A Dream Within a Dream – Edgar Allan Poe

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Delving into Dreams

Finding the link between Inception, Shutter Island and Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream Within a Dream”

The portrayal of dreams in movies and books is a challenging task which often leads to fascinating results. Here I look at the links between Inception and Shutter Island and how a short poem by Edgar Allan Poe could very well have inspired both. 

In the summer of 2010, like many others I was captivated by the mind-bending storyline and visuals of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Following Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb on his struggle to get back to his children, the film introduced the unique concept of navigating through dreams – and dreams within dreams. At the time I saw the movie, I was staying at a rented holiday house in Falmouth, Massachusetts on the southern tip of Cape Cod. It was the appropriate New England setting for me to stumble upon Dennis Lehane‘s novel, Shutter Island, as I was shuffling through a stranger’s bookshelf. Shutter Island had just been adapted to the big screen by Martin Scorsese a couple months before Inception and also starred DiCaprio, this time as Teddy Daniels, a U.S. marshal investigating a missing patient case at a hospital for the criminally insane off the coast of Boston Harbor.

Two films with drastically different tones and plots, and yet deeply rooted similarities – beyond just the Leo-connection! – which didn’t come to mind until I opened Lehane’s book. The first thing I saw was the epigraph. A short and deceptively trivial extract from Questions of Travel, by Elizabeth Bishop.

… must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?

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Psychos & Lambs

Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins (Psycho, 1960)
Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins (Psycho, 1960)

Looking aimlessly for something to do on a Sunday afternoon, I finally found myself watching Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the classic horror-thriller but for some reason the film grabbed my attention and did not let go for the rest of that day. As Norman Bates presented his collection of stuffed birds to his would-be victim, I couldn’t help but feel I had already come across this somewhere else. Slowly coming into focus, this fleeting memory led me into a frenzied research through psychological horror literature and cinema. Not the most comforting hobby before going to bed! Despite how unlikely – and slightly eerie – some of them are, the connections I stumbled upon speak a great deal for the success of the themes portrayed in this genre.

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