A brisk and often scintillating discourse on the striking similarities between dreams and movies.
The notion that moviegoers seldom analyze why films have power, let alone realize how the force of a film derives from its dream-like aspects, may not be as surprising to readers as McGinn (The Making of a Philosopher, 2001) suggests in his preface. Nevertheless, in the lucid, thought-provoking discussion that follows (which feels like a lively, extended lecture), McGinn (Philosophy/Rutgers Univ.) draws illuminating parallels between what happens at the Bijou and in bed. McGinn meticulously lays the groundwork for his hypothesis by devoting half of his text to describing what occurs when our eyes gaze at the screen. Essentially, he suggests, a film transports us through the frame where we respond to a scene’s two-dimensional character images as if they were extensions of the actors and of ourselves. (Of course, Woody Allen pursues this same idea in his charming film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, but McGinn doesn’t mention the film. He cites few examples throughout, unfortunately, but his discussion of the films he does cite are incisive.) In the second and far livelier section, McGinn details the ways movies resemble dreams. He fascinates as he shows how a film’s narrative structure, spatial discontinuities, montage, length, even its gestation and distribution all resemble dreaming. He caps his series of analogies by suggesting that dreams and films perform cathartic functions for those in the dark, an experience he finds akin to an intense sexual ravishing. Given currency, this particular hypothesis may well raise the box office from its current slump by sending readers rushing out for a good movie.
McGinn’s observations will resonate with thoughtful moviegoers, who will surely annotate the text with their own dream and movie experiences.