Oneiric (film theory)  

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In a film theory context, the term oneiric (which means "pertaining to dream") is used to refer the depiction of dream-like states in films, or to the use of the metaphor of a dream or the dream-state to analyze a film. The connection between dreams and films has been long established; "The dream factory" “...has become a household expression for the film industry”. The dream metaphor for film viewing is “one of the most persistent metaphors in both classical and modern film theory”, and it is used by film theorists using Freudian, non-Freudian, and semiotic analytical frameworks.

Filmmakers noted for their use of oneiric or dreamlike elements in their films include Luis Buñuel, Wojciech Has, the Marx Brothers, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, Krzysztof Kieslowski (e.g., The Double Life of Véronique) and David Lynch (e.g., Mulholland Drive). Film genres or styles noted for their use of oneiric elements include film noir and surrealist films.

The French surrealist playwright and director Antonin Artaud argued that the American burlesque genre, with its bizarre, lush costumes, and its mixture of dancing girls, comedians, mime artists and striptease artists, has oneiric qualities.


Early film theorists such as Ricciotto Canudo (1879-1923) 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. Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini argued that dreams carry messages using a common store of signs. 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” to establish “...the validity of psychoanalytic terminology in the form of a taxonomy.”

Another way that films and dreams are connected in psychological analysis is by examining the interaction between the cinema exhibition process and the passive spectator. 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.

In the 2000s, a graduate-level comparative literature course on oneiric aspects of film, entitled Dreamworks: Literature, Film, and the Oneiric, is being taught at the University of Western Ontario by Paul Coates. Coates’ course assesses the “...widespread habit of comparing certain filmic and literary works to dreams” by examining “literary and filmic works usually described as having an ‘oneiric' quality,” including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive; August Strindberg's A Dream Play; Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers; Jean Cocteau's Orphée; Paul Leni's Waxworks; poems by Emily Dickinson and by Polish Symbolist Bolesław Leśmian.

See also


  • "Kyrou has recognised traces of oneirism not only in experimental cinema, but also in the musical, thriller, horror, and in much comic cinema (for instance, the Marx Brothers, Helzapoppin, and Jerry Lewis)."
  • Ado Kyrou. Le surréalisme au cinéma (1963), cited by Laura Rascaroli in Like a Dream: A Critical History of the Oneiric Metaphor in Film Theory. Fall 2002. .

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Oneiric (film theory)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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