The Dreamers

The Devil Says

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(If you like film trivia and Don't Mind Listening to Crazy People arguing)

The Dreamers is about masturbation. One character masturbates in front of the others as a penalty for failing a trivia challenge, but you can be certain that all three main characters have spent much of their time in that activity. There's also plenty for fans of Eva Green (or Michael Pitt or Louis Garrel) to masturbate to while watching. The actors are attractive, naked, and sexual. Let's put the literal aside; symbolic masturbation is ever-present. The three are experts at verbal masturbation. They speak a lot about film, culture, politics, and sex, and rarely listen. They speak to hear themselves, for the pure joy of spewing words to the wind. But the true masturbator here is director Bernardo Bertolucci. He's made a film about himself and for himself. The characters mention movies, and Bertolucci shows clips of those pictures, not because they are important to the story or to cinema (some are, some aren't), but because they are important to him. He was a young filmmaker in the '60s, and he's conjuring up his dreams of that time, with little concern to what it might mean to anyone else. I'm sure he enjoyed himself. I'm  a huge supporter of masturbation, but by its very nature, I feel little need to be present while others are engaging in it.

It's 1968 in Paris, the only time and place where a political revolution could have been set off by the ouster of a supporter of cinema. Student protests turned into a war between socialists and the police. But that is of small importance here.  It is only background. The foreground has Theo and Isabelle, overly close twins and film fanatics, pick up Matthew, an American student who has been spending all his time at the Cinematheque Francais. With their parents leaving for a month, the two invite Matthew to stay with them, and the three enter into a hard-to-define relationship. While the outside world is in a state of unrest, these three dreamers play at sex and love, argue about film, and try to feel important in their small world. 

It could be idyllic—a Shangri-La, where they could enjoy each other without concerning themselves with cruel reality. It could be, if they weren't all crazy. Matthew is supposed to be naive, but he's closer to infantile. He whines, he's overly emotional, bizarrely obsessive of unimportant matters, argumentative, and frightened. In an unlikely moment, which is supposed to be deep, but isn't, he freaks out at the notion of having his pubic hair shaved, going into a long, shouted speech about what this really means about love. Let's look at this: How many young men, when approached by a nude and sexually open Eva Green, would refuse her this minor, if slightly baffling request? Few, and none who drink with me. But for Matthew, it's odder. He had already accepted having sex with Isabella while her brother watched, as well as taking a group bath in water infused with her menstrual blood, so it's hard to believe that pubic hair would be the breaking point. Theo and Isabelle are more disturbed than Matthew.  It isn't their incestuous relationship.   I'm a fan of incest, and besides, the two don't do anything to each other that classifies as even close to sex.  But they are pathologically possessive, groundlessly jealous, and both prone to psychopathic outbursts.  Hey, kids: If you are going to sleep with your sibling, get your head together.  Isabella also has a problem that she'll attempt suicide (and fratricide and friendicide) at the drop of a hat. (Don't worry, I didn't just give away a tragic ending.)

Their unstable behavior would be easier to take if that was what it was meant to be (although twin mental patients happening to meet a third seems unlikely), but Bertolucci gives every indication that there isn't anything really wrong with these three, just that they are young and dreamers. I've known a lot of people who drift into fantasy, and even more young folks, and few behave like raving lunatics on a consistent basis. This story should end with all three filling their anti-anxiety medication prescriptions.

At the end of all this masturbation, Bertolucci's message is: You can't sit around masturbating. You need to get out there and do it, politically in this case, but it also applies to relationships. I don't disagree with that message, but find he does a poor job of presenting it. He may have wanted to say that, but his real theme is: Don't spend prolonged periods masturbating with psychos.

The Dreamers is available in an NC-17 cut and an edited R-rated version. The film is on the razor's edge. One side is pompous reminiscing, the other is nudity and sex. The edited version falls off the edge the wrong way. Stick with the un-edited version, where you can be slightly more concerned with your own masturbation than with someone else's.

Sins (What does this mean?)

Pride They may be too proud, or not proud enough.  It's hard to tell, but it's safe to say you won't learn anything about the sin here.
Sloth Isabelle, Theo, and Matthew spend a month doing nothing except the occasional sex game.  It would be a pretty good way to live if they weren't nuts.
Avarice Nothing.
Gluttony Wine lubricates their minds and bodies, but their eating habits leave a lot to be desired.
Wrath A riot, but it won't excite you.
Beauty The three leads all have beautiful forms.  The cinematography is attractive, but there are no transcendental shots.
Thought Much Ado About Nothing.  It might pass as the second day of a freshman Intro to Cinema History class.
Humor A few light moments.  You won't be laughing.
Lust Matthew, Theo, and Isabelle are fully naked, repeatedly.  There's pseudo-incest and a homosexual subtext (which was explicit in the novel).  Matthew and Isabelle spend a healthy amount of time on and in each other.

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Film Info

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Producer: Jeremy Thomas

Writer: Gilbert Adair

Cast: Eva Green, Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Anna Chancellor, Robin Renucci

Runtime: 115 min





  • Bertolucci, impressed with how naturally the three actors were when naked, wrote an extra scene the focused on their nudity. It was cut during editing—pitty.
  • Isabelle's hair catching fire was not scripted. Eva Green leaned forward to kiss Matthew and accidentally caught her hair on fire from the candle flame. She stayed in character so it was left in the film.
  • Eve Green went on to star in Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Casino Royale (2006).