We’re all a little strange, so why don’t you show your strangeness in your work?
Every modern film is immersed in surrealism. It’s one of the most influential movements of the 20th century that allows for eerie images that dissolve in the next shot, with the slightest act holding everything together. Although surreal films tend to deliver shocking and strange images, the goal of these types of films is to open the inner eye to a common dream state of cinema.
Surrealist film began as an artistic movement in France in the early 1920s. Rather than starting a new trend in filmmaking, these artists wanted to create a space that would share and explore the united rejection of oppression by modern society. It was and is an external and internal liberation that could only be achieved in filmmaking.
André Breton stated in his first Manifesto of Surrealism that these artists sought a “psychic automatism in its pure state” by which one suggested – verbally, through the written word or otherwise – the actual functioning of thought, that of was dictated to express the thought in the absence of any control, exercised by reason, freed from any aesthetic or moral control. ”
This freedom from the restrictions that allow the subconscious to work is the reason why films with trippy images, dreamlike sequences or bizarre images are called surreal or lynchy.
In order for a film to be surreal, it must use the artistic creativity of chance and the imagination that contradicts traditional values and increases the absurdity of the accepted worldview through free-flowing thinking. Shielded breaks open how surrealism began in film and how we can recognize its continuing attraction in modern cinema through the irrational, dream and nightmare state. View his full video here:
There is a strong sense of alienation in a surrealist film. What an audience expects is changed and the purpose is called into question. Confusing images and actions to remove logic from reality. The film does this by examining conflicting images, concepts, or actions, like a man eating his own clothes while starving to death in a restaurant in Jan Clothesvankmajer’s 1992 short film, Eat.
Characters typically find themselves in inexplicable situations, and their actions blur the line between order and insanity, although the insanity is justified by the imagery.
In Luis Buñuels The annihilating angel, A group of affluent dinner guests cannot avoid a lavish dinner party, and their growing aversion to isolation from the outside world brings to light their worst tendencies. Her search for liberation and the tension that builds show the struggle between desire and social order that prevails in surrealism.
This is the irrational aspect of surrealism as letting go of the definition of what a person is. Removing this limitation of what is and what is not enables the filmmaker to show the ridiculous nature of what is normal in our society. The irrational is less based on shock than on humor.
Masters at finding humor in nonsense were Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. These two were able to create random, arbitrary, and irrational stories that reflected the absurdity of modern society.
Humor, as many of us know, is a great way to distance yourself from the chaos that surrounds us. It enables us to recognize the flaws in our system that we do not acknowledge in everyday life. The combination of surrealism with humor creates a space that is like a child’s state of mind and puts us in a state of being where the things that define us have no definition.
In our daily life we work on our own daydreams, flashbacks and memories because they are perceived as unimportant or disturbing. Shouldn’t dreams mean the same thing as reality? Aren’t dreams an extension of our mind that invades our consciousness? As you read this, instead of accepting that they contribute to our state of being, your mind is immersed in memories or other thoughts that we have termed intrusive.
A surrealistic film is easy to recognize by its dreamlike qualities. We all have dreams that are fragmented and non-linear. Filmmakers focused on the surreal believe that dreams can be used to solve fundamental questions in life.
Movies like The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie and Federico Fellinis 8 ½ use the dream state to carry and confuse the narration of their stories. The use of dream logic brings fears to life and embodies a person’s desire to escape from reality by flashing back on childhood memories or memories of a minor character.
Animated film by Satoshi Kon, paprika, has pushed the boundaries of animation and the dream state and created a film that enables the free flow of thoughts and the malleability of dreams. The unstable mess of our dreams does not follow any logic, but a connection of subconscious thoughts and memories. Christopher Nolans Beginningthat was heavily influenced by paprika, follows the idea of connecting the subconscious, but fails to give the subconscious rules and structure. It contradicts the surrealist ideal of the free flow of thoughts. The dream state blurs the lines between the contradictions; Past and present, life and death, dream and reality. A place where we can explore the hidden parts of our mind without judgment or external logic.
For the surrealist, movies are the best way to recreate a waking dream. You are exposed to a stream of images that is wiping out the world around you. It’s just annoying when you’re a bystander who can’t attend. You are exposed to the dark side of a dream.
Many surrealists in modern film distorted the familiar and made it the uncanny in order to make the viewer uncomfortable. The uncanny is something familiar and yet distant and disturbs the boundary between imagination and reality. In these films it is mostly found in accidental coincidences, double vision and a return to the repressed and undigested trauma.
This dark side is used by filmmakers with surrealist tendencies and is the most common use of surrealism in film. Hitchcock’s movie, dizziness, uses the uncanny in the form of doppelgangers to portray a past that the main character is obsessed with and stuck with.
In the cult classic eraser, Director David Lynch creates a nightmarish black and white world that manifests the fears and fears of the main character in disturbing images. His outside world, relationships, conversations, and taking care of a baby feel and look strange to him. This is Lynch’s visual reaction to what he finds bizarre in his everyday life.
Another use of the dark side of surrealism is the way it provides commentary on the world we normalized. The sci-fi body horror film by David Cronenberg Videodrome, shows how dark, suppressed desires can be satisfied through technology and how it leads to a transgressive and transformative connection in which human and body are merged with the digital.
Technology ultimately frees the main characters from their human nature, but contradicts amalgamation by distorting the flesh. The fear is made by Cronenberg Fleisch as he highlights his fear in our increasing relationship with technology.
All films are somehow surreal. They are an extension of a person’s dream or a representation of a collective unconscious. The difference is in how open a filmmaker is to self-presentation. Surrealism is inconvenient because it’s so intimate and allows the audience behind the red curtain to see the trauma, fears, and unprocessed jumble of a filmmaker’s emotions and desires. There are no definitive answers to any of the questions asked in surrealist films. Instead, it is a reality that we can only understand in dreams.
If you are interested in making a surrealist movie or using surrealist elements, don’t be afraid to show off the bizarre mess of your mind. We’re all a little bit alien, and the whole idea of surrealism is to let the strange be without contrast or fear of rejection. It might be a little uncomfortable at first, but when is it nice to try something new?
On your next project, be brave and weird and you might get others to do the same.
What are some of your favorite surrealist films? Let us know in the comments below!