Lucid dreaming has become somewhat of a zeitgeist - revealed at least in part by the growing number of lucid dreaming movies now on offer. From the dream architects of Inception, to the philosophically lucid pondering of Waking Life, to the fantastical unrealities conjured by Paprika - dream movies capture the imagination like no other, and take us on a conscious quest inside the dream world. Here are some of the best movies themed on lucidity.
Dom Cobb is the best there is at extraction: stealing valuable secrets inside the unconscious during the mind's vulnerable dream state. His skill has made him a coveted player in industrial espionage but also has made him a fugitive and cost him dearly. Now he may get a second chance if he can do the impossible: inception, planting an idea rather than stealing one. If they succeed, Cobb and his team could pull off the perfect crime. But no planning or expertise can prepare them for a dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move - an enemy only Cobb could have seen coming.
Waking Life is about a young man in a persistent lucid dream state. He observes and later joins in on philosophical discussions on the appearance of reality, free will, our relationship with others, and the meaning of life. He eventually comes to conclude that the reason he can't wake up is that he may be dead...
Created using a technique called rotoscoping, the real life action is overlaid with animation. This adds to the dream-like visual effects of Waking Life. Unique in context and delivery, Waking Life was nominated for numerous film festival awards for its technical achievements.
David Aames appears to lead a charmed life. Handsome, wealthy and charismatic, the young New York City publishing executive's freewheeling existence is enchanting, yet he seems to be missing something.
One night David meets Sofia, the girl of his dreams, but loses her by making a small mistake. Thrust unexpectedly onto a roller-coaster ride of romance, suspicion, love, sex and lucid dreams, David finds himself on a mind-bending journey and discovers the precious, ephemeral nature of true love. Lucid dreaming themes are present throughout this twisted sci-fi drama.
Stephane pines for next-door neighbor, Stephanie, but she becomes confused by his childishness and shaky connection to reality. Unable to find the secret to Stephanie's heart while awake, Stephane searches for the answer in his dreams. The Science of Sleep features the concepts of lucid dreaming, false awakenings and bizarre inventions like the one-second time machine.
Based on a novel by the noted Japanese science fiction writer Yasutaka Tsutui, the brilliant and unsettling feature Paprika is an exploration of the disturbingly permeable boundaries between dreams and reality.
Techno-geek Kosaku Tokita invented the DC Mini to allow therapists to enter a patient's dreams and explore his unconscious, but an evil cabal uses the Mini to create a mass nightmare that causes multiple suicides. Psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba uses her alter-identity, "dream detective" Paprika, to intervene. Entering the nightmare, she witness a bizarre parade of appliances, toys, and kitsch objects: all of her intelligence and imagination are needed to escape this nightmare and its perpetrators. Paprika effortlessly carries the audience between reality and fantasy: a feast for the senses.
In this movie of consciousness and memories, Joel Barish decides to have the memories of his ex-girlfriend erased - after he discovers she's already had him erased from her own memory. But midway through the procedure, he changes his mind and struggles to hang on to their experiences together.
The result is a lucid-dream-like romp through the stored unconscious memories of his life. Joel fights the eraser by mixing up memories, trying to force himself awake, and leaving subtle clues for his ex to remember him by. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) spins this idea into a funny, sad, structurally complex, and simply enthralling love story that juggles morality, identity, and heartbreak with skill. The all-star cast gives superb performances. One of my favorite movies ever with a great piano score by Jon Brion.
Why did this remind me so much of lucid dreaming? Intriguingly, the story revolves around a crippled man who goes to sleep during which his mind is scientifically transferred out-of-body... and into a blue, 12-foot alien. In this form, he explores extraterrestrial rainforests, fights savage alien beasts, flies on the backs of dragons and battles 20-foot robot walkers in the process of saving a civilization from a tyrannical invader. The central theme of altered states of consciousness and mind separating from body adheres to the notion of our minds wandering while our bodies lay asleep...
A visually stunning metaphysical tale of life after death. Neurologist Chris and artist Annie had the perfect life until they lost their children in a car accident; they're just starting to recover when Chris meets an untimely death himself. He's met by a messenger named Albert and taken to his own personal afterlife - a freshly drawn world reminiscent of Annie's own artwork, still dripping wet with paint.
The multi textured visuals seem to have been created from a lost fairy tale. The astral world recalls the landscape paintings of Thomas Cole and Renaissance architecture complete with floating cherubs. There's no denying Eugenio Zanetti's triumphant production design and the Oscar-winning special effects, which create a fully formed universe that is at once eerie and beautiful.
Gary Sheller is caught in a midlife crisis: dead-end job, depressing life and a deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend Dora. That is until he meets Anna - literally, the girl of his dreams. Able to see her only while asleep, Gary seeks out an expert on lucid dreaming techniques who agrees to help him carry on the most satisfying relationship of his life. But as he continues to shun reality, his waking life troubles worsen. An illuminating dark comedy.
In reality, it is 200 years later, and the world has been laid waste and taken over by advanced Artificial Intelligence machines. The computers have created a false version of 20th century life - called the Matrix - to keep the human minds satisfied and use their bodies as a power source. Neo, pursued by Agents (sentient computer programs who take on human form), is hailed as The One who will lead the humans to overthrow the machines and reclaim the Earth.
The Matrix is, in essence, a shared lucid dream, guided by the Artifical Intelligence that creates the simulated reality. As Neo learns to bend these rules, he becomes increasingly lucid and aware, discovering that actually, anything is possible...
RELATED: 10 More Lucid Dreaming Movies
Here's a good question. If a lucid dream is any dream in which you know you're dreaming, then why aren't we always lucid in dreams? Why doesn't it just become the default state of dreaming? Why do we accept our dreams of flying pigs and dinosaurs as an extension of waking life? What is the mechanism for defaulting to non-lucid dreams? Intriguingly, scientists have approached this question from three different angles./p>
What do blind people dream about? Can they "see" in their dreams? Take a look at scientific studies into the dreams of the blind, colorblind, and black-and-white dreamers. In 1999, dream researchers at the University of Hartford analyzed 372 dreams of 15 blind people. They found that both the congenitally blind and those who went blind before five years old did not have any visual dreams at all. That's because our dreams are made up of real world experiences and our innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires. So for someone who has never perceived images or light (or can't remember any) their dreams simply can't manifest visually.
Not long ago, scientists at Frankfurt University discovered how to produce lucid dreams with electronic stimulation. It was a world first. And - astonishingly - it worked in non-lucid dreamers 77% of the time. Now you can buy the same technology for yourself. The foc.us V2 - which delivers the proven optimum 40 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) - was originally developed to increase working memory in video gamers and improve sleep.
As technology continues to move us towards more immersive dreamlike experiences, one can only wonder what digital wonders lay just beyond the horizon of tomorrow. We may also question just how the future of virtual reality will impact the study and practice of lucid dreaming. Are we, perhaps, the last generation to whom lucid dreaming will maintain an appeal?
Jeremiah Morelli is a whimsical fantasy artist and visual storyteller. He places conceptual fairytale creatures in vivid dreamscapes to capture the imagination. He's also a school teacher, and amazingly finds the time and motivation to create this huge gallery of artwork. Such light and dark fairytale paintings make beautiful places to visit in your lucid dreams.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?