Cinema & consciousness

In the science fiction anime film Paprika (2006) by Satoshi Kon, Paprika is Doctor Chiba’s alter-ego which she uses to treat her psychiatric patients by entering their dreams. They are polar opposites in personality. This alter-ego is a symbol of Chiba’s subconscious.

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“Have you ever thought you were a part of me, instead?”

When Paprika says that to Chiba, it is a sign of the subconscious mind expressing its repressed emotions and desires and gaining control over the rational self. and in the larger world of the film, of dreams and reality merging.

The world of dreams is portrayed as dangerous because it is a place of great instability and chaos. Nothing is certain, even the most rational and cool-headed of people are destabilised.

Who knows? Maybe we are all part of our subconscious – instead of the other way round – falsely thinking that our conscious minds are agents of free will. Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis left a great impact on psychology.

The amazing thing is how film and cinema could be linked so closely to the study of the human mind – this connection fascinated me endlessly when I was learning about film theories in college.

Which is why films like Paprika were made. Or maybe even the Matrix series.

Paprika: Where cinema and dreams meet

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Watched the classic Japanese animation film Paprika yesterday at The Projector. I’m using this image here because I realise most of the movie posters look kind of creepy – and the whole movie kind of is that bizarre.

There are so many dimensions and messages in this film, but perhaps as someone with academic background in film studies, I was able to read it on a more critical level. Themes found in this film: blurring of lines between dreams and reality, the allusion of movies to dreams and movie-watching to dreaming, the subconscious mind, trauma.

I actually watched this for the second time and understood it slightly better, but couldn’t say completely. It is that kind of film that demands re-watching, but it’s also easy for audiences to feel frustrated and simply give up on understanding what’s going. But to me, that was the whole point of it. The first time I watched it I was questioning the logic and concerned with plot developments – who’s the mastermind, is this scene dream or reality etc. But watching it again helped me appreciate the film more on the meta levels.

As the film progresses, the lines between dreams and reality get even more blurred, and we as the audience feel increasingly confused and disoriented. But that submission – the relinquishing of control on reality and knowledge is important to truly understand, ironically, the film’s true message.

Just as we slowly fall asleep and descend into the deeper layers of sleep and dreaming, watching this film and seeing it morph into increasingly bizarre and surrealistic imagery, is like the act of dreaming itself. In fact, we leave the theatre feeling as though the whole movie had occurred in our dreams. But why not? If there was a way to project our dreams into images, isn’t this how they would look like?

Also, there is the recurring motif of alluding movies to dream. Because the inspector character abandoned his friend halfway through making their film, and his friend passed away shortly after, he keeps having recurring nightmares of himself killing his friend in a hallway. When he finally manages to overcome his guilt and trauma, the movie ends with him buying a movie ticket at the cinema, finally overcoming his long-time aversion to films and the cinema too.

That closing scene is also impactful because this movie essentially ends with a character going to watch a movie, as though bringing us back to the start, like an endless loop on repeat. Again, isn’t that what a dream feels like? We never know where it starts or ends do we?

There is another scene where the inspector (although his story is kind of a subplot but I find myself very fascinated and even convinced that there is a deeper message – if not why would the movie close with him?) takes on various personas – Tarzan with his lover, a detective wresting with a criminal, a superhero killing the villain

This too, is another allusion of cinema to dreams, because when we watch films, we identify with characters or stories that we aspire to. In a way, enjoying idealised versions of ourselves on screen is an expression of our subconscious mind, one of the reasons, it can be argued, why Hollywood movies are so popular, with happy endings after a conflict, and a beautiful cast.

On so many levels, isn’t watching a film like dreaming? And when we all share the same screen together in the darkened movie theatre, aren’t we all sharing a collective dream?

I’ll leave this fascinating image here, the scene where dreams and reality, dreams and movies converge.

Paprika

Paprika is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever watched, although it is animation, but perhaps also because it is animation – for the medium allows so many limitations and boundaries of live-action movies to be broken.

Speaking of boundaries…

Filmography

Classics

  • Ninteen Eighty-Four, Michael Radford (1984 British adaptation)
  • The Class, Laurent Cantet (French)

Modern

  • Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
  • Moonlight, Barry Jenkins
  • Toni Erdmann, Maren Ade
  • Your Name, Makoto Shinkai

Love

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance
  • SABRÁS QUÉ HACER CONMIGO / You’ll know what to do with me (Mexican)
  • Together Apart, K. Rajagopal

Female-centred

  • Twinsters, Samantha Futerman & Ryan Miyamoto
  • Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Thelma & Louise, Ridley Scott

Iranian films

  • About Elly, Asghar Farhadi
  • The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi
  • Taste of Cherry, Abbas Kiarostami
  • Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami
  • Ten, Abbas Kiarostami
  • Close-up, Abbas Kiarostami (rewatch)
  • The Apple, Samira Makhmalbaf
  • The Song of Sparrows, Majid Majidi