June 16

Dreaming Under Capitalism – a documentary about existing in the modern age

Take a break from the stress and pressure associated with contemporary lifestyle and enjoy a screening of “Dreaming Under Capitalism”, a one hour meditative journey into what it means to live and work in a neoliberal capitalist system. The documentary is screening on Wednesday, June 17th, at 19:00, in A4.

The first feature in our series of articles meant to highlight overlooked films is, very fittingly, a documentary about the hectic nature of modern lifestyle, and how we end up ignoring vital aspects of life, in our quest for capital and productivity.

“Dreaming Under Capitalism”, directed by Sophie Bruneau, is built on a simple concept. Twelve individuals recount, and then interpret, dreams they had, related to work. And while it is Belgians narrating their experiences, it makes them no less relatable to a global audience. As director Bong Joon Ho stated in an interview for Birth.Movies.Death.: “Essentially, we all live in the same country, called Capitalism.”

Dreams are oftentimes the subconscious’ way of bringing to light thoughts and emotions that one might try to suppress while awake. Throughout the documentary the twelve workers attempt to make sense of the messages their minds were trying to put forward. Thus, the dreams presented become increasingly more dominated by the anxieties of life under neoliberal capitalism, as the documentary progresses. 

One woman interprets her dream of having a dead co-worker inside her parent’s house as a manifestation of her guilty conscience, from being complicit to the cover-up of workplace irregularities. Another reflects on how her work burnout took away her abilities to be empathetic with others, thus weakening the interpersonal bonds she had (a feeling which speaks to Marx’s theory of alienation of labour).

This documentary explores, in a personal and political way, a wide area of contemporary struggles: from dealing with a difficult boss, to workplace surveillance, depersonalisation and even the loss of freedom. It comments on how the constant urgency of work can leave one unable to unwind even in their private life. “I do one thing thinking about the next. I just can’t relax.”, mentions one of the interviewees. 

Sometimes, the interviewed dreamers reveal their face while telling their stories, other times, their voices are overlaid eerily on top of shots depicting daily urban existence: a train passing by monotonously, a lone worker cleaning an empty, sterile office building, an almost vacant parking lot, construction sites, or even the covert melancholy of a chatter-filled cafeteria.

The imagery evoked by these dreams is vivid, and easy to relate to. One worker remembers a dream where his colleagues had turned into zombies (reminiscent of “The Dead Don’t Die”, the Jim Jarmusch film where zombies are a thinly veiled, yet effective, metaphor for mindless consumerism). Another, a cashier, is haunted by the “beep-beep-beep” sound of the till scanner, even in her free time, not unlike Charlie Chaplin tightening “ghost-screws” even after his shift is over, in “Modern Times”. 

The struggle of maintaining a sense of self worth when you are unemployed is also an important theme brought up in the film. We are trained to place so much of our self-esteem on how “productive” we are, as members of society, in a capitalist sense, that we might be left wondering “What use am I? What am I still good for?”, while not employed.

The title perfectly encapsulates the experience of watching this film. The word “under” points at many of the subjects examined throughout the documentary: the claustrophobia, the feeling of stress, pressure and suffocation recurrently associated with work in the modern world. It also evokes the proverbial “American dream”, the naive assumption that anyone can make it under capitalism, if only they work hard enough. (“Forget about how the system is rigged against you! Yes, the rich avoid taxes and have unlimited resources but you can make it too, c’mon!”) 

“Dreaming Under Capitalism” was part of the festival circuit in 2018, with screenings at the Cinéma du Réel festival in Paris, as well as at the Munich International Documentary Festival. It is director Sophie Bruneau’s latest addition to a prolific filmography, which started in 1993.

So, if you feel like taking a break from the constant grind of capitalism, reflect, and perhaps even feel comforted by hearing some of your own anxieties be echoed by others, make sure to check out, “Dreaming Under Capitalism (Rêver sous le capitalisme)”, screening on Wednesday, June 17th, at 19:00, in A4. Tickets are available here.