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Correspondences in Visual Imaging and Spatial

Orientation in Dreaming and Film Viewing

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Roger F. Cook
University of Missouri

New directions in film and media theory have begun to focus on precognitive,
embodied aspects of film viewing. Drawing on these recent theoretical approaches, this article examines correspondences between the brainmind state
of the dreamer and the film viewer and formal similarities between the
cinematic image and dream images. First, the study asks whether cinemas
evolution toward the production of images that are more easily processed by
the brain has also made film images easily accessible during dream-sleep.
Then it shows how the cinematic image and the visual imaging of dreams
depend on a similar construction of navigable space. The analysis suggests
that the bodily systems for simulating movement and establishing spatial
orientation function in a similar manner during dreaming and film viewing.
Keywords: dreaming, cinema, film theory, spatial cognition, spatial orientation

The time is ripe to start laying the groundwork for a new exploration of cinema
and dreaming. The connection between the two has long been documented both by
film scholars and dream researchers. Particularly in film criticism, the similarity
between the film experience and dreaming has figured prominently. Film scholars
have frequently emphasized how the setting of a darkened movie theater where the
viewer sits quietly while a stream of visual images synchronized to sound are
projected onto a large screen parallels the situation of the dreamer in its formal
aspects. Dream researchers have also noted this connection. Not surprisingly, the
psychoanalytical study of dreams figured prominently in this regard. Lewin (1946)
famously asserted that dream images are projected onto a dream screen, a blank
background that is analogous to the motion picture screen. Despite the abundance
of work citing the relation between the two, the scope of study has been relatively
narrow. The attention to the common features of dreams and movies has been
concerned largely with content (including its formal aspects) and has focused
mainly on the way dreams are represented in cinema. As a result, the film as text
took center stage, whereas the act of viewing and the bodily engagement with the
film medium remained largely unexplored.
My call for a new approach takes its impetus from new impulses in film and
media theory. The theory that has dominated film criticism over the past 4 deThis article was published Online First May 2, 2011.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Roger F. Cook, Department of
German and Russian Studies, 451 Strickland, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211. E-mail:
cookrf@missouri.edu

89
Dreaming
2011, Vol. 21, No. 2, 89 104

2011 American Psychological Association


1053-0797/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0022866

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Cook

cadesand still retains much of its influenceis grounded in the discourses of


semiotics and psychoanalysis. Approaches of this kind analyze the relation between
the viewer and the film primarily as a form of textual communication and thus
operate on the level of cinematic representation. More recently, scholars have
begun to focus on the precognitive, embodied response of the spectator and to
examine the film experience as a complex interplay of cognitive, perceptual, affective, aesthetic, and media factors. In this article, I draw on these new directions in
film and media theory to explore correspondences between the cinematic image
and the kinematic imagery of dreams.
With this turn to a film theory of embodiment I hope to engage dream science
in a mutually meaningful dialogue. There was a similar attempt to bring film
criticism into a constructive collaboration with dream research at the beginning of
the 1980s. The centerpiece of this effort was the journal Dreamworks, founded by
film scholar Marsha Kinder. This concentrated, programmatic project was shortlived (1980 1988) for, I think, primarily two reasons. First, the input from film
scholars and theorists was grounded almost exclusively in what has been and still
remains the overwhelmingly dominant approach to understanding dreams among
humanistsFreudian dream analysis. Second, the focus from the side of film
scholars and filmmakers was almost exclusively on the level of content. This was
true whether the issue was the plausibility of dream sequences in films or the
affinities of dreams and film more generally. But also the neuroscience contribution
to the journal failed to get to the crux of embodied spectatorship. In his attempt at
a systematic comparison of the Dream State and the Film State in the first issue
of Dreamworks, Hobson (1980) compared dream neurobiology with cinemas
ability to simulate the various body states and brain modalities onscreen (pp.
1517). In other words, he compared the filmic representation of the dream state
with the body state of the dreamer. Another approach, one I take here, is to
compare the body state of the film viewer with that of the dreamer.
In this article, I first address the broader question of how feature films have
evolved so that their spatial and temporal substrate dovetails with the nervous
systems own innate neurobiological predispositions (Neidich, 2003, p. 92). According to the media theory that informs my analysis, this tailoring of the cinematic
image to a higher order of visual and cognitive processing enables it to bypass some
of the discrete neural processes of mental imaging and correspond more directly
with what Damasio (1999) has famously termed the movie-in-the-brain (pp. 9,
1112). I analyze this aesthetic and technological development with respect to the
following question: Does the visual and cognitive ergonomics of the cinematic
image make it readily accessible to the brainmind in the state of dream-sleep?
In the second part of the article, I examine how the construction of space and
movement in mainstream narrative cinema relates to those elements in dream
imagery. I focus on these featuresrather than, for example, narrative or representations of the self because they play a foundational role in both dreaming and
cinema. The visuomotor aspect of dreams depends on the movement of the self
through a spatially visualized dream scene (Hobson, 1999, p. 170). Just as normal
spatial cognition is essential for dreaming (Solms, 2003, p. 56), the simulation of
reality in cinema also depends on the construction of a navigable narrative space.
My analysis of this correspondence leads to a discussion of similarities in the

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neurophysiological state during dreaming and film viewing and to conclusions


about the way the brainmind establishes spatial orientation in each case.

