Brief Encounters in Real Dreams?
Derailment and Poetic Vision

Edvin Vestergaard Kau

I saw you this morning.
You were moving so fast.
Can't seem to loosen my grip
On the past.
And I miss you so much.
There's no one in sight.
And we're still making love
In My Secret Life

Leonard Cohen

Dreaming About What?
Derailment is structured as a very simple story in three parts. 1. A Woman and a Man meet accidentally in the Metro; 2. they fall asleep and have a (mutual?) dream, and 3. they wake up, getting off at the same station, perhaps never to see each other again. Or maybe they actually meet this way every day; or they join each other on their way from the station, this episode marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Who knows, and who is able to find out?

In the middle section we see the two characters in the dream or the fantasy. The Woman is lying on a bed, perhaps dreaming about an accidental encounter with a Man in the Paris Metro. The man is also lying on a bed, perhaps dreaming about an accidental encounter with a Woman in the Metro. Or is it only she who is dreaming about him, since she is shown waking up during the first frames of the last shot of the sequence? At any rate, it is possible to conceive it as their dream or daydream about an encounter in the train.

However, it might be the other way around. If so, we are talking about a more straightforward experience of the story of Derailment: we follow the Woman as the main character entering the train, see the passengers and the Man from her point of view, and experience their meeting. He is already asleep, and after taking the seat opposite him, not only accidentally touching his knees but placing her knees between his thighs, she also doses off. After that it seems that both of them are dreaming of another meeting, and of making love in the bed of the middle section of the film. In this mysterious way perhaps they even meet in a common world of mutual dreaming.

A special kind of bond between the two is hinted at simply through the editing of the point-of-view shots from her position, combined with the shots of his face and. the use of long, extreme close-ups of her gaze. In addition to this is the last shot of her face in this scene, when she shifts the direction of her eyeline from his face to the mirror image of it in the window. Thus, the last thing she sees before also dosing off is this transparent version of his face - an appropriate way to visualise a passage into the dream about him and herself.

Real Dreams and Accidental Encounters?
This is thus a realistic interpretation of the meeting in the Metro, complete with a daydream or train dream in the middle, although still with an element of the fantastic, namely the possibility of a meeting in their dreams, of entering the same dream world. This is a conception that almost has its own genre across several media and art forms: the intriguing and tragic meeting that is never to be. Countless artists have written poems and other descriptions of these glimpses of (im)possible love and fascinations.

Derailment is a purified example of this tradition. One might quote the poem "Rejseminder" ("Travel Memories") by the Danish poet Sophus Claussen, published in 1899 (My own English translation follows below): "Og det var på Skanderborg Station,/der blev mine Tanker forfløjne./Jeg saa en nydelig Person/ med nøddebrune Øjne. (…) Jeg husker de brune Øjne, hvor trist/hun blev da hun saa' os drage. (…) og da jeg sov ind paa Himmelbjerget,/de brune Øjne mig brændte.//De brændte saa sødt, de brændte saa hedt./Jeg drømte, jeg tog hende med mig. (...) Men det er paa Skanderborg Station,/der staar de alle tilbage". [And it was at Skanderborg Station,/my thoughts began to wander./I saw a pretty person/with nut-brown eyes. (…) I recall the brown eyes, how sad/she became when she saw us depart. (…) and when I fell asleep on the Hill of Heaven,/The brown eyes burned me.//They burned so sweet, they burned so hot./I dreamed I took her with me. (…) But it was at Skanderborg Station,/there they are all left behind.]

With its own ironic tone and quiet humour, Derailment joins this tradition of lost, or hardly born, love or infatuation, a tradition of romantic and tragic tales that stretches from romantic poetry to traditional blues and popular songs about lost love or memories of infatuations with people that one may only have encountered very briefly on travels, in accidental conversations, or on trains… The dream - about the tempting, accidental encounter - resembles the poetic vision of sensual attraction in the Claussen poem; that is, the lovely beloved, of whom he only is able to catch a glimpse before the train leaves the station, and who in this paradoxical manner becomes precisely the image he can (only) dream about for eternity.

The poetic vision of Derailment may also be compared with some lines from a song (written by W. Jennings/J. Kerr) on the Roy Orbison album "Mystery Girl". In an almost weightless universe and with a lifetime of experience, he sings about dreams as well as real goodbyes. The song is called "In the Real World" and confronts the pain caused by the contrast between, on the one hand, what people may envision in their dreams of the good life and love and, on the other, facts which are impossible to change in the real world. "In dreams we do so many things/We set aside the rules we know (…) If only we could always live in dreams/If only we could make of life/What in dreams it seems (…) But in the real world/We must say real goodbyes (…) In the real world/There are things that we can't change/And endings come to us/In ways that we can't rearrange (…) when the dreamers do awake/The dreams do disappear".

Like the film, Orbison's song gives life to a vision of the tension between the (eternal) possibilities in the dream world and the experiences of separation in real life. This is what artists write about - and make good films about: the artwork becomes, as it were, poetry created in the space between dreaming and living. On the first page of his novel The Music of Chance., Paul Auster begins describing precisely "one of those random, accidental encounters that seem to materialize out of thin air - a twig that breaks off in the wind and suddenly lands at your feet". Part of the description is a reflection on what might have caused the main character Nashe not. to meet "the kid who called himself Jackpot". As it were, they meet by chance. The Straume film, as well as the Claussen poem and Orbison lyrics, is also about chance meetings. In the Auster novel, "it all came down to a question of sequence, the order of events".

