All Just a Dream/Headscratchers

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  • When applied to a story as a whole, or everything after a certain point, just what is the point? For individual scenes/episodes it may be a cop-out but at least there is some meaningful sense in which that bit wasn't real but everything else was. For entire stories on the other hand, it seems to be saying "Ha! You thought you were watching a show about fictional characters written by some writers, but really you were watching a show about a dream about those same fictional characters, written by the same writers in exactly the same way as if they were doing that first thing! Fooled you there!" Wild Mass Guessing loves this one.
    • Perfect Blue kind of revitalized it, IMHO; Mima goes through wake up/psych! moments over and over again because she's going insane. The point of its use in the film is to make the audience go "WTF?" in sympathy, and to that end it's quite effective.
      • Similar with Waking Life. He keeps waking up and waking up and waking up. Has he really woken up yet? Is he still asleep? Then near the end comes another possibility or two: He might be dead. Or maybe it's a Dying Dream? You have to admit that's kind of interesting.
    • The horrible movie North was like this. For those who don't know, a kid is fed up with his parents and wants to divorce them and find new parents. Anyway North, a lovable kid, was dreaming about all kinds of racial and ethnic stereotypes in his quest to find new parents. At the end, he wakes up and runs home to his lousy, real parents. Meaning that nothing got resolved, but that we learned the main character is a racist.
      • North isn't so much racist as quite ignorant. As befitting his age. I'm sure all he knows about Texas, Hawaii, Inuit, Amish, Chinese, Africa, France, etc is a bunch of stereotypes fed to him from mass media. Thus it's not unexpected that the best he can come up with is a bunch of cliches. Indeed, the whole "it was all a dream" thing works *best* in this story. Because otherwise, the author himself would be saying that this is what he thinks the world is like. And that would be nuts ;) Here, All Just a Dream is basically an Author's Saving Throw. A failed saving throw, since the movie remained 18 shades of ass. But at least he rolled the dice.
        • So the kid has a racist dream because of the media... Could there perhaps be a hidden message?
  • What about the scenes where the dreamer is not present? Are we to assume that the dreamer saw them as some kind of disembodied observer?
  • I had a dream that her house was flooding and that 'she' (I was not present in the dream) floated to 'my' room that looked normal, but the Pikachu doll was light green, and then I woke up and the green doll was now yellow. But yes, I was disembodied and was not bodily present in the dream. It was creepy in more ways than one.
    • Well, this troper does occasionally have dreams like that, switching between being an active participant and a disembodied observer... then again, this troper's dreams make no friggin' sense anyway.
    • Reminds me of that episode of Stargate SG-1 that's All Just a Dream of Daniel's - there's a scene which it seems like he shouldn't know about, but then it turns out that the dream Daniel is watching that scene on a spy camera.
    • It is perfectly possible to have a dream without yourself in it. The worse thing is that sometimes the dreamer seems to ignore what happened when he was not present. Now that's a nice piece of Fridge Logic!
      • That, too, can happen in dreams. Every had a nightmare where you just know that opening the door, answering the phone, or whatever will get you creamed, yet somehow can't help but do so?
    • You're telling me all your dreams are in first person view, and you always play as yourself, and only as yourself? I have third person dreams all the time, and I often don't have the same point of view as myself.
      • I'm not the troper you're responding to, but all my dreams are in first person. It's weird to me that people dream in third person, but some people say it happens, so I have to acknowledge that.
        • Believe me, third person dreams happen, and it's jarring when you wake up and remember them. "How exactly was I watching myself do that?"
  • Why can thay feel Pain, If it all just a Dream?
    • Believe it or not, you CAN and do feel pain in dreams. The old "pinch me" trick actually doesn't work. One of the ways you can tell you are dreaming is that you can still breathe if you close your nose (or as it happend to me, under water) or look at a clock (preferably digital, though analogue works) or book and seeing if the time or words change dramatically between views, trying to put a finger through your hand, and so on.
      • Wow, I didn't know, Your Mind DOES Make It Real.
      • I don't feel pain in dreams. Or anything at all, really, my dreams are almost completely visual.
