Mark Hay woke up from his food coma to bring you this week’s movie picks.
On Thursday the bulk of the nation was out cold in a tryptophan-induced coma, dreaming the troubled dreams of the turkey. For Columbians, especially, these next few days – too short for real work, too long for real stress – are a time of relaxation and catching up on our backlog of snoozing. But in this sleep, what dreams may come? Asking this age-old Danish question, Bwog presents a list of three films about dreams – their mythology, their power, and their meaning (best when watched just before drifting off to la-la land).
A rare and unexpected treat for the discerning fantasy fiend, so long starved since the last Guillermo del Toro release, Ink is a surprising piece of whimsy and compassion coming from the rather obscure Denver-based writer and director Jamin Winans. Despite a minimal budget, Winans creates a stark and disturbing world just past the veil of sleep, replete with a strong mythology, but avoids the blatant explanations and voice-overs that usually mar such intricate worlds. Nor does he insult the viewer by revealing too much of his plot, by illuminating the connections, at any one time. Instead the viewer lands directly and at full tilt into a disorienting parallel universe and must, by the power of their own intellect, piece together the bits of the story and the mythology of this dreamscape – and the revelations do not disappoint.
Winans’ world plays on rather ancient ideas of the world of dreams: when we sleep, two forces enter our world. One, the Storytellers, come to give us peaceful dreams, while the other, the Incubi (truly creepy critters), sneak into our minds to torture us with horrid nightmares. One night, as the young Emma (Quinn Hunchar) falls asleep, a towering troll, all covered in rags and strange trinkets, appears in her room. Despite the best attempts of the Storytellers to prevent it, the creature steals the little girl’s soul, leaving her body in a deadly coma, as he takes her off into the dream world as a sacrifice in the perpetual war between sweet dreams and troubled sleep. In response, the Storytellers move into action, seeking a way to save her soul while slowly uncovering the history of her family – especially her estranged father (Chris Kelly) – and how it has played into her abduction.
Certain points of Ink are absolutely contrived, and a few elements of the myth feel rather incongruent with its overall flavor. And some of the Storytellers never quite feel satisfying as characters. Yet Ink is a triumph of a small, scrappy filmmaker. The accomplishment of unraveling the story, coupled with a rich and bizarre landscape, a rather unexpected finale, and protagonists for whom you really care all make it a shame that this film was never picked up by any large distribution company. All the more reason to promote it online.
At times creepy, at times psychedelic, at times just too much damn fun, Satoshi Kon’s Paprika travels straight into the heart and madness of our dreams, attempts to impose a reason over it, fails miserably, and then searches the ruins for some scrap of sense. Admittedly – and this might just be a culture/language barrier – it takes multiple viewings of the film to fully discern what sense is made, to pick out the threads of plot that weave through the madness, but the process is perpetually amusing given the subtle details and absolute exuberance of the madness that makes up the bulk of the film.
In the world of Paprika, a group of scientists have discovered a way of entering the dreams of others, usually passively observing and discerning trends, but at times actively interfering with real world consequences, using a device called the DC Mini. One idealistic researcher, Atsuko Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara), illegally uses the device to administer psychotherapy to troubled individuals, using her alter ego, Paprika (the uninhibited Chiba), to administer treatments. She is aided and abetted by her genius, but obese and childish, co-worker, Kosaku Tokita (Toru Furuya). But before any laws may be formed on the device, three copies are stolen and suddenly the world begins to spin out of control as colleagues die, dreams invade reality, alter egos mix with their real-world counterparts, and sinister forces threaten to throw our world into a nightmare reality.
Embracing Paprika for what it is – an adventure and a trip – the film is fantastic. If one is looking for clarity and new insight, however, this is not the film for you. Bits and pieces wander into risqué territory (not uncommon to such Japanese animations, but a little odd for the American viewer) and some of the character development just doesn’t add up. But, to give credit where it is due, the film is absurdly complex and engaging – it is a fantastic, strange, and beautiful dream.
Waking Life (2001)
People do not often go to movies to hear a philosophical rant – that is just not blockbuster entertainment. So perhaps the only reason Waking Life did as well as it did was the existential crisis following 9/11 into which it was born (and to a lesser extent the cult of personality around its director, Richard Linklater). Still this time-specific success is no reason to discount the movie – Waking Life may be a meandering and unresolved concoction of half-baked theories and wide-eyed youths spewing off about life, the universe, and everything, but it is a beautiful way of capturing it on film and feeding to us our own narcissistic uncertainties and wonderings.
In Waking Life, an unidentified protagonist (Wiley Wiggins) finds himself trapped in a perpetual lucid dream – able to control his actions and manipulate a good portion of his world, but unable to wake up. Searching for answers to his state, and his larger state of being in life as well, he wanders through various scenes of conversation (humorously composed of memories from Linklater’s life and previous films). In each tirade, the young and confused passionately and with great detail and humanism, expound upon their theories on living and meaning as the protagonist begins to develop his own views and slowly participate in the dream debates.
If it sounds unsatisfying, it isn’t. Rather than preaching some ultimate answer, Linklater is simply observing man’s propensities for self-examination, confusion, and certainty in the midst of ultimate uncertainty. The style of animation used in the film, live action shots overlaid with color, give a dream-like and unreal feel to actions still nuanced to the point of humanity. Imbued with a reality beyond its medium, Waking Life is a great introspective trip. Perhaps it is not the best film for Columbia students, as we are those bleary and moon-faced youths spouting off to each other – we don’t need a film to find these conversations and revelations – or perhaps it is just what we need in a film: another mode through which to pursue our perpetual dialogue of the self and life. CC on DVD.