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Spinning the Totem: Dreams of the Unconscious in 21st Century Science Fiction Film

Tess Barret, Advisor: Alice Moorhead

The science fiction genre has the singular ability to represent logical defamiliarization from the real world. Science fiction takes the reader outside of his reality while also grounding the unfamiliar in the rational language of science. This displacing and reshaping of reality gives the genre the qualities of a dream – crafting realities, normalizing the surreal, and providing insight into our waking lives. Dreams often function as a vehicle for change and a logical leap from the norm. The relationship between science fiction and dreams is seen in the frequent use of the dream metaphor to comment on the function of the human unconscious in science fiction films of this past decade. Understanding the changing nature of science fiction film is attained through detecting the trending motifs and themes in cinema of this millennium that have deviated significantly from genre shifts in the past. My research centers on the theme of visual interpretations of the inner mind as prison, playground, or sanctum, categorized in film as psychoanalytic thrillers. By closely analyzing three unique science fiction films, The Cell (2000), Paprika (2007), and Inception (2010), this project explores the fundamental and malleable connection between form, content, and genre. This interdisciplinary analysis of unconscious content integrates the dream theories of classic psychoanalysts, such as Sigmund Freud, as well as the scientific dream theory of psychologist J. Allan Hobson. The study of the generic trends in science fiction film is structured on modern science fiction literary critics such as Darko Suvin, Damien Broderick, and film critic Vivian Sobchack. The purpose of this project is the investigation of how the emerging subgenre of psychoanalytic thriller redefines contemporary science fiction cinema.