      • I'm not sure about that breathing thing. I almost drowned in a dream once and it really felt like I couldn't breathe...or I'm just crazy.
        • You could've been laying on your stomach, with your face buried in your pillow. Apparently, that has that effect.
        • I don't know, one time I couldn't breathe in a dream and when I woke up I was having trouble breathing at first, I was face up and nothing was covering my face
      • I have had dreams about drowning in which it felt completely real, and another dream in which I was stabbed in the heart. I didn't exactly feel pain but I could feel everything else, the knife going in, the internal bleeding, etc.. Leads me to believe I may have suffered such fates in past lives.
      • Well you can smell, taste, view, hear, and feel in dreams sometimes...and feeling means pain also.
      • Remember, pain is just an electrical impulse in your brain, and doesn't necessarily have to come from external stimulus (think of amputees who can "feel" pain in their missing limb).
  • Going off the first response to the above IJBM, why do people drown and suffocate, and digital clocks work, and words not change, and fingers remain solid, and so on, if these are indeed dreams? I suppose these "symptoms" may not be universal, but if you go back and view what you're seeing as a dream, it just stretches credibility.
    • Because they're not universal, people just. Don't. Listen.. Go to a Lucid Dream forum, say that none of those (breathing through a pinched nose, looking at a clock and it changes, reading and the words change, light switches not working, etc.) work, and I can practically guarantee that within the first three posts at least one person will suggest that you try one of those because you must not be trying, or just didn't notice when it happened, or even without reason.
    • Short version: If you read a lot, the words might not change in dreams. If you like to pay particularly close attention to digital clocks, they might actually be accurate in dreams. It all depends on the current assumptions and learned behaviors of your mind.
      • Long version: It all depends on the particular things that are already imprinted in your own mind. For example, right now, picture yourself standing on the side of a pool, and drop a bowling ball in. Once it reaches the bottom, try using telekinesis to lift the bowling ball back up. Even though it's all imaginary, it still feels heavy, right? That's because your mind has a kind of physics engine it uses to judge real-world behaviors of objects, and this is the exact same physics engine your dreams use. When you're awake, you can defy the physics engine consciously, but since your consciousness is turned off during a dream, you risk waking up immediately if you try to do it, so you are stuck with whatever rules your mind is currently using. The same goes for memory: if there's a house on your neighborhood you haven't payed close attention to lately, that house might be missing or inaccurate in your dream. Whatever comes naturally to your imagination in normal daydreams will come naturally in dreams. Whatever you have to force will be inaccurate. Hence, these "indicators" will vary from person to person.
  • I'm probably in the minority of not being bugged by this trope. I guess it's because I believe that dreams don't always have to be just dreams - but, sometimes, gateways to other realities. Realities that you cannot travel to, physically. Like, for instance, in the film version of The Wizard of Oz - perhaps Dorothy has astrally travelled to a place called Oz, a place that she can't physically enter. Ditto for Alice in Wonderland.
    • I take it on a case by case basis, because there are good uses for this trope. One Batman the Animated Series episode had this combined with Lotus Eater Machine, which the Mad Hater was using on Batman. Bruce realizes it's just a dream and fights his way out. Same for the Justice League episode/comic with the Black Mercy flower.
    • Gargoyles also put it to good use in the episode 'Future Tense'. Tropes Are Not Bad when they're used correctly, it's just that some tropes are harder than others to use correctly.
    • Indeed. Rule of Funny, for instance, can definitely excuse this trope if they make a good enough gag out of it. Who can forget the series finale of Newhart? Or the hilarious parody of that scene Jimmy Kimmel and the Lost cast and crew did?
    • I just hope you don't believe this is the case in the real world...

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth does that mean it's not real?

    • Or, hey, Eternal Sonata. There are a few clues that, while it may be a dream as far as Chopin is concerned, it's actually another reality. (For example, certain proper names are impossible for him to have come up with if we're to believe they're all musical terms.)
  • What bugs the hell out of me about it was all just a dream stories is that it sort of eliminates the validity of all the character development that happens within the story. Sure you can argue that the dreams of this sort are all about the dreamer learning from the dream and applying it to real life once they wake up, but it bothers me that he or she has to go through all the things they did in the dream all over again and the way they apply the lesson in real life isn't always of the same quality as it was applied in the dream.
