To vote in this lineup, scroll to the poll at the bottom of the page, then head back to the bracket to see all of round one of The Best Pop Culture Dream Sequence, The A.V. Club’s no-holds-barred competition to see which dream sequence from TV or film deserves the title, “Greatest Of All Time.”
Batman: The Animated Series, “Perchance To Dream” (1992)
Unlike previous TV incarnations of the Dark Knight, Batman: The Animated Series didn’t shy away from Bruce Wayne’s entree into crimefighting: His parents are dead. Bruce’s grief contributed to the sophisticated tone of this series, so it’s all the more poignant when he wakes up one morning to discover that a) he can’t find the entrance to the Batcave, b) he’s engaged to Selina Kyle, and c) Thomas and Martha Wayne are still alive. Most shockingly of all: There’s a stranger protecting the streets of Gotham in Batman’s cape and cowl. Nothing is as it should be, but the World’s Greatest Detective doesn’t start piecing together a solution until he opens up a newspaper and finds nothing but gibberish on its pages. He’s in a dream, you see, and he knows this because reading is a function of the right side of the brain, while dreaming is a function of the left. (A conclusion that has no scientific backing, but hey: It’s superheroes!) The affect of “Perchance To Dream” is positively Hitchcockian, particularly during Bruce’s showdown with the Bat-impostor, which takes place in a bell tower that’s straight out of Vertigo. In the end, the rogue who’s committing this gaslighting-by-subconscious forgets to account for one thing: If Bruce could live any life he wanted, he’d live the one with meaning. Unfortunately, Batman gives his life meaning, which means he chooses to live in a world without Thomas and Martha Wayne.
The Sopranos, “Funhouse” (2000)
Throughout the run of The Sopranos, mob boss Tony (James Gandolfini) repeatedly edges toward psychological breakthrough, only to retreat and tamp it down beneath a blustering veneer of anger and resentment. Tony’s repression was such that, as the show would revisit again and again, the only place he could be truly honest with himself was in his dreams, where his deepest fears and desires were at last allowed to burble to the surface. The most effective of these many visions came in the second season’s “Funhouse,” where a food-poisoned Tony slowly awakens to the realization that his friend Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore) has turned FBI informant. Over a series of surreal vignettes on a desolate Asbury Park boardwalk, Tony processes those nagging suspicions as a terminal disease, as a comic Godfather reference, and finally, as a talking fish with Pussy’s voice, who flatly tells Tony what he already knows yet refuses to accept. Throughout these fevered hallucinations, the distant squeaking of a boat foreshadows the climactic moment Tony knows is coming—and that, as his dreams tell him, he can’t keep putting off. It’s strange and silly, yet laden with poignant symbolism, and the exemplar of the dream sequence’s unique power of revelation.