish "the validity of psychoanalytic terminology in the form of a taxonomy."

Films and dreams are also connected in psychological analysis by examining the relationship between the cinema screening process and the spectator (who is perceived as passive). Roland Barthes, a French literary critic and semiotician, described film spectators as being in a "para-oneiric" state, feeling "sleepy and drowsy as if they had just woken up" when a film ends. Similarly, the French surrealist André Breton argues that film viewers enter a state between being "awake and falling asleep", what French filmmaker René Clair called a "dreamlike state". Edgar Morin's Le cinéma ou l'homme imaginaire (1956) and Jean Mitry's first volume of Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma (1963) also discuss the connection between films and the dream state.


Filmmakers described as using oneiric or dreamlike elements in their films include Sergei Parajanov (e.g., Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors), Andrei Tarkovsky,[2] Stan Brakhage (e.g., Dog Star Man), Federico Fellini, Jaromil Jires (e.g., Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (film)), Krzysztof Kieslowski (e.g., The Double Life of Véronique),[3] Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau (e.g., Orphic Trilogy), Maya Deren,[4] Wojciech Has,[5] and Kenneth Anger.

Film genres or styles noted for their use of oneiric elements include surrealist films and horror films.


  1. ^ Marinelli, Lydia "Screening Wish Theories: Dream Psychologies and Early Cinema". Science in Context (2006), 19: 87-110
  2. ^ Petric, Vlada. "Tarkovski's Dream Imagery", Film Quarterly, v. 43, 2 (Winter 89/90), pp. 28-34.
  3. ^ Depper, Corin "Review: The Films of Krzysztof Kieslowski". Scope 4 (February 2006). ISSN 1465-9166.
  4. ^ Nichols, Bill. "Maya Deren and the American Avant-Garde". University of California Press, 2001.
  5. ^ Caes, Chris Syllabus: ENG 4133 Polish Science Fiction and Fantasy – Films, Fiction, Artwork. University of Florida course bulletin.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bächler, Odile. "Images de film, images de rêve; le véhicule de la vision", CinémAction, 50 (1989), pp. 40–46.
  • Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten. Films and Dreams: Tarkovsky, Bergman, Sokurov, Kubrick, Wong Kar-wai. Lanham: Lexington, 2009.
  • Burns, Gary. "Dreams and Mediation in Music Video", Wide Angle, v. 10, 2 (1988), pp. 41–61.
  • Eberwein, Robert T. Film & the dream screen : a sleep and a forgetting. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1984.
  • Halpern, Leslie. Dreams on film : the cinematic struggle between art and science. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2003.
  • Hobson, J. Allan. 1980. "Film and the Physiology of Dreaming Sleep: The Brain as a Camera-Projector". Dreamworks 1(1):9–25.
  • Lewin, Bertram D. "Inferences from the dream screen", International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. XXIX, 4 (1948), p. 224.
  • Marinelli, Lydia. "Screening Wish Theories: Dream Psychologies and Early Cinema". Science in Context (2006), 19: 87-110
  • Sparshott, F. E. "Vision and Dream in Film". Philosophic Exchange: Annual Proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 111–124, Summer 1971