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Reviewed by:
  • Dreams Rewired written and dir. by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, and Thomas Tode
  • A. Bowdoin Van Riper
Dreams Rewired (2015)
Written and Directed by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, and Thomas Tode
Produced by Amour Fou Vienna with Ambient Information Systems and Bildschon Film Productions
Distributed by Icarus Films,
85 minutes

The technologies that connect us change, but—to an astonishing degree—the fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams that swirl around them stay the same. Dazzled by the newness of the latest and greatest gadgets, however, we tend to see only the change, overlooking the continuity. We marvel at our instantaneous awareness of current events, but forget that the second message sent over Samuel Morse’s telegraph wires in 1845 was: “Have you any news?” We wring our hands over “kids today” and their obsessive need to communicate with their friends, ignoring the “teenage girl ties up family phone line” jokes that were staples of film and television comedy for decades. We imagine that the spectacle of people “glued to their devices” in public spaces began with the smartphone, as if the Walkman, boom box, transistor radio, and paperback book had never existed. We have passed this way before; we just don’t realize it.

The makers of Dreams Rewired would like to remind us.

The film is an exploration of our how our dreams about the future of communication technology were played out on movie screens between (roughly) 1890 and 1940. An eighty-five-minute mosaic of brief archival clips knitted together by voiceover narration and a delicate piano-strings-and-trombone score, it is nominally a documentary, but plays like a tone poem. The clips—a mixture of news and promotional films, period documentaries, and snippets from dramatic films both famous and forgotten—depict a world that seems visually, socially, and technologically distant from our own. Even as the filmmakers invite us to smile at their quaint otherness, however, the narration—performed by Tilda Swinton—subtly, insistently argues for the familiarity (indeed, the modernity) of the hopes and anxieties embodied in them. The people on the screen are not us, their world is not our world, and their gadgets are nor our gadgets, but our dreams (both joyful and fearful) overlap with theirs.

None of this is explicitly stated. Rather than framing a master narrative to which the stream of images add richness and texture, the voiceover creates a parallel stream of—for lack of a better word—aphorisms. “Our time is a time of total connection. Distance is zero,” declares one. “Geography is history,” says another. A third asks: “If we see what’s in store for us, could we refuse it?” A fourth offers an implied answer: “Today in our pockets. Tomorrow woven into our bodies.” The tone of the narration lies somewhere between Buddha and the Oracle of Delphi: elliptical and oblique, suggesting meanings but not insisting on them, leaving viewers to connect the dots. “A new electric intimacy,” the narration declares at one point, early in the film. “Once we bridged a hundred meters with a shout; now we span the globe with a whisper.” The viewer, primed by their day-to-day experience to interpret this as a statement about the present, is wordlessly prodded by the accompanying film clips to realize that all electronic communication moves at the speed of light, and that “spanning the globe” was made possible by the technologies of an earlier century: the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television. “Every age thinks it is the modern age,” Swinton intones at one point, “but ours actually is.” A hint of arch amusement creeps into her voice, suggesting the filmmakers’ view that such finality is an illusion. Moments like these are the film’s stock-in-trade. It makes its case not by argument, but by immersion.

Swinton—known for playing enigmatic, otherworldly characters in films ranging from Orlando (1987) and Conceiving Ada (1997) to Constantine (2005) and Doctor Strange (2016)—serves brilliantly as a latter-day priestess of Delphi. Whether the narration serves the film well is different question, the answer to which ultimately depends on whether Dreams Rewired is considered as art, or as social commentary...


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pp. 81-83
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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