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Watch: 70 Films That Go Inside Characters’ Minds

Watch: 70 Films That Go Inside Characters' Minds

Cinema
is no stranger to exploring the realms of dreams, memories, and
fantasies.  We’ve all been fooled by a strategically placed dream
sequence or been clued into opinion-shifting information via
flashbacks.  But visually speaking, how do we know that we are currently
viewing something created in a character’s mind?

Often, the
filmmaker chooses not to employ any visual cues that would suggest
something is not quite what it seems.  For instance, David Fincher’s
Gone Girl (2014) presents us with several lie-laced flashbacks that are
visually cohesive with the rest of the film.  In doing so, the film uses
manipulation tactics similar to that of Amy Dunne.  Christopher Nolan’s
Inception (2010) frequently tricks us into believing that dreams are
realities by not differing from the film’s overall visual look.  Nolan
seems to slowly introduce different visual elements as he is ready to
show his hand.  The same applies to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm
Street
(1984).  Craven often wants us to think that the characters are
awake and experiencing reality when they are actually dreaming.  It is
not until it is revealed that the character is in a dream that the look
of the film begins to change.  Little by little, aesthetics tend clue us
into the truth.  Sometimes a film completely blurs the aesthetic
boundaries of reality and fantasy and we have a rather difficult time
even deciphering what is and is not real.  David Lynch is notorious for
hindering the comprehension of his audience in this way. 

On
the other hand, sometimes a filmmaker decides to immediately let us know
that we are experiencing something within the mind of a character. 
This “aesthetic of the mind” is clearly different from the overall
look of the film and can be expressed in a vast variety of ways.  In
regard to flashbacks, there are two major types: a scene
that takes place at a time previous to the rest of the narrative, and a
scene that replicates the memories of a character.  The former tends to
use the same aesthetic approach as the rest of the film, while the
latter usually displays visual differences to mimic the perception of a
character.  The change could be as simple as the switching from color to
black and white in Spider-Man (2002), or the overly shaky camera
movement in Blue Valentine (2010).  While effective, these visuals can
often be misleading as we become overly connected to a character.  We
see things only as he or she remembers them, which may or may not be
entirely faithful to the truth.  For example, over-saturation can often
fool us into interpreting pleasant realities, while the opposite can
lead us to believe false negativity.  The idea of subjectivity is
especially amplified in films like Pulp Fiction (1994), where a flashback
is presented to us in a POV shot. 

Dreams and fantasies are a
bit less complicated when it comes to their aesthetic makeup.  Since neither of these elements are ever anchored in reality, the
filmmaker has an endless supply of visual tools at his or her disposal. 
The changes can range from the simple soft focus used in Ralphie’s
daydream in A Christmas Story (1983), to the CGI filled, vibrantly
colored dream sequence in Shutter Island (2010).  Even viewing these
scenes out of context, the viewer would most likely suspect the action
is not taking place in reality.  These are the types of scenes being
investigated in this video–the scenes that clearly stand out as
non-reality due to noticeable aesthetic differentiation.  These scenes
showcase a few of the infinite visual techniques used to express the
ever powerful and manipulating mind.

Films used (in order of appearance):
American Beauty
American Hustle
Her
The Virgin Suicides
Django Unchained
Batman Begins
Shutter Island
The Shining
Vertigo
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Apocalypse Now
Mulholland Drive
I Heart Huckabees
The Big Lebowski
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fight Club
Noah
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Super
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Requiem for a Dream
Blue Valentine
Dallas Buyers Club
Watchmen
Brokeback Mountain
Silver Linings Playbook
Memento
Gladiator
Bronson
Inception
Blade Runner
Wish I Was Here
The Skeleton Twins
The Machinist
Warm Bodies
Man of Steel
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
(500) Days of Summer
Happy Gilmore
Old School
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
This Is the End
The Hangover Part II
Zombieland
Pulp Fiction
Ray
The Crow
The Lovely Bones
The Bourne Ultimatum
Rambo
25th Hour
Kill Bill Vol. 2
The Green Mile
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Amélie
The Butterfly Effect
X-Men 2
Batman Forever
Spider-Man
Tusk
Raising Arizona
Papillon
The Big Lebowski
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
A Christmas Story
The Wizard of Oz

Jacob T. Swinney is an industrious film editor and filmmaker, as well as a recent graduate of Salisbury University.

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