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: The "It was all a dream" theory  ( 7007 )
redyred
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« : May 16, 2005, 08:52:26 AM »

OK I know it's controversial, and I wasn't too keen on the idea myself at first, but the more I've watched OUTIA the more convinced I've become of theory that the whole thing is an opium fuelled dream. So here's my argument for the dream theory.

- Framing. The film begins and ends with Noodles at the opium den. Surely if it was just a straight flashback it would make more sense to frame it with Noodles as an old man? Instead, we can see the scenes in the opium den as being the beginning and end of a dream.

- In the opium den at the beginning, Noodles is looking at the newspaper article where it lists his friends as being dead. We are then shown what is undeniably a  dreamed flashback - we see him at the scene of his friends' deaths, and then cut to him making the tip off call - this is what is on his mind at the time. He is absolutely racked with guilt, which sets the scene for a daydream in which everything is put to rights.

- Symbolism. The "journey" to 1968 begins with Noodles taking the keys to Fat Moe's clock. In other words, the keys to time - in Leone's highly symbolistic cinematic langauge this is telling us that Noodles is (in his head) going to change time.

- The dream theory fits in well with the general theme of regret and nostalgia.

- The overly perfect nature of the 1968 scenes. In one fell swoop Noodles finds out he did not kill his best friend, that he was not as responisble as he thought he was and that Deborah has had a succesful life and does not totally resent him. Add to that the slightly implausable fact that Deborah has not aged at all. It all sounds like the nice dream of a man plagued by guilt and regret.

- That smile at the end... I haven't heard any better explanation for it yet.


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dave jenkins
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« #1 : May 16, 2005, 03:59:22 PM »

In 1933, Noodles has an opium dream where he *accurately* imagines how cars and fashions are going to look in 1968? Sorry, no sale.



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redyred
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« #2 : May 17, 2005, 03:20:36 AM »

That's irrelevent. It's not like the storyline of the 1968 scenes hinge upon the accuracy of cars and fashions. I mean, what would the alternative be, him imagining everyone in shiney silver suits and hovercars?


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« #3 : May 17, 2005, 02:41:25 PM »

I wrote this in another thread:

"When I saw it I always thought it was supposed to symbolize him having closure and leaving his bad past behind. The fact that they showed him as being young I always thought as symbolism for him being "Noodles the gangster" leaving his past behind and having closure and finally being able to continue life where he left off, which was a gangster in an opium den.

Remember when Leone supposedly said "Well, it started out in an opium den, you see..." and then the guy said "Don't tell me!"? Well maybe it wasn't a dream and it was to symbolize that he's moving on from his life where his guilt started rather than being oppressed all these years starting from that moment?
"

One thing I use to support this theory and work it in with what you say about Debra still being young, etc. I think there might be Leone's trickery there that I have a theory about.

When they were kids that was their "innocent years"(Though of course that really doesn't apply all that much to those boys) and when they grow up they truly take the reigns of their life and could either guide it to living immorally or morally and guide their destiny. Everybody else in the gang who had lived were all old because they were immoral, lived with guilt and oppresison, etc. but Deborah still looked young, because she lived morally without guilt and symbolizes purity because she never withered like the rest of the gang.
When the oppression and burdens are lifted off of Noodles' shoulders at the end, we go back to the Noodles from the 30's because that symbolizes Noodles' purity. At the time Noodles stepped into the opium den that was the time where he wanted to get away from the life he was living, so that time was kind of an "oasis" in his life because he was able to get a glimpse of the life he wanted to live. So we see the Noodles continuing life where he "left off" in a sense, because that was the last time he was pure and was conscious of his wrongdoings.

- In the opium den at the beginning, Noodles is looking at the newspaper article where it lists his friends as being dead. We are then shown what is undeniably a  dreamed flashback - we see him at the scene of his friends' deaths, and then cut to him making the tip off call - this is what is on his mind at the time.[/b]

He could've been having a flashback to himself being there. Kind of a "guilty reminder". Same thing with the phone ringing.

Though the dream theory I still take into consideration, what with the opium den bookending the movie, the "Once Upon a Time..." title, young "old" Deborah, etc. but I think there might be more to it if that is the case. I remember hearing in a GBU SE DVD documentary that Sergio's characters were people in dreams he had about America as kid and it kind of made me think - We like Leone's movies whether they're true or not, but they're his dreams and visions of America and we like them either way. His movies are probably more historically accurate than any American western and he studies the hell out of history and culture before he makes movies, yet his stories are very surreal and I remember him making that acknowledgement once - Factual settings, surreal situations.

I kind of think that idealogy comes to play in OUATIA - Noodles could be dreaming or not, but we enjoy the story for what it is. After all, the opium den where he is possibly having his dream is also a THEATER of some sorts. So the answer to Leone's "American dream" trilogy(Which is what he called it) could be a question - Was it a dream? and the answer isn't yes or no, because Leone's vision of America in all his movies are surrealist situations in very real settings, but we choose to enjoy them for whatever reasons that we do(Everybody has their reason, laddy :) ).

Sometimes I don't even know what I'm talking about, though :( But you get my drift, yeah? It's like a hallway of mirrors, it keeps going with no answer - the answer is a question the viewer poses to himself that only the viewer could answer. We enjoy what goes on in OUATIA, but if it's a dream it doesn't change the story we see and enjoy on screen unless you let the fact that it's a dream affect what you think of the context of the dream, anymore than you let the fact that the Dollars trilogy are Sergio's visions affect what you think of them.

