"I'm sorry I made you wear a cheerleader's outfit and glue miniature horses to the couch!"
It can often be useful — or at least funny
— to contrast the coherence of metaphorical or plot-driven dreams with "real" dreams that are far more bizarre.
When people actually dream, it doesn't make sense
. Things happen in random orders, for no good reason. Nevertheless, "dream" is an incredibly potent metaphor. We use "dream" to mean "aspiration", and "nightmare" to mean "fear". Fictional characters are also likely to have meaningful dreams of some variety — either because they may have a supernatural ability that gives them these dreams, or just because, due to the Law of Conservation of Detail
, only their meaningful dreams are reported in the story.
All this means that most of the time, when fictional dreams are described, they're considerably more coherent than real dreams ever are, a situation that's absolutely ripe for Lampshading
. Sometimes, the use of "normal" dreams is a stylistic choice along the lines of Painting the Medium
, meant to convey the way dreams feel
normal when you're having them.
Often involves Word Salad Humor
. Other characters may dismiss a particularly trippy dream as an Acid Reflux Nightmare
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- An ad for Progressive auto insurance has Flo counting her discounts in her sleep, which turns into a crazy dream about a squirrel stealing nuts from a chipmunk family reunion and getting sent to "squirrel prison".
Anime & Manga
- Azumanga Daioh has this in some of the girls' New Year's Eve dreams, which manage to be both plot-relevant (what plot there is, anyway) and weird as all get-out.
- One enemy in BoBoBo-Bo BoBoBo had the power to bring people's nightmares to life. Jelly Jiggler nightmare involved being tortured by tofu-people, and Bo Bo Bo's nightmare involved kangaroos with his face playing basketball.
- My Dear Marie had one OVA episode devoted to Hiroshi inventing a device to allow Marie to dream. It's every bit as random as a real dream.
- Queen Of All Oni: Jade's Dream Sequence in the third Interlude chapter is a Big Lipped Alligator Moment precisely because it's such a weird dream. It starts out with Jade attacking Shendu's palace to challenge him for the position of Arch-Enemy, only to realize she's not wearing pants. She and Shendu (who's now a short-order cook) then get into an argument over whether that violates the palace (now a diner)'s "No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service" policy. They drag Daolon Wong (a waiter) and Valmont (a busboy) into the argument, but still can't reach a decision (Valmont merely states he hates them all; Shendu declares it not an answer and sets him on fire), so they call in the manager, who turns out to be Tarakudo... the real Tarakudo, who's making a futile effort to communicate with Jade in her sleep, and is just plain confused. Then, after Jade starts eating soup, a bell rings, and Jade runs off, saying she needs to bring Jackie's homework to Captain Black, with Shendu chasing after her for not paying, pounding Tarakudo into the ground. After that, the dream apparently ends, and everything vanishes into a white void... except Valmont, who's still on fire. Needless to say, this whole thing is one of the funniest parts of the story.
- In Turnabout Storm, Pinkie Pie comments on a dream she had where she commanded an army of sweets in a war between sweets and nutrition; lots of chocolate chips lost their lives, but they triumphed in the end. This comes out as quite weird even by Pinkie's standards.
Film — Live Action
- This was one of the main knocks critics had against Inception—that the dreams as presented in the movie did not resemble actual dreams at all. Of course, the dreams in the movie were artificial constructs.
- From Loaded Weapon 1:
: I'm Your Worst Nightmare
. Jack Colt
: No, waking up without my penis is my worst nightmare. Mr. Jigsaw
: Okay, alright, so I'm not actually your worst nightmare. But I am right up there.
- Peewees Big Adventure - Waitress Simone confides her wishes to break free:
Simone: Do you have a dream?
- The Golden Child. The Big Bad communicates with Eddie Murphy's character in a dream, lampshaded by him because of all the weird stuff happening such as a unicorn trotting around inside the house and the heroine being tied up with toilet paper.
- Bananas: Fielding Melish (Woody Allen's Character) tells his psychiatrist this dream he has of being crucified and carried down a New York street. And then running into another New Yorker on a crucifix as the monks carrying them fight over a parking spot. (Link)
- From Real Genius:
Mitch: You know, um, something strange happened to me this morning...
Chris Knight: Was it a dream where you see yourself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at you?
Chris Knight: Why am I the only one who has that dream?
- In Canadian Bacon, when John Candy's character is threatening a mountie played by Stephen Wright (long story), one of Candy's friends says "We're your worst nightmare." The mountie then proceeds to ramble about a dream where he was lost in the Yukon being chased by wolves, and there were these tall skinny rabbits...
- For the most part, this is something David Lynch gets right in his movies - they're frightening like a nightmare but don't make a lot of sense when you think about them. Often, a mundane object will be made threatening through camerawork, music, or buzzing ambient noise. For instance:
- Eraserhead has giant, mutated sperm-looking things, a screaming animal fetus, a woman with enormous cheekbones who lives in the protagonist's radiator...
- ...and artificial chickens that kick their legs and poop black oil when you try to eat them.
- Lost Highway can be accurately described as a filmed bad dream (mixed with a sex dream at certain points). It almost makes sense, but just as you think it's about to evolve and develop into something at least resembling a coherent plot, suddenly it just gets stranger.
- Quite a few people think that it's the confused dream of a musician who murdered his wife and what we're watching is his subconscious trying to make sense of it, portraying him as mostly innocent, his wife as a lying tramp and the man she cheated with a dangerous gangster. The Mystery Man may very well be his super-ego trying to show him what really happened.
- The Twin Peaks movie involves some sort of demonic creamed corn. Additionally, the ceiling fan in the Palmer house is the scariest ceiling fan of all time, for no clear reason.