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THE VISUAL AND COGNITIVE ERGONOMICS OF THE


CINEMATIC IMAGE
To explain how the novice or young film viewer can immediately understand
movies despite their spatiotemporal discontinuities, McGinn (2005) asserts, In
watching a movie a child is exploiting the cognitive machinery already made
available by the dream mechanism (p. 113). Although I agree with the way
McGinn sketches the affinities between the two, I disagree with his suggestion that
our dream experiences are a prerequisite for the apprehension of film as a coherent
representation of reality. Rather, I think the minds ability to produce the unitary
flow of images that comprise waking consciousness entails all the cognitive skills
needed to see film as a coherent form of visual imaging. Indeed, the global success
of cinema stems from its ability to shape the moving images of film into a product
that mirrors the mental imaging of consciousness. Because the technologically
produced moving images of film can be both visually and spatiotemporally shaped,
structured, and distorted according to the imagination of the filmmakers, they bear
the strong resemblance to dreaming cited by McGinn. But rather than claim that
dreaming enables us to comprehend movies, I want to suggest that cinema has had
a profound effect on both the content and form of our dreams. In other words,
cinema has developed an ergonomic efficiency that makes movies not only easily
comprehensible to the waking mind but also readily accessible to the neural
processes that produce dream imagery.
When we speak of the ergonomics of an image, we mean its efficiency in
interfacing with the systems of visual processing in the brain. As in its common
usage regarding equipment in the workplace, ergonomic efficiency refers here to the
ability to design optical devices so that the images produced can be processed with
minimal fatigue and stress. When applied to technologically produced visual images, this includes more than just the processing in the visual cortex. In contrast to
design features that position the hand more efficiently with respect to the keyboard,
for example, an ergonomics of mediated visual images must take into account the
higher order cortical processing of visual information required to produce perception and mental representations of objects or events.
Visual and cognitive ergonomics, a concept I have borrowed from Warren
Neidich, entails a complex interplay between the technological and aesthetic relations that shape the cinematic image and the neural processes that produce the
mental and visual images of consciousness. Neidich explains how cinema has
developed an increasingly effective phatic image. By this, he means an image that
is able to attract and hold captive the viewers attention to the extent that it can
compete successfully with those that represent our perception of nonartificial, real
environments (Neidich, 2003, pp. 5759, 89 90). As classical editing developed a
more efficient use of cinematic time and space, it produced a system of aesthetic
binding that effectively mirrors the temporal and spatial categories of natural
perception. In other words, cinema has been able to bypass some of the individual
neural processes of mental imaging and to simulate the flow of images that make up

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consciousness. The aesthetic binding of cinema preselects those images that make
it to phenomenological consciousness. To the extent that it achieves this ergonomic
efficiency, it weeds out images that are conscious to the brain without being
conscious to the subject or selfimages that remain beneath the threshold of
phenomenological consciousness.
In the course of this development toward ergonomic efficiency, the optical
devices for the production of visual images have become better tuned to the bodily
process of visual imaging. The technologies and practices for producing visual
images that are best adapted to the neural networks of visual perception are
selected and further developed (Neidich, 2003, pp. 58 64). Important here for my
analysis of dreams and cinema is that this is a coevolutionary process of selection.
As Neidich (2003) put it, these more sophisticated and intense phatic signifiers . . .
are pushing out their more unsophisticated progenitors from the visual landscape,
in a process similar to natural selection except the real selection is taking place in
the brain as these stimuli compete for the brains neuronal attention (p. 58).
According to this theory, as the phatic image of cinema has become widely
disseminated, selection via neural plasticity produces changes in the way the brain
generates visual images. This effect then feeds back into the technological inventions and aesthetic principles that continue to shape how the cinematic image is
tailored to our neural systems for visual processing (Neidich, 2003, pp. 90 94).
What effect then does the coevolution of the cinematic image with our neural
system for visual cognitive processing have on dreaming? The account I have just
given of its progressive gain in ergonomic efficiency would seem to suggest that it
is well suited for our dream life. Put simply, if cinema is constantly adapting so as
to present its audience with images that are easily processed, then we would expect
that those images would present themselves readily to a state of consciousness that
draws exclusively from internally generated, pseudosensory signals. Kinder (1980)
asserted this at the outset of the Dreamworks project in the early 1980s. She
claimed that not only are film images readily incorporated into dreams but so are
particular film techniques: newsreels, animation, fades, dissolves, superimpositions, freezes, and instant replays (p. 54). And indeed, there is abundant evidence
from dream reports that dreams frequently look and feel like film sequences.1 More
extensive and focused dream research on the topic would be needed to produce a
detailed, scientifically established account of how film images work their way into
dreams and affect their structure and content. That is not the purpose of this article.
However, before turning to the possible ramifications of recent film theory for this
question, I want to address one particular area where dream research has asked
about the influence of movies on dreaming. I do so to suggest how a fuller
understanding of the coevolution of the bodily process of visual imaging with
moving image technology and aesthetics might feed into the study of dreaming.
In a series of three related articles, Schwitzgebel (2002, 2003; Schwitzgebel,
Huang, & Zhou, 2006) addressed the question of whether we dream in black and
white. In raising this issue, he was primarily analyzing and questioning the reliability of reports of dreaming in black and white. As Schwitzgebel showed, by far the

