The Dreams of Denis Villeneuve

Dreams are messages from the deep.

I touched on this thought originally in my review for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, but it’s something I can’t stop thinking about. I don’t want to just rehash what I wrote in that review, but I do like to be thorough, so yeah I will rehash it. “Dreams are messages from the deep” is the first thing we hear and see in Dune, even before the company logos. We have a black screen while an inhuman, unintelligible voice makes sounds while the subtitles “dreams are messages from the deep” are transcribed onto the black screen. I’m going to paraphrase here and it’s entirely possible I’m misremembering certain bits of this story, but just hang with me. Years ago, Eric Heisserer, the writer of Arrival, talked about the moment he knew Denis Villeneuve was the right director for the film. In a discussion for the look of the spaceships in a production meeting, Villeneuve said he didn’t know what they looked like yet because he hadn’t dreamt about them yet. It’s a great encapsulation of Villeneuve as a filmmaker and his process, and it’s why he’s become one of the best working filmmakers. 

Only a filmmaker that dreams about their films could come up with the tree shot in Prisoners. If anybody else makes that film, that shot is not in it. And guess what? It’s probably the most important shot in the film! In lieu of a shot or sequence of the daughters getting kidnapped, Villeneuve just cuts to a shot of a tree that slowly dollies in while you can hear the timber subtly crack. It’s a wonder of a shot because it’s just a shot of a tree but it communicates so easily that something terrible has happened. It does far more to communicate to you emotionally the dread that’s overtaking this film than any explicit showing of what’s happening.

What this speaks to for me is Villeneuve’s ability to just go with his emotional instinct, to just go with his gut and trust it. And this is a quality that filmmakers working on a large scale budget are either unable to do under a studio or are simply unwilling. Too few filmmakers working on a blockbuster level have both the confidence from the suits and the confidence in themselves to just go with their gut, to go with what moves them emotionally, to go with their dreams. 

And going back to Arrival, when I watched it in theaters I didn’t really understand everything was going on in terms of being able to explain it to someone else, but I did understand it emotionally perfectly. And that speaks to Villeneuves belief and execution that the accountant’s truth doesn’t matter as long as the ecstatic truth does. And the ecstatic truth takes a deeper understanding, like a message from the deep. And that’s why Villeneuve continues to craft once-in-a-generation type films. He dreams of them.

Dreams are messages from the deep.

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