September 28, 2000

Cornell Cinema

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When a person asks himself, “Who am I?”, there are two probable answers. There is who I am and then, there is who I want to be. Everyone seems to reach an average between the two in life. They are who they are and they achieve the things that will potentially compose their reality, or the reality they seek.

Essentially, the college student embodies this duality of existence. We are overworked, under-appreciated students at this point in our lives, but we choose this reality at the time so that one day we may be what we dream of ourselves. In fact, this transitional stage is basically leading pseudo-lives of the lives we will lead. The reality of every lawyer, doctor, or editor-in-chief involves those stories of the good old college days, long before the BMW or Gucci shoes were in the picture.

The only thing that could be worse than braving the years of hard work and anticipation is braving it over and over again. Thus is the life of the a thespian. The career that is defined by the idea of “who I want to be.”

Acting, by its very nature, is a perpetual state of who you want to be and seldom who you are. Actors just aren’t paid to be who they are.

Unfortunately for Lena, she hasn’t reached this realm of the chronically fabulous. Who is Lena? Lena’s a Broadway actress hitting her mid-thirties with a a loud and resounding thud in the critically acclaimed film, Lena’s Dreams.

With her phone cut off and nothing but laundry money in her pocket, Lena is running around to auditions to put her amazing talent up on the auction block in the hopes that some director somewhere in New York will make a bid and make all her dreams of fame and fortune come true.

As you can imagine, a life that cycles around performing followed by judging can become disconcerting to say the least. Time to relate to the readership: It’s basically like taking a prelim everyday of your collegiate career and never learning your grade. It’s a frustrating and mildly maddening experience at best.

The film follows Lena, documentary-style, on her thirty second birthday. In actress speak, over thirty means certain death if you don’t already have a steady role in a Broadway play or a daytime soap opera. The job title “aspiring actress” is okay for a 22 year-old, but it’s not too flattering for a 32 year-old.

As if the stress of a stale career, a sickly bank account, and pocket full of broken dreams isn’t enough, Lena is trying to save a ten year romance from slipping between the cracks of disillusionment.

Through all the casting calls, lost parts, and bad reviews, Lena and Mike have always commiserated together and comforted each other. Their relationship is more intriguing at times than Lena’s own personal drama over quitting or sticking with the business.

Mike and Lena’s relationship makes the impression that their love has been the only stable thing in either of their lives. It’s a nice thought, but, unfortunately for Lena, when it rains it pours. The extreme frustration and hopelessness that Lena feels in her life starts to bleed over into her feelings for Mike, who is currently trying to defect from show business and find a “civilian job.”

In essence, Lena’s dreams are changing. She may have once dreamed to be who she is at the moment, but her dream evolves into something else, something stable and dependable. An ontological question is raised about “dreams” in this film.

“Dreams of success are just something people like you invented to hook people like me on. I don’t want them any more. I want my life back,” screams Lena at her manager. It’s a disturbing thought that perhaps grabbing life with two hands, having a hold on reality, is simply a dream.

The film is shot to mimic that fuzzy, ethereal visual composition of a dream. The black and white flash backs that Lena experiences at each climax of the film and the syrupy color and rough texture of the scenes from the present create an other-worldly feel for the picture. As the audience watches Lena’s dreams morph and dematerialize, they watch her dream. It is as if the viewer looks at the dream of reality seen through Lena’s eyes and frame.

Combined with a great story line, intelligent direction and meaningful cinematography make Lena’s Dreams a cerebral experience.

Archived article by Laura Thomas