1
When I refer to the appearance of certain style or content elements in dream reports, I am citing
reports in Schneider and Domhoffs online DreamBank.

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highest incidence of such reports was during the 1940s and 1950s when black-andwhite films were still prevalent. Then starting in the 1960s, there was an almost
direct reversal, with almost all researchers showing that more than 50% of the
respondents reported dreaming in color (pp. 650 651). Schwitzgebel argued that
we should be strongly suspicious of the wave of black-and-white dream reports in
the 1940s and 1950s. He suggested that during that period the familiarity with
black-and-white movies influenced the respondents (pp. 654 655).
The primary thrust of Schwitzgebels (2002) argument is a broader claim about
the untrustworthiness of our memory about phenomenological experience, especially when it concerns something as elusive and usually inconsequential as dreaming. He even went so far as to suggest that all dreaming is in color, but that we do
not always attend to the color of the objects in the dream (p. 657). All dream
researchers are of course quite familiar with the difficulty most of us have in
remembering much of what occurs in our dreams. Like Schwitzgebel, Hobson
(2002) also reasoned that we always dream in color and that reports of dreams in
black and white are a result of one thingpoor memory (p. 43). I would agree that
some reports were prompted by the ubiquity of black-and-white moving pictures
(cinema and TV), as Schwitzgebel claimed, but there is also the distinct possibility
that during dream-sleep our systems of visual processing internally recall or reproduce images like those we have viewed so often at home and in the movie theater.
If our dreams include such film styles as animation and newsreels and such film
techniques as superimposition and freezes, then why not also black-and-white
images? This would also explain why there would be a spike in instances of
dreaming in black and white during the 1940s and 1950s. A recent statistical study
seems to support this. It argues convincingly that people who were exposed only to
black-and-white moving images as children are more likely to dream in black and
whiteand that this is not merely a case of faulty dream memory (Murzyn, 2008).
There are also frequent accounts of black-and-white photographs appearing in
dreams (Schneider & Domhoff, n.d.). They often play a key role in the dream
narrative, and the reports usually identify them positively as being black-and-white
and not color prints. Here the evidence seems more conclusive that these are
images of stills developed from black-and-white film and not just photos of indeterminate color. And if our dreams can include images of black-and-white stills,
why would we think that they cannot contain sequences of moving images in the
same color format?
Another way to approach this matter is with a slightly different question. Do
we dream in Technicolor? Technicolor was a series of widely used processes for
color film production that enabled Hollywood to make films in more richly textured
and more highly saturated colors than those we experience in our perceptions of
real environments. Films in Technicolor enable us to see the simulated world of
films as more vividly colored than most everyday scenes in reality. It also imbues
film viewing with a sense of marvel and emotional intensity that would make film
images more likely to surface in dreams. The associative link between the emotions
and images in Technicolor would render them prime material for dreaming. It is
then not surprising that research subjects report dreaming in Technicolor (Schneider & Domhoff, n.d.). Indeed, it makes sense that cinemas ability to produce
these colors consistently in a sequence of moving images that present a coherent,

