Oneiric (film theory)

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In film theory, the term oneiric (/ˈnrɪk/ oh-NY-rik, adjective; "pertaining to dreams") refers to the depiction of dream-like states or to the use of the metaphor of a dream or the dream-state in the analysis of a film.[1][2][3]: 3–4  The term comes from the Greek Óneiros, the personification of dreams.


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 have made psychoanalytical analogies between films and the dream state, claiming films as having 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."[4]

Author Douglas Fowler surmises that "images arising from dreams are the well spring of all our efforts to give enduring form and meaning to the urgencies within," seeing this as the reason why "the deep structure of human narrative is conceived in dreams and the genesis of all myth is dreams."[5] Author Robert Eberwein describes the filmic experience as the merging of a viewer's consciousness with the projected consciousness of the screen's subject, a process whereby the viewer's prior experiences with dreaming "help to create a sense of oneness" with cinema, causing the gap between viewer and what is being viewed to narrow.[3]: 53  Under this theory, no matter what is being shown on the screen — whether the literal representation of a character dreaming, or the fictional characters of a story going on about their fictional lives — the very process of viewing film itself "replicates activities associated with the oneiric experience."[3]: 81–82 

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". Jean Mitry's first volume of Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma (1963) also discuss the connection between films and the dream state.[6]


Filmmakers described as using oneiric or dreamlike elements in their films include Sergei Parajanov (e.g., Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors), David Lynch (e.g., Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive),[7] Andrei Tarkovsky (e.g. Andrei Rublev, Solaris),[8] Stan Brakhage (e.g., Dog Star Man), Michelangelo Antonioni (e.g. The Passenger, Zabriskie Point), Jaromil Jireš (e.g., Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), Krzysztof Kieslowski (e.g. The Double Life of Veronique),[9] Federico Fellini (e.g., Amarcord), Ingmar Bergman (e.g., Wild Strawberries), Jean Cocteau (e.g., Orphic Trilogy), Gaspar Noé (e.g. Enter the Void, Love, Climax), Raúl Ruiz (e.g., City of Pirates), Edgar G. Ulmer (e.g., The Black Cat), Jacques Tourneur (e.g., I Walked With a Zombie), Maya Deren (e.g., Meshes of the Afternoon), [10] Wojciech Has,[11] and Kenneth Anger.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bacher, Hans P (1 January 2008). "Film Analysis". Dream Worlds. Focal Press. pp. 12–27. doi:10.1016/b978-0-240-52093-3.50005-7. ISBN 9780240520933. {{cite book}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Sparshott, F.E. (1971). "Vision and Dream in the Cinema". Philosophic Exchange: Annual Proceedings. 1: 116.
  3. ^ a b c Eberwein, Robert T. (1984). Film & the Dream Screen: A Sleep and a Forgetting. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691066196.
  4. ^ Mayer, Andreas. "The Historian of the Freud Museum: Lydia Marinelli (Psychoanalysis and History, 2009)" – via {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Fowler, Douglas (1986). The Kingdom of Dreams in Literature and Film: Selected Papers from the Tenth Annual Florida State University Conference on Literature and Film. Tallahassee: University Presses of Florida. p. 10. ISBN 978-0813008639.
  6. ^ "Mitry, Jean. Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma. (A shorter and different version of this will appear in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory, Edward Branigan and Warren Buckland Eds.)" (PDF).
  7. ^ Lentzner, Jay R.; Ross, Donald R. (26 April 2005). "The Dreams That Blister Sleep: Latent Content and Cinematic Form in Mulholland Drive". American Imago. 62 (1): 120. doi:10.1353/aim.2005.0016. ISSN 1085-7931. S2CID 142931285.
  8. ^ Petric, Vlada (December 1989). "Tarkovsky's Dream Imagery". Film Quarterly. 43 (2): 28–34. doi:10.1525/fq.1989.43.2.04a00040.
  9. ^ Santilli, Paul C. (December 2006). "Cinema and Subjectivity in Krzysztof Kieslowski". Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 64 (1): 147–156. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8529.2006.00236.x.
  10. ^ Nichols, Bill, ed. (2001). Maya Deren and the American Avant-Garde. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520227323.
  11. ^ Toepplitz, Krzysztof-Teodor (December 1964). "The Films of Wojciech Has" (PDF). Film Quarterly. 18 (2): 2–6. doi:10.2307/1210931. JSTOR 1210931.
  12. ^ Lim, James. "Artist Kenneth Anger Films the Missoni Clan for the Label's Fall Campaign". The Cut.

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.
  • Cubitt, Sean. The Cinema Effect. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2004, pp. 273-299.
  • 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): pp. 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
  • Petrić, Vlada, Film and Dreams: An Approach to Bergman, Redgrave, NY, 1981.