Experimental Reviews

Lucid Dreams (2021) – 1.5 stars

Director: Kostiantyn Mishchenko

Running time: 13mins

While the body rests, the mind wanders. Broadly, a lucid dream is a type of dream where someone sleeping becomes aware that they are dreaming. They can sometimes gain some amount of control over the dream characters, narrative, or environment – but that is not always the case. Sometimes, we’re just along for the ride, coasting through a nonsensical landscape that has no interest in living up to our expectations of reality.

Kostiantyn Mishchenko’s film is very much in this second category. A 13-minute collage of non-linear images, the gallery of strange constructions attempts to take on the format of a Lucid Dream – but in doing so, lays two very significant problems bare.

First, the procession of gobbledygook in a real lucid dream usually lasts between five and 10 minutes. This, however, rambles on for much longer, spewing a seemingly endless stream of disconnected stock photography out of the screen, and into our decreasingly interested visual cortex.

The thing is, many experimental films do play with the visuals of dreams – coupling items that don’t ‘belong’ together in the waking world, or inverting the relationships between items we are used to seeing together – in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The difference is that, when they are wordless, they tend to focus on one or two core visuals, and in doing so they give us time and space to think. Not just to think about what we are seeing now, but how we see things in general. Once the audience enters this induced meditative state, the audio-visual stimulus can further guide them on a journey of introspection that narrative cinema can struggle to parallel.

By bombarding us with endless shots of disconnected imagery, however, Lucid Dreams prevents us from losing ourselves in anything that might have let us think. Images of an other-worldly forest, populated by humanoid sealions, are quickly binned off, in favour of stock footage of a backpacker strolling down a long road, which is in turn cut off by two people kissing, a gymnast doing stretches, and a black-and-white carnival scene.

All the imagery has the same flat, white, Hallmark lighting, suggesting it was lifted from a Shutterstock competitor filled with rights-free images. All the Premier Pro filters in the world can’t make them look less derivative – while the nightmarish muzak lifted from various royalty free platforms only serves to accentuate how sterile everything is. In this environment, the mind doesn’t so much wander, as beg for release – and none comes. We are trapped.

That brings us to the second big problem with Lucid Dreams. Due to its origins in cookie-cutter ‘creative sites’ aimed at supplying businesses with stock to fill out prospectuses and promotional videos, the art on display is unimaginative and inoffensive: two things that dreams are decidedly not. We’re constantly prompted to think oh this is soooo weird, but the things we are seeing are either utterly bland, or do not go far enough.

The sealion dressed for a day in the office is aimless, it isn’t engaging with anything else to show how its weirdness might impact other parts of our perceived reality. The two people kissing kiss (pretty timidly for a dream, I might add), and are gone in the blink of an eye, having correlated with nothing else on display. The carnival scene, which might well have belonged to a nightmare (not all lucid dreams are pleasant after all) is bereft of deranged clowns, or creaking, rusted rides. As all of this transpires, we are increasingly left with a feeling of being underwhelmed. None of these concepts are creative enough to suspend our disbelief or make us engage with them – either at face value, or as a prompt for deeper thought.

We have all dreamt strange, scary, and utterly filthy dreams at one time or another. We know how it feels so real in the moment, in spite of – or perhaps because of – how impossible it all is. It’s that feeling that means that for one disquieting moment after waking, we feel bemused, or even frightened. Initially we are gripped by the potential consequences the dreams might have had on our lives if they had been real; and am I sure it wasn’t? But then a potentially more dreadful thought grips us: what does it say about me or my life, that I even imagined all that?

Lucid Dreams does not deliver on its name – a crowded and meandering affair lacking in imagination or guile. In stark contrast to the vivid, distressing realm we visit when we close our eyes at night, here we are given little food for thought amid a bland smorgasbord of stock photos.

1 comment

  1. Thanks for the negative review. Your one and a half star rating is worth a lot. From myself I will add – most of the video is the author’s work of an artist from Kiev. All music is licensed. I have rights. The film was made a year ago. To date, the film has received 94 different awards at various film festivals. Reviews are positive. So I really appreciate your negative review. You are just the wrong audience for the picture.

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