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stabile picture of the external world could enhance the vivid sensations of dreaming
exponentially.
One of my own most vivid dream experiences attests to this. It was a dream I
had while still an undergraduate, long before I had an academic interest in dreams.
And it was an instance of lucid dreaming that I have only recently come to
recognize as such. In the dream, I was standing in front of and looking into a
fantastic world where everything was in Technicolor. It was not as if I were
watching a film but rather as if the most vividly colored film world had materialized
fully in front of me and was beckoning me to enter. I was aware that I had to be
dreaming, but I also realized that I could choose to step into this world and
experience it as reality. When I did, I felt a sense of exhilaration and wonder as I
was able to move through it as if I were indeed in a world that surpassed the real
one in beauty and brilliance. As I discovered that I could also prolong the experience, I felt a sense of empowerment that enhanced it even more. When I awoke,
what remained with me were these feelings and an overall sense of the beauty I had
encountered, rather than any particular objects, people, or events. There was, as
LaBerge and Rheingold (1990) have said about first lucid dreams, a feeling of
hyperreality that happens when you take a good look around you in the dream and
see the wondrous, elaborate detail your mind can create (p. 127). This was the
feeling I retained from the dream, with one important difference. I attributed the
power to create this world, which appeared after all in Technicolor, to cinema and
not my own mind. This did not happen only afterward but rather, during the dream,
I recognized that this was a world created by cinema and marveled at its ability to
make something of such visual intensity accessible to real experience. From the
beginning, the film industry was clearly aware that Technicolor could help evoke
this sense of participation in an alternative reality. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer selected
The Wizard of Oz billed as its Technicolor Triumphto be its first big-budget
project using this color process that would win over film audiences to the new
technology and to a new, more vividly colored perception of reality.
My discussion of black-and-white and Technicolor images in dreams implies
that the phatic image of cinema can make itself directly available to the internally
generated representations of reality during dreaming. That is, film images drawn
up from memory seem to be able to override the binding that typically gathers
discrete sensory images into our visual, colored images of consciousness. Just as the
visual imagery of dreaming can lack the input of various dispositional representations that contribute to mental imaging, it would seem that it can also include intact
images previously committed to memory. In the case of my own Technicolor dream
experience, it may well be that the hybrid state of consciousness that produces lucid
dreaming enhanced the brains ability to call up the intact visual imagery of an
elaborate film world. That is, the association of wake-like frontal lobe activation
. . . with REM-like activity in posterior structures (Voss, Holzmann, Tuin, &
Hobson, 2009, p. 1199) enabled the recall of already assembled visual images. And
at the same time, the cognitive recognition of those records as film images may have
boosted the visual buffers ability to incorporate and organize the images generated
in the visual associative cortices (cf. Occhionero, 2004, pp. 59 60). In any case,
what makes film images easy for the brain to process, that is, their cognitive and
visual ergonomic efficiency, would seem to make them particularly accessible to the
brain during dreaming as well.

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SPACE AND MOVEMENT IN DREAMS AND FILM


The scientific study of dreaming has long recognized the movement of the self
through a visually imagined space as a key feature in our dreams. In fact, this aspect
of dreaming enabled researchers to anticipate later findings in movement physiology about the brains ability to predict outcomes of enacted body movement. As
Hobson (2002) pointed out, Hermann Helmholtz inferred from the brains ability
to simulate movement during dreaming that the nervous system created its own
image of the expected consequence of movement (p. 30). As neuroscience has
determined some of the brain regions and processes involved in the production of
the efferent copy of movement outcomes, it has explained how the movement of
the self in dreams is produced by the same systems that guide movement during
waking experience. And it has declared that these systems function in the same
basic manner as when guiding our actual movement (Hobson, 2001, pp. 183188).
At first glance, these findings might lead one to assume that cinema can
produce only a weak copy of the simulated experience of movement as it is
produced both in dreaming and when awake. I would argue, however, that in some
ways the bodys response to the simulated movement of film resembles that during
dreaming quite closely. Dream research has, I think, underestimated cinemas
ability to engage the viewer physically in its movement. Hobson (2002), for example, claimed that even the most technically sophisticated film cannot evoke the
fictitious experience of movement typical in dreams (p. 146). Here, I think he
overstates the difference between dreaming and cinema. A closer analysis of how
the movement in and of film affects the viewer will suggest strong similarities.
First, we turn to movement in the film. The movement of people and objects
within the cognitively constructed space of the film world can generate strong
kinesthetic responses. The classic chase scene through the hilly streets of San
Francisco in Bullitt offers a prime example. The cars flying through the air as they
speed up and down the hills of San Francisco produce a strong kinesthetic feeling.
The movement and kinematic sensation experienced in this scene are enhanced by
an invisible avatar of the viewer that moves within the cognitively mapped space of
the film world. To produce this effect, the camera was positioned so as to simulate
the viewers presence in the cars. The embedded viewer, as I call this invisible avatar
of the film viewer, serves then as a conduit through which the physical sensation is
conveyed to the actual viewer in the movie theater. From the very onset of what
would become classical or mainstream narrative cinema, the dominant film practice
worked to create this position for the viewer within the film. In this way, narrative
cinema constructs a virtual space that holds at least the potential for active sensory
exploration. This mode of actively engaging sensorimotor functions requires an
interface between the spatial configuration of the virtual film world and the viewer
situated in the darkened movie theater. The eye of the camera provides such an
entry. In classical cinema, its basic visual unit is an anthropocentrically organized
image, one that the movement, framing, and point of view of the camera structure
so as to produce an open and available human perspective within the narrative
space of the film. In its imagined physical construct, this point of view assumes the
eyeline of an adult human who is present in the film scene. The viewer is then drawn
into the scene rather than viewing it from outside as if through the frame of a
window.

