Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Dream Upon Waking

Institute Benjamenta or This Dream One Calls Human Life
1995. 104 minutes. UK. Directed by Stephen and Timothy Quay. Watchdate: 10/20/2010.
Institute Benjamenta is an exquisitely surreal diversion that reminded me a lot of Guy Maddin's Careful in a very good way. They both have lots of great imagery and are about men training to become servants who get involved in odd, Freudian love triangles.  In Benjamenta, I was especially struck by the bizarre choreography of all the men training to become servants. They move with an eery synchronization, and hit each other with dusty towels and things.

I was also surprised and delighted to realize that Herr Benjamenta was played by none other than Gottfried John, who I haven't seen in anything other than the James Bond movie of the same year. In Goldeneye, G-John takes a completely one-dimensional villain character (he's the underwritten part of a nefarious trio that includes Famke Janssen and Sean Bean) and actually made it a bit interesting to watch. As Herr Benjamenta, he actually pulls off creepy without being just creepy.

Institute Benjamenta also exemplifies a certain subgenre of movies that I quite enjoy. The subgenre generally features surreal elements and may deal with the concept of dreaming explicitly or implicitly. I don't have a name for it, but it's the type of movie that might be best enjoyed in a state halfway between being asleep and awake. The best examples I had before this were The Science of Sleep, Waking Life and Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. But Benjamenta fits nearly as well if not better. These sorts of movies should be experienced in a perpetual state of waking up when your mind is still relearning how to apprehend the world around you. If possible, your own dreams should subconsciously intermingle with the images and ideas of the movie.  Often, one can remove the soundtrack altogether, or use an alternative one in order to focus on the images (obviously this is something to try after a first viewing). Anyway, I'm glad a friend recommended this movie because it led me to articulate my thoughts on this obscure subgenre that exists mainly in my own mind.

PS - Looks like I FELL BEHIND. But soon I will CATCH UP. Don't you worry, dear readers, if there are any of you still out there.


  1. the brothers quay made a movie called the earthquake piano tuner and it's interesting so far.. very committed to it's use of symbolism and style, at the least. reminded me of the cabinet of dr caligari

  2. Yeah I saw that movie is available on Netflix Instant Watch, I'll have to get it to it someday... haven't seen Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, though I am aware of it as a cine historical touchstone