Ever since her mother died, Maya (Kate Villanova) has been having a reoccurring nightmare about a scary man (Walker Hare) with a horrific red face. When her therapist suggests that, instead of running from her tormentor, she instead confront him, Maya takes the advice. Much to her surprise, the demonic creature just wants to talk, and begins to teach Maya the secrets of lucid dreaming. Enjoying her newfound dream control, Maya begins to lose her grasp over what is real and what is just a dream.
Bob DeNatale’s short-but-not-short film, The Art of Dreaming, is a thought-provoking affair. Ideas of what reality is or isn’t are explored, as is the more practical behaviors and attitudes one might have if they suddenly realized they might actually be the masters of their own universes. And considering when this reoccurring nightmare began, you also have to look at the potential reasons why Maya might subconsciously need to feel like that master.
So there’s a lot there to let your brain ruminate on, if you’re so inclined. There’s also a more traditional narrative arc, and conflicts, playing out under the surface, though I found that aspect of the film less interesting than pondering what it all could mean. I mean, once you accept that the film will be dealing with dreams and dream logic and rules/non-rules, everything you see becomes dubious and, thus, interpretations of what you see feel more valuable than what is actually being presented.
Which is probably why, while I found the film intriguing for most of its run time, I did feel that it ran out of stream in its final third, when the more traditional narrative conflicts asserted themselves. Also, for a film that is hanging out in short film no man’s land at just over forty minutes, you have to wonder if this could’ve been crafted in a much tighter way. Its length works because your mind is usually spinning out and around the film anyway, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the narrative is moving all that far forward at the same time. You just don’t mind the expansion, as opposed to the progress, for the most part… until suddenly you do.
Overall, though, I did enjoy The Art of Dreaming; I like films that employ a quality mindfuck or two, and the idea that the dream world is potentially full of denizens independent of what we could assume come from our own psyches is a compelling, if not also somewhat frightening, concept. And that’s if you want to interpret the film as saying what it’s showing, and not instead looking at what Maya’s need to control her dreams, and all that around her, really means, particularly in light of her mother’s death and Maya’s sudden, forced meeting with mortality.
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