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Assuming this ready-made position within the film world, the viewer responds
then physically to the call for potential action it produces. In this respect, the
construct of the embedded viewer corresponds to the variously represented presence of the self in dreams. Whereas the dreamer at least knows and usually sees his
or her self involved in the dream, the embedded viewer remains invisible and
seemingly detached. Still, even as an invisible avatar, this subject position enables
the viewer to physically experience simulated movement in much the same fashion
as the dreamer. The basis for the sensation of movement is a cognitively mapped
spatial orientation and a stable point of view within the film. Tracing the emergence
of a narrative syntax around 1906, Gunning (1984) described how the new approach
sacrifices linear temporal continuity for spatial continuity. In this new cinema of
narrative integration, spatial mapping became the foundation for the narrative film
world. The result was a coherent synthetic geography (Gunning, 1984, p. 108)
that served to control the viewers embodied responses to its own virtual movement
in the film and to the movement of objects around it.
There is a significant correspondence between the way spatial mapping and
movement are structured in dreaming and cinema. Solms (1997), in his study of the
effect of different brain lesions on dreaming (pp. 104 105), and Foulkes (1999), in
his study of the emergence of dreaming in children (pp. 76 78), both argue that
visualspatial cognitive abilities are essential to the production of kinematic visual
imagery in dreaming. Drawing on case studies of right parietal damage in the
medial occipitotemporal region, Solms concluded that concrete spatial cognition
. . . is the grounding medium within which the quasispatial (symbolic) operations
occur (pp. 240 241). The important role that spatial construction plays in the
stability of cinematic imagery and narrative closely parallels the foundational
aspect of spatial cognition in dreaming. For his purpose of stressing the primacy of
abstract thinking in the dream-generating process, Solms focused on the relation
between spatial cognition and the quasispatial (symbolic) operations activated in
the left parietal region.
However, Solmss (1997) work shows that cognitive spatial mapping is required
for the visual expression of other modality-specific memory systems (p. 239) as
well. The modality of main interest for my analysis is motion relations. Arguing
backward from Solmss finding, we might infer that the steady flow of film images
could evoke an experience of fictive movement similar to that experienced in
dreams. This kinematic aspect of film has begun to gain new attention in cinema
studies. Recent film theory has begun to argue the centrality of movement, over and
against a cinematic realism that describes cinema as a window onto the world or
a psychoanalytic film theory that focuses on the semiotic system of structured looks.
New work has stressed that even when the dominant film aesthetic strives for
spatial continuity and stability, kinesthetic responses are always at play in film
viewing. A recent article by Curtis (2008) supports this new perspective with an
argument drawn from kinetic theory. Curtis explains how the motion in and of the
cinematic image creates depth according to kinetic occlusion versus the static
occlusion that results from the overlapping of objects in a (still) photograph (pp.
254 255). The motion of objects relative to one another within the frame produces
a kinetic sense of depth similar to what guides our bodys movement through real
environments. In another recent article that does much to restore the importance
of movement in film analysis, Gunning (2007) points out that we experience

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kinesthesia most strongly when our own body moves, but we can also feel the
sensation when we watch an object move, including an object in a film (p. 43). He
claims, for example, that watching a moving object in a film, such as a ball rolling
down a hill, produces a kinesthetic sensation in the viewer. In less complex cases
such as this, it is questionable whether a virtual body projected into the space of the
film augments the physical response in the viewer. However, when the construct of
an embedded viewer becomes involved, more complex kinesthetic sensations are
possible, particularly when the film sets it into dynamic motion. The construction of
a moving point of view within the space of the film enhances, for instance, the
dizzying kinesthetic sensation felt during the car chase in Bullitt. In her account of
the kinetic occlusion produced by moving objects, Curtis explains how the movement of the invisible body of the embedded viewer (the body schema) generates
this effect. Using a referential term from linguistics, she refers to this simulated
presence of the viewer as the emplacement of the filmic origo (die Verortung der
filmischen Origo; p. 250).
What I want to examine here is the correspondence between the activation of
bodily senses of motion in the film viewer and the bodys responses to the internal
imaging of fictive movement in dreaming. An important distinction is that in film we
have both the fictive movement of objects and people within the simulated reality
of the film and also the real movement of the film image. The latter is only
beginning to get its due. In his article on film movement, Gunning (2007) takes a
major step in this direction. Emphasizing the complete media environment rather
than the film as merely a text, he resists the reductionism of the dominant theoretical approaches (semiotics, psychoanalysis, cognitivism). Where each of these
emphasizes the illusion of reality created by cinema, Gunning focuses on movement
as the key element that enables film to produce a strong impression of reality (pp.
40 44). As opposed to the sense of the past that we have from the indexicality of
the photograph, Gunning argues, the movement of the cinematic image draws us in
to participate with the film as a present reality. As he puts it, to perceive motion,
rather than represent it statically in a manner that destroys its essence, one must
participate in the motion itself (p. 42). The impression of reality this generates is
what gives the term diegesis its particularly filmic connotation. That is, filmic
diegesis goes beyond the more narrow meaning of just a narrated world to also
include a sense of immediacy and presence. The moving images of cinema initiate
a perceptual response and affective participation in the image.
Gunnings description of how film diegesis creates a sense of presence challenges traditional notions of the lack of sensorimotor activity in film viewing.
The impression of reality that activates sensorimotor systems does not depend on
the movement of objects or of the embedded viewer in the film world. Rather, the
advancing present constituted by the moving images of film engenders in and of
itself perceptual and affective participation (Gunning, 2007, p. 40). Thus, in both
dreaming and film viewing, the initiation of sensorimotor activity is crucial to the
experience. Using the same phrasing that Revonsuo (2003) applied to dreams, we
can say that film produces in the viewer the mental imagery of motor actions and
activates the same motor representations and central neural mechanism that are
used to generate actual actions (p. 97).
And yet, dream research has used just this aspect to demarcate the limits of
cinemas ability to simulate dreaming. Hobson (2002) maintains that dreams in-

