Dreams within a Dream: The Films of Peter Weir

Dreams within a Dream: The Films of Peter Weir

Dreams within a Dream: The Films of Peter Weir

Dreams within a Dream: The Films of Peter Weir

Synopsis

"What we see and what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream", says a character at the beginning of Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock. The statement is more than just an introduction to Picnic's beautifully ethereal world; it is also a fitting beginning for a consideration of Peter Weir's films. The director of The Year of Living Dangerously, Dead Poets Society, Witness, and the recent The Truman Show is a cinema stylist whose values derive from the realm of the dream and the unconscious. As Michael Bliss demonstrates, for Weir, "empirical reality is nothing more than a shadow of what is real".

Bliss considers Weir's heritage, Australian cinema, which gave the director some of his most basic themes: the conflict between reason and mystery; the confrontation with an alien and often threatening landscape; the hero's journey into a region in which good and evil are in cosmic opposition.

Bliss also discusses Weir's appropriation and adaptation of another quality endemic to Australian cinema: "mateship", the celebration of the bond between male companions. By making self-knowledge dependent on action involving one's friends, Weir gives mateship a new meaning, as he demonstrates in his celebrated war film Gallipoli.

To help explain Weir's films, Bliss looks to Freud and Jung, whom Weir has studied, as well as to two other prominent purveyors of myth and archetype: Northrop Frye and Joseph Campbell. Virtually all of Weir's characters struggle toward a new mode of awareness, one that is based on elemental truths and spiritual unity.

Weir's films evidence a striking unity of attitude. From his first widely distributed film, The Cars That Ate Paris, to 1998's The Truman Show,Weir's masterful technique and consistently challenging films mark him as one of our most important contemporary filmmakers. Dreams Within a Dream makes Weir come alive in the emotional and intellectual ways that his films do

Excerpt

The infinite attraction of unresolved, antithetical forces is one of the prime bases for the popularity of the films of Peter Weir. Coming as he does from an Australian film tradition replete with films involving clashes between civilization and savagery, Weir has managed to establish for himself a distinctive place in international filmmaking by insisting that dreams and the unconscious, and clashes between civilization and so-called savagery, far from being mundane notions, are in fact still undervalued and overlooked in contemporary culture. And while the director, well spoken on many topics, sometimes seems reluctant to comment on the structural and philosophic sources of his films, we can nonetheless ascribe them to certain trends in fiction, psychology, and philosophy.

To appreciate Weirs work, it is helpful to understand the national heritage to which he is heir. Australian cinema has a long, well-established tradition. In 1906, Australian director Charles Tait produced what may very well be the world's first feature-length motion picture, The Story of the Kelly Gang, a film whose focus on Australians who act outside the law anticipates a theme with which contemporary Australian cinema is still concerned. By 1911, four years before the release of D. W. Griffith The Birth of A Nation (a film that is generally regarded as revolutionary with regard to its length and narrative sophistication), "no fewer than fifty-one Australian [feature] films were released." For the next twenty-eight years, Australian cinema remained strong, developing into a truly national cinema concerned with the country's landscape, its people, and its people's problems.

Over time, though, two prominent factors contributed to the industry's decline. Competition from British and American films became more and more pronounced (not even trade quotas and the imposition of import taxes made a significant dent in the onslaught); and the Second World War, with attendant . . .

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