Sunday, March 25, 2012

Camera Angles and the Way We Dream

I dream like a movie. I’m guessing you do too — with intro scenes and changes in angles in which the “camera” moves from a first-person perspective to a broader one that lets the dreamer see himself or herself at a distance, interacting with other characters. As far as my own experience, I can sum it up more or less with this: I’m me. Then I’m not. Or at least there’s a second me and I’m floating there — as a camera? as an impartial ghost who just materialized in time for the night’s entertainment? — and none of these “cuts” seem strange to me at the time.

I suppose it’s possible that I’m actually just waking up from a dream, asking “What the hell was that?” and then stitching a series of unrelated images and emotional impressions into my best attempt at a story, because the human brain wants a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. But regardless of whether the “camera angle” vocabulary figures into in at the subconscious or the conscious level, it’s there, and I feel like every conversation I’ve had in which someone told me about a dream has sounded like a recap of a movie by someone who had never seen a movie before and therefore doesn’t know how to articulate a scene change of a shift in perspective. (“I was on a boat, and it looked like the Titanic but all the doors had carpet on them, and then all of a sudden I was watching myself run down this hallway and I could see these guys chasing behind me.”)

So my question, then, is this: Do I use all this camera angle vocab to discuss my dreams because I’ve simply watched enough movies and TV that my brain can’t imagine a visual story being told any other way? Or is this just the way the human brain wants to process dreaming, and we’ve structured cinema to mirror the perspective shifts and angle changes that dreamers have been experiencing forever? Would someone who had never watched a movie or a TV show be familiar with the “camerawork” even if he wasn’t familiar with cameras?

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