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clude fictitious movement of a type not yet simulated easily, even in the most
technically sophisticated film. He then argues, Only virtual reality, where the
subjects own movements affect perceptions, comes close to this dream experience
[of fictitious movement] (p. 146). However, with respect to the action generated in
response to fictitious movement, dreaming is more closely aligned with cinema than
with virtual reality systems. In dreaming, as in film viewing, there is an inhibition
against responding actively to simulated movement. In virtual reality environments,
the point is that you do respond to them. The stop-action mechanism at work in film
viewing is of course activated differently than in dreaming. During sleep, the
inhibition of muscle function (atonia) keeps the body from responding actively to
the movement scenarios exhibited in dreams. Film viewing requires in part a
learned inhibition against actively responding to the events depicted on screen.
Still, the neurophysiological impulse to act is always triggered, only to be inhibited
by stop-action commands. In stressing the universality of this embodied response to
film, Metz and Guzzetti (1976) declared that there are two types of motor outburst
[during film viewing], those that escape reality testing and those that remain under
its control (p. 76). In other words, the viewers body produces at each moment
efferent signals that predict the sensatory data it will receive in its next position and
prepare the body to take the appropriate action. Regardless of how the stop-action
interdiction is carried out, participation in the advancing reality of the film activates
the affective and perceptual networks associated with episodic memories. Even
though motor responses are restricted by the cultural practices of cinema, this
happens on top of the base level of a nervous system already poised for action by
the movement of the film image.
Gunnings recent work adds this important dimension to other theoretical
work on embodied aspects of film spectatorship. And yet, he does not incorporate
into his analysis the moving visual point of view of a phenomenological subject
emplaced in the film. Sobchacks (1992) elaboration of this internal viewing position
in her Address of the Eye: Phenomenology of Film Experience in the 1990s opened
up new vistas on the question of movement and embodied viewing (pp. 205207).
For example, Curtis explanation of how kinetic occlusion works in film space is
grounded in Sobchacks work, as is my own conception of the embedded viewer.
However, in the case of both Gunning and Sobchack, the emphasis is on kinesthesia. There is another physical response in the film viewer, one that has not received
much attention in either film theory or dream researchproprioception. Here, I
want to ask how Gunnings account of film movement, when combined with the
phenomenological construct of an embedded viewer, might apply to the way
cognitive and proprioceptive modes of spatial orientation work together in film
viewing and in dreaming.
There are two modes of spatial orientation that function jointly to enable us to
move through the world effectively cognitive mapping (CM) and proprioceptive
spatial orientation (PSO; Mitchell, 2010). Our ability to create cognitive maps and
then situate our bodies within a visually represented three-dimensional space is the
more dominant system in most human activities and has been the main focus of
spatial orientation studies. Recently, more attention has been given to the role the
proprioceptive system plays in our ability to move effectively within our immediate
environment. Responding to the movement of the body through an indeterminate
space, the PSO does not employ visual referencing of external objects to each other.