    • This is what bugs me about it, too.
  • I don't like going to the troper tales page for this trope cause they all start their entry with 'I has' and then switch from third to first person narrative, it freaks me out.
    • Well, I fixed all the instances of "I has", whether or not it was serious or just some joke…
    • It's the result of some jerkoff using Control-F to Find-And-Replace every instance of "This Troper" with "I". Just fix it where you see it, and hope whoever is responsible eventually stops.
  • The Tommy Westphall hypothesis bugs me, because the assumptions it makes about shared universes are unsupportable. Just because a character appears in two different works does not necessarily mean those works occupy the same fictional universe. Detective John Munch showing up in one episode of a show does not put it in the same universe as other such shows any more than Superman does - are the Tommy Westphall people going to try to claim that Lois and Clark and Smallville occupy the same fictional universe?
    • No, because those shows have different characters on them. But if the Dean Cain version of Clark Kent showed up on a few episodes of Veronica Mars or something, that would be different. You're criticizing the Westphall hypothesis for violating rules you made up that don't apply to it anyway.
    • The above argument still can be used to criticize one the basic concepts behind the Westphall hypothesis. It can be argued, for instance, that the John Munch who appears in The X-Files is an alternate universe version of the John Munch who appears in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. This would make sense considering the lack of anything explicitly speculative fiction-related in the L&O universe.
    • For the record, the T.W.H. was invented to make this exact point, not to be taken seriously.
  • It bugs me because my dreams are usually as crazy batshit as Lewis Carroll on acid. I don't think I've ever in my life had a dream as coherent, rational, and linear as most movie-dreams.
    • Coherent and rational dreams do happen, though, even to people who ordinarily have wacky, random dreams. My dreams are typically weird and disjointed, but I once had a dream that felt exactly like reality: I actually assumed it was a real memory for years afterwards, until I tried to reminisce with family members who had been in the dream and they all looked at me like I was crazy and insisted it never happened.
  • This atrocious cop-out bugs me because it breaks the fundamental deal a writer of fiction makes with their audience. At some level a fictional work charges the audience to supply suspension of disbelief. In return the author agrees to supply a fictional world, treated as real during the work. All Just a Dream takes that investment and trashes it before the audience's eyes. It is the ultimate tacky Retcon: we never engaged you in a story in the first place, suckers.
    • This depends on how much is a dream. If it's the entire work, Alice in Wonderland-style, then yes it can be very jarring and stupid. A single scene, much more palatable.
    • Wait, did you just say the premise of Alice in Wonderland is jarring and stupid? Please tell me you mean when they try to evoke that style and fail, not that actual work which did it right.
    • Isn't there a world of difference between revealing at the 11th hour that a narrative had taken place in a dream all along and being pretty open about it the whole time, like Lewis Carroll?
    • The reason I didn't mind the epilogue to Harry Potter so much was I heard a rumor that Rowling was going to use an All Just a Dream ending and I went "NO! Just...no! Anything but that! ANYTHING!" Well, I did say anything....
  • For your consideration: Prisoner 13, a film from 1933 made in Mexico about a drunken general who is promoted far beyond his confidence and ends up sentencing a series of young revolutionaries to the firing square. One of them, he learns, is his long lost son. As he races to try to stop the firing squad in time... it turns out that the entire movie (and apparently the entire Revolutionary!) took place in his drunken dream. So a serious examination of a the country's recent history is thrown away in favour of a simplistic and moralistic take against alcohol. Seems odd to you? That is because the frame narrative was imposed by censors. Originally, the general was supposed to fail in his attempts and witness his son's execution. But... and it's a big but... any audience member would surely catch on to that fact (censorship traditionally draws emphasis to the thing it's censoring) and the dream world premise ends up offering a space in which things can be talked about that couldn't be in other sorts of narratives. Isn't this the best use of All Just a Dream (if only under duress)... the freedom to speak about important matters in a place that superficially is weightless and consequence free?