So maybe both of our theories are correct? It could be a dream but the symbolism and things that happen in the dream could also be taken as they are if it "really" happened. Let's say that GBU started out with Leone lying down on a couch of his den and ended the same way. It's still GBU 8) Leone dreamt of all those crazy things going on. So whatever goes on in the story applies to it as real life and a dream... at the same time :o

But I think I'm just going in circles, you understand, yeah? Think Salvador Dali - Surreal, but real 8)

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« #4 : May 18, 2005, 06:24:42 PM »

I guess if people want to believe OUATIA is mostly an opium dream Noodles has in 1933 they can. For me, it cheapens the film and makes it less interesting. I read plenty of O. Henry stories growing up, and saw my share of Twilight Zone episodes, and I have to say that stories with twist endings leave me cold at this point. And I have a hard time believing that SL, after developing as an artist over half a dozen films, and after trying to get OUATIA made for nearly 20 years would resort to such tomfoolery at the end.

If we had no other films to go by, I could see a case being made for the it-was-all-a-dream theory. But since we have the earlier films, and we can observe how SL refined his use of flashbacks and time displacement as he went along, I'd say there are better alternatives to the dream theory. When SL used flashbacks in FAFDM and OUATITW, for example,  they were fairly simple devices for both withholding and conveying backstory info to the audience at appropriate moments. They served the plot and nothing more. But by the time of DYS, SL's use of flashbacks had become more ambitious. Most of the flashbacks in that film have something to do with the plot, but the long flashback at the end, whatever its purpose, does not reveal any new story information. It is there for some other reason (perhaps to comment on a character, or highlight one of the themes of the movie, or both).

With this understanding in mind, then, when we come to the end of OUATIA and view the final time displacement, we have to be prepared to consider the possibility that it has NOTHING to do with the plot. Again, all I'm asking is that we consider the possibility. If it isn't there for the story, then why has SL included it, and given it such an important position in the film?

The answers to that question can be myriad. I'm pretty sure, though, that we can think of at least 20 that are more interesting than the it-was-all-a-dream idea. Poogle's approach, for one, seems worth exploring....



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redyred
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« #5 : May 20, 2005, 04:45:02 AM »

Poggle - nice post. Some very good points there.

I guess if people want to believe OUATIA is mostly an opium dream Noodles has in 1933 they can. For me, it cheapens the film and makes it less interesting. I read plenty of O. Henry stories growing up, and saw my share of Twilight Zone episodes, and I have to say that stories with twist endings leave me cold at this point. And I have a hard time believing that SL, after developing as an artist over half a dozen films, and after trying to get OUATIA made for nearly 20 years would resort to such tomfoolery at the end.

But the point is it's not a simple, cheap plot device. It's not like when a lesser director might reveal the whole thing was a dream simply to get out of a plothole. Instead, I see it as a case of the film setting up why Noodles is feeling guilty and regretful and how his tortured mind is dealing with it, how he has found a moment of tranquility in his opium hazed state. To my mind it would be much more sloppy and boring plot if Noodles' problems all worked themselves out by chance.

The dream theory doesn't simplify the plot, it actually adds another dimension to it - the film is part flashback, part present situation, part imagined future.
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dave jenkins
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« #6 : May 20, 2005, 04:08:34 PM »

Still, to insist that the ending of the film is primarily concerned with narrative seems needlessly limiting. I prefer to see the ending as essentially lyrical, which opens up a host of interpretive possibilities. The idea that Poggle espouses, if I've understood him correctly, is one where the final smile at the end acts as a kind of foreshadowing: in 35 years Noodles will come to understand that he was not in fact responsible for the death of his friends, and he will know a sense of peace or closure (or whatever) at that time. And it's more satisfying to know that this is a certainty, not some vain imagined hope of Noodle's.

Poggle's idea is good, but it is not the only possible interpretation. Another idea is that the final smile represent an essential truth about Noodles, that he is more a dreamer than a doer. The opium den represents, in a sense, his destiny, because he's going to spend the next 35 years of his life going to bed early. And the dream he will dream will not be true, but since it's the only one he knows he'll stick with it. Even later, when he is awakened and offered an alternative, he will not surrender the dream he has rested his life upon. And after that brief moment of waking, Noodles will go back to sleep. This would seem to make Noodles a loser, but you never know with Leone. SL may be saying to the guy, Keep Your Head Down, You Sucker.

And there are many more ways to look at the film, provided we don't close off those possibilities with the It-was-all-a-dream approach.



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« #7 : May 20, 2005, 04:52:46 PM »

I like that second paragraph theory. That would also fit with the "American dream..." "Once Upon a Time...", Sergio the Dreamer take on things as well.

As much as I endulged in the dream theory, I still really like my theory of it being for closure more. I feel torn between two theories :(

You know, maybe we should ask the guys who wrote this movie? ;D

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« #8 : May 22, 2005, 09:49:41 AM »

Don't get me wrong Dave, I don't think the dream theory is the be all and end all. I also think Sergio deliberately made these things kind of ambiguous just so people would argue over them - kind of like the little touches that make GBU a prequel. But my suspicion is that Sergio did mean it to be a dream, but also wanted to keep us guessing and arguing.

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And it's more satisfying to know that this is a certainty, not some vain imagined hope of Noodle's.

But who says we're supposed to have a satisfying ending? Leone was pretty much a cynic after all.


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