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Dependent on feedback from the internal status of the body, proprioception


continually reworks neuronal flows marking the movement of parts of the body into
a continuous information feed about the position of the body as a whole (SheetsJohnstone, 2010).
CM always works in tandem with PSO, but the deployment of one system often
requires that the other be largely deactivated. Because of the inhibition against
physical action, CM dominates in both film viewing and in dreaming. The aesthetics
of mainstream narrative cinema have further cemented the dominance of CM in the
film viewer. When the cinema of narrative integration took shape in the first 2
decades of the previous century, the camera was limited to fixed positions. The cut
from one shot to the next established the continuity of time, space, and action, but
it did so from a continuous series of stationary points of view. The movement
between fixed camera shots is largely eliminated, thus carving up the narrative
space into compartmentalized segments observed from clearly established points of
view. This promotes CM and suppresses the stimulation of proprioceptive feedback
through the simulated movement of the embedded viewer. Thus, the solidification
of narrative integration promoted exteroception and representational realism
rather than an activated sensorimotor system and embodied engagement with the
spatial world of the film.
In contrast to the real world, where proprioception plays a greater role in
visual orientation, in mainstream narrative film, visions dominance over the other
senses is accentuated. Nonetheless, proprioception always works in conjunction
with CM and is actively involved in film reception as well (Sheets-Johnstone, 2010,
pp. 330 331). Anderson (1996) claims that because vision dominates the spatial
cognitive system, it is possible to enter the diegetic space of a motion picture
effortlessly by way of the visual system without the necessity of proprioceptive
confirmation (p. 113). I would caution that his wording here seems to suggest a
cleaner break between the two than ever actually occurs. Crary (1999) provides a
corrective adjustment to Anderson that is important for my analysis of the similarities between dreaming and cinema: Perception is always an amalgam of
information from immediate tactile receptors and distant optical and auditory
receptors, and distinctions between the optical and the tactile cease to be significant
(or could only have significance for an impossibly motionless subject with no live
relation to an environment). Vision as an autonomous process or exclusively
optical experience becomes an improbable fiction (p. 352).
In dreaming, as in cinema, CM seems to dominate spatial orientation even
more strongly than in waking life. The works by Solms and Foulkes discussed above
suggest that it has a primary role in the generation of dream imagery. However,
PSO is also at work in dreaming and even takes over almost exclusively at times. To
illustrate this, I turn to a recent dream of my own (February 9, 2010):
I am showing off my chefs knife to someone. The person is not well defined, and I have no
sense of who it is. I am holding the knife in my right hand and running my left hand up and
down the blade, with the blade between my fingers and thumb and the sharp edge toward my
palm. Then I am repeating this with a second person, who is also not well defined and
unknown to me. And finally I am showing it off in the same manner to a third unknown
person. While I am doing so, the blade slips out of my right hand, and the blade begins sliding
quickly through my left hand. The dream goes blank (there is no visual imagery as the knife
is falling). I then feel a strange sensation in the ring finger of my left hand. I look at it and
see that the knifes blade has stuck in the callous inside my ring finger at the middle joint and

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that the knife is hanging from the finger. When I see the knife hanging there, I feel the finger
first twitching and then moving back and forth. I wake up at this point, and my ring finger
is in fact twitching and moving back and forth.

Throughout the dream, the visual imagery of the scene is not well elaborated.
The location is not defined in any way, and the only visual images are vague ones
of the other person and the knife in my hands. Visuospatial cognition is also
minimally activated. In each iteration, the other person is merely out there somewhere, with no clear relation to my own position. And yet the dream was forceful
and memorable because of its vivid imagery.2 Somatosensory and somatomotor
images dominate (cf. Solms, 2003, pp. 5556). The focus is almost entirely on the
knife and the movement of my body in relation to it. Even the knife was not
articulated well as an object. There was rather a weakly elaborated visual image of
the blades hard steel surface that made a strong tactile impression. In this case, the
haptic impression combines with the single visual element to express the strong
emotional associations connected with the scene. At first, the feeling of pride
repeated three times as I showed off the knife to each person. And then there was
sudden fear when the knife began to fall, and finally horror as I saw it hanging from
my finger.
Dreams such as this one suggest that CM and PSO work in a more strongly
hinged relationship during dreaming than during film viewing. That is, when one
comes to the fore, the other tends to recede more fully. When the knife begins to
fall, the visual imagery disappears altogether, and the dream remains blank longer
than it would take the knife to fall this short distance. In keeping with Foulkes and
Solms emphasis on spatial cognition as the prerequisite for kinematic visual
imagery, the absence of all visual images suggests that the proprioceptive orientation of my body to the knife (PSO) takes over when it begins to fall. The visual
image returns only when the knife has stopped and PSO is no longer dominating.
In cinema, the uninterrupted flow of images and the cinematically constructed
space enable CM to operate rather seamlessly. To simulate dreams effectively,
cinema would then need to do more than present the symbolic narrative content of
dreams in the grounding medium of cognitively visualized space. It would require
disruptions in spatial continuity, including gaps in the otherwise constant flow of
cognitively mapped images, to generate in the viewer some of the physiological
functions that feed into the visual imagery of dreaming.3
For a classic example of such a tactic, we can take the famous dream sequence
of the fall from the church tower in Hitchcocks Vertigo (see Figure 1). As Scottie
(James Stewart) is experiencing vertigo in his dream (see Figure 2), Hitchcock
shows a pulsating schematic representation of the view down into the church tower
from the top of the stairs. It alternates between blue and red while a close-up of
2
I follow here the recent and I think important practice in both neuroscience and the humanities
of using the word image to refer to images based on any sensory modalitysound images, images of
movement in spacerather than to visual images only (Damasio & Damasio, 1996, p. 19).
3
Alternative aesthetic strategies can disrupt the dominance of CM and give more room for
proprioceptive responses to the film world. In a recent article on Werner Herzogs 1985 film documenting Rheinhold Messners successful expedition to climb two 8,000-m peaks in the Himalayans in
succession (GasherbrumDer leuchtende Berg [The Dark Glow of the Mountains]), I examine how
alternative constructions of film space promote PSO. In the case of Herzogs film, these strategies serve
to engage the viewer physically in the mode of spatial orientation essential for the mountain climber
(Cook, in press).

