Graham Sack says that dream analysis and the language have film have co-evolved together as visual forms of symbolic communication, and he wanted to further that exploration in an experimental narrative series funded by Samsung VR. Sack and Sensorium produced a four-part series called The Interpretation of Dreams translating some of the original dream analysis case studies that either inspired or were included within in Freud’s book called “The Interpretation of Dreams.” Sack translates the personal symbols that appear in these dreams into a surreal dream logic that unfolds visually as it cuts back and forth between Freud and the patient unpacking the symbolic meaning of these dreams.
I saw all four episodes of this series at the Vancouver International Film Festival in September 2018, and then had a chance to unpack Sack’s process of translating these source material into an immersive VR experience. There’s something about the affordances of virtual reality that makes it a perfect medium to be able to explore the inner symbols, myths, and dramas that are playing out within someone’s unconscious psyche. We talk about the various problems of Freud’s psychoanalytic approach whether it’s colonizing dreams with his own interpretations or being aggressively insistent in the validity of his interpretations, which are all topics that are covered within the 4-part series.
While Sack was initially skeptical of Freud’s approach while studying it in college, he gained a newfound respect to the value of working with unconscious desires and motivations through associative methods like dreams, active imagination, or free-form therapeutic conversations after working with the phenomenological source material that Freud had aggregated at the turn of the century. It’s a unique archive and documentation of the symbolic inner lives at a very specific moment in history, and it’s nice to see some of the source material come to life within these VR experiences. A common theme that comes up in the stories is the grief and psychological impact that comes from the death of parents, which is a loss that Sack personally experienced before creating these virtual experiences that have qualities of a grieving ritual.
Given the success of films that rely on associative dream logic or archetypal metaphors, then this type of symbolic communication is sure to find new forms as the virtual and augmented reality mediums start to experiment with it more. Sack’s The Interpretation of Dreams is a good place to start to see some of the early experiments of this type of symbolic communication and storytelling.
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