In an interview on Danish television in December 2002, Paul Auster told about an incident of the same kind. While walking to the subway in Brooklyn on his way to Manhattan, he had been thinking of a slight acquaintance, and of the fact that it had been a long time since they had seen each other. But there, in the subway station, they met and subsequently had a pleasant talk on the train, since they were going the same way. How can this be explained? Why are they in the same place at the same time? Is there some hidden chain of causes and effects leading to the moment of encounter? Or, would other events have caused them not to meet, in the vein of the opening of The Music of Chance.? The journalist and Auster agree that it can't be explained rationally. They label it part of "the poetry of life".

But as I see it, this poetry does not have to do with the chain or the chronology of events. Instead of hypothesising about what would have led to people not. meeting each other, it might rather be a matter of understanding their special kind of experience once they actually meet. This would mean that the important thing to focus on is the actual meeting and the quality of that experience, whether it is described through Auster and his friend in the New York subway, Orbison's real-life dreams, Claussen's girl beside the railroad tracks, or Straume's Man and Woman and their daydreams.

When it comes to the poetry of Derailment and its vision of dream patterns (as well as those of the other examples) it is not. a question of sequence, of the horizontal structure, but rather the vertical structure or layers of fantasies or dreams. The centre of interest is the very moment, which encompasses the-dream-as-a-whole in a flash, so to speak. In this interpretation the film represents how in a fraction of a second the two dreamers experience all of the events in the dream universe. We don't need an hour and a half of sleep to lie and view our dream, as if it were a feature film! When we wake up and remember a dream, it is just as plausible that the elements constituting it simply are. there in our mind, as if they burst out in the course of seconds just before awakening. Even though a dream may be remembered in sequence, it is instantly and "vertically" present as dream experience. This resembles the fact that, on the one hand, the elements necessarily unfold in time within the body of the film, while, on the other, the film melts them together into the experience of one poetic moment for the viewer.

In the Same Bed?
At the beginning of the article I mentioned the editing of the central bed scene. One possible description of it is that the Woman and the Man in the bed are shown as looking at each other. But how are their gazes actually staged compared to the traditional point-of-view structure with its three-shot sequence of viewer/view/viewer?

The first three shots of the scene show a) two old buildings (establishing shot), b) two open windows with floating curtains seen from the outside, and c) the curtains seen from the inside. During this the sound of the train's brakes is heard, and the general noise of trains continues into the scene. After this the woman is seen from a bird's eye view, looking directly up into the camera. She turns her head to the left side of the frame (her right) with a happy smile appearing on her face. From this a cut brings the Man into view, leaning his head down, looking to his left, and finally looking straight into the camera. Consequently, the two gazes might be directed towards each other. After a shot of an indoor plant that has fallen to the floor, the next shot of the Woman shows her in profile from her left side (that is, opposite the side where the two former shots hinted that the Man is. But he is not to be seen: either he is hidden behind her or he isn't present at all.). This time she turns her head to her left, in the end looking directly into the camera, smiling this time too.

As will be seen, this editing practice plays of course on the traditional POV sequence, but with the variations in movements and eye-line directions it is almost deconstructed as well. Are they looking at each other at all? Are they even together in the same room? 1. The Man and his gaze are shown once and only once; his gaze is seen directed towards something: the Woman, who might not be present at all. 2. The woman is shown twice, but in the last shot she is looking into the camera instead of in the direction of the Man (who, as mentioned, may not be there at all). In fact, it is never really confirmed (as a two-shot would do) that they are together in the same room. The "symbolic" old buildings, the floating curtains and the bright lighting add to the dream quality of the sequence. Another important quality of this dream-like moment is that it is articulated through the special use of the element of time.. The movements of bodies, heads and eyes; the wind lifting the curtains, and the shifting light are only made possible by Straume's way of moulding time as cinematic material. The timelessness of the dream-space is a result of this way of using time duration. Also, it is worth paying attention to the use of sound. The noise of the train connects sections one and three to the dream section in the middle; it is also possible to compose the duration of shifting light and sound precisely as a result of how time is used as a material.

Derailment is an intriguing film. The more one thinks about and works with it, and the more details one tries to analyse, the more exciting questions arise. I have tried to close in on some of them: do the Woman and the Man necessarily see each other at all? Are they just having separate Metro dreams - dreams that they, on the other hand, possibly have in common, and that they are able to smile knowingly at?

Or maybe they actually meet, after she follows him out of the Metro at the end, when we as spectators are not allowed to see any more and have to leave them and the universe of the film. Then we can reflect on and play with the questions and the possibilities, among them the idea that the train experience is the two characters' daydream, whether they have it in common or not. What their connection may be, then, is this possibility, which the film is able to articulate by bringing the two dreams together on the screen, something that is to be found only in the viewer's experience of this game's potential. As it were, this is a somewhat more imaginative and multifaceted world of artistic experience than the enjoyment of forever-lost glimpses of imagined loved ones in traditional poetry.

The title proclaims a derailment, but with its presentation of great and challenging possibilities for the viewer's playful experience, it rather seems to be on the right track. And, even more inspiring, it demonstrates the potential for poetic fantasy in cinema.

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