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Dreaming and Film Viewing

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Figure 1. Vertigo: Hitchcocks representation of Scottie experiencing vertigo in his dream.

Scotties face appears and disappears in the middle of the image. Each time the face
appears onscreen, it moves toward the camera before disappearing again, producing the sense of his falling through the space of the tower. The film then cuts from
this schematic representation of the vertigo effect to a shot of his body falling from
the tower toward the Spanish tiles on the roof below, where Madeleine (Kim
Novak) had fallen to her death. At first, we see his body falling toward the tiles,
then just the falling body against an otherwise white screen, getting smaller as it
falls away from the camera. At this point, Scottie wakes up before his body slams
into a hard surface. At no point in the dream sequence is there clear spatial
orientation, either with respect to vertical or to any cognitively mapped space at all.
A merely schematic representation of the interior of the tower and the blank white
screen replace spatially mapped visual imagery, producing kinesthetic and proprioceptive sensations in the place of cognitive orientation.

Figure 2. Vertigo: Scottie falling from the church tower in his dream.

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Hitchcocks cinematic representation of Scotties dream corresponds to my


personal version of the common dream of falling. In my case, I am usually climbing
the kind of free-standing vertical ladder used by daredevil performers who jump
from great heights into small tubs of water. I climb the ladder and jump off. There
is no tub of water at the bottom, apparently only the hard ground, although it is
never directly visible in the dream. While falling, I black out in the sense that
there are no visual images during the fall, rather only the sensation of falling. I
come to, stunned and staggering around. There is, however, no visual imagery,
not even a ground or horizontal surface carrying the weight of my body, only the
dizzy physical sensation produced by the circular movement of my staggering body.
I stagger until I start climbing up the ladder again to go through the same
experience repeatedly, until I wake up. This sensation (or somatosensory image)
does have a spatial element to it; however, it is a proprioceptive one that is not
expressed visually.
The examples here from Vertigo and my dreams are extreme cases of the role
proprioception can have in cinema and dreaming. Despite the momentary lapse of
visual imagery, CM continues to cofunction with PSO in all these instances. A sense
of ones self moving through a cognitively perceived space, even when it is not
visually expressed, is a precondition for these virtual experiences (Hobson, 1999, p.
170). In dreams, it is the variously formed, but inevitably included self-representation of the dreamer that makes CM possible. In cinema, it is the embedded
viewer.

CONCLUSION
In this article, my discussion of the influence that cinema has on our dreams
draws mainly from recent film theory, on the one hand, and findings in neuroscience
about the state of the mind brain during dream sleep, on the other. I had to rely
on mostly anecdotal evidence of the way film images, techniques, and narratives
turn up in dreams. One hope in this attempt to engage dream research on the topic
of cinema is that it could lead to the collection of hard data about the prevalence
and form of film (and new media) images in dreams. Among other things, these
data could provide insight into the coevolution of the neural processes that generate the image flow of consciousness and the technological and aesthetic development of moving-image media.
In my effort to establish similarities between the neural processes that produce
dreams and those at work during film viewing, I chose to focus on visuospatial
mapping and movement. By highlighting this correspondence, I was attempting to
expand our sense of how films can replicate the dream experience and how film
images might work their way into our dreams. This discussion touched on a number
of other shared elements where a comparative analysis could also prove fruitful.
Most notably, the issue of spatial construction also entailed at every turn the
phenomenological question of how the self figures into dreaming and film reception. A focused study of the way the self is represented in dreams and in cinema
could help bridge the gap between knowledge about dream-sleep physiology and an
understanding of the formal aspects of dream consciousness.

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Finally, there is another aim of this study, one that I have not mentioned. The
emphasis here has been on what the comparison of the neurophysiological states of
dreaming and film viewing might have to offer dream research. The other hope is
that this dialogue will spur new approaches in the critical study of film theory. I
expect that responses from cognitive scientists and dream researchers to my speculative foray into dream science might well offer valuable insights for theories of
embodied film spectatorship.

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