- Mulholland Drive has a small blue box that - from the way it's filmed - must be pure evil, but we never know why. As far as most viewers can tell, it's just a box.
- In Inland Empire, Laura Dern's character's nightmare involves people in rabbit masks and prostitutes dancing to "The Locomotion".
- The rabbit-masks got their own spin-off in the short film series Rabbits, which features non-sequitur dialogue (Some of which is clearly responses to lines said significantly earlier or later in the series), a confusing laugh track, distant whalesong, and what looks like the Eye of Sauron out their window. The whole thing is made bizarrely terrifying by the gloomy soundtrack.
- This is a common joke in Discworld novels:
- In Hogfather, Teatime announces, "I'm Your Worst Nightmare!" When he's taken too literally, he then has to clarify that he doesn't mean "The One With... the giant cabbage and the sort of whirring knife thing" or a bunch of equally improbable things, but rather "the one where this man comes out of nowhere and kills you stone dead."
- "Hey, that one isn't all that scary compared to the oth-"
- In Small Gods, Urn says that harnessing the lightning is the dream of mankind, and Didactylos replies "Is it? I always dream of a giant carrot chasing me through a field of lobsters."
- In Eric, the description of the demon guarding the gates of Hell says "it would be a lazy use of language to say that the thing that answered the door was a nightmare. Nightmares are usually rather daft things and it's very hard to explain to a listener what was so dreadful about your socks coming alive or giant carrots jumping out of hedgerows. This thing was the kind of terrifying thing that could only be created by someone sitting down and thinking horrible thoughts very clearly."
- The Wee Free Men has a bit where Rob Anybody describes "normal things gone wrong" as one of the nightmarish threats in Elfland, and Tiffany recalls having surreal nightmares about being threatened by a sugar bowl, or a pair of her late grandmother's boots.
- Played subtly for horror in Witches Abroad:
Genua was a place where all dreams came true. Remember some of yours?
- In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the "island where dreams come true" is a horrifying place where nothing makes any sense.
- Referenced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Their Divination teacher expects them to have significant dreams, so they lie about having these instead of the silly ones. Harry also has a number of rather bizarre and nonsensical dreams throughout the series as well as his more meaningful ones. It borders on a Running Gag at times.
- It mainly showed up in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Throughout the book, Harry would often have dreams that were related to recent events, such as Mrs. Weasley weeping over Kreacher's dead body (Kreacher had been introduced and we learn that what scares Mrs. Weasley the most is the death of her loved ones) or Harry hanging Dobby shaped Christmas baubles, yet they would always turn into Harry going down a mysterious hallway with a door at the end. You learn that Voldemort is trying to make Harry curious about what is behind the door. It partially works. Harry DOES become curious about what is behind the door, but he doesn't understand what any of it means, which Voldemort didn't expect.
- In Aunt Dimity Goes West, Lori goes from the recurring nightmare of being shot and menaced by Abaddon (back home in Finch) to dreaming of blue-eyed cocker spaniels, who remind her of the Colorado cabin's young caretaker Toby.
- In The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Richard Cook has several dreams he claims to be prophetic visions, but rather ruins the effect by concluding his description of one with "and then after a short further dream about getting into a bath full of Smarties wearing a Batman costume, I woke up".
- G. K. Chesterton remarked in one of his essays that this is the reason many literary dream sequences just don't ring true. Real dreams aren't allegorical or artistic; they're weird. 
When the hero tells us that “last night he dreamed a dream,” we are quite certain from the perfect and decorative character of the dream that he made it up at breakfast. The dream is so reasonable that it is quite impossible. [...] When the aged priest in a story narrates his dream, in which the imagery is dignified and the message plain, we are free to yield finally to a conviction that must have long been growing on us, and conclude that he is a somewhat distinguished liar.
- In Chris van Allsburg's The Sweetest Fig, the protagonist gets a pair of magic figs that the giver says will make all his dreams come true. Unfortunately, that apparently includes dreams about him walking his dog in his underpants and the Eiffel Tower sagging over like a deflated balloon.
- Flaubert's The Temptation Of Saint Anthony: although hallucinations, not dreams. Flaubert attempt to capture the strangeness of Christian guilt by emobodying it in various biblical characters.
- Tanya Huff's Blood Debt features a number of increasingly intense dreams; including one where Vicki's apartment is being invaded by random people, first a few and finally the entire audience of a hockey game.
- In Ender's Shadow, Bean has a dream where thousands of people are fighting, only for a giant shoe to stomp them all. Wearing the shoe is a laughing Bugger/Formic. The dream clearly seems to deliver An Aesop about "despite all the squabbles on Earth, we must remember that we face a greater enemy or we'll all die." However, Bean dismisses this, thinking dreams don't have morals, they're just random firings of our brain that we assume is a narrative. The only thing it can tell me is what I feel. He then decides the REAL moral of the dream is "Don't be one of the scurrying ants. Be the shoe."
Live Action TV
- In season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy has a dream about opening an office-supply warehouse in Las Vegas, mixed in with her more prophetic dreams about Drusilla and Angel.
- Additionally and in reference to this, in the episode where the First Slayer was coming into everyone's dreams to kill them, there was also an appearance in everybody's dreams by a guy offering slices of cheese and Meaningless Meaningful Words-ridden advice.
- Apparently Spike once dreamed he was drowning in footwear, or so he said upon waking up.
- Angel. In "Soul Purpose" Angel has a number of Anxiety Dreams reflecting his current fears, but is rather puzzled by the presence in one dream of a man in a bear suit.
- The Comic Strip Presents: Didn't You Kill My Brother?
I had a dream, my friends, oh yes, I had a dream — then suddenly my dream changed, and I was standing in a swimming-pool full of small brown puppies — and each of the puppies had the face of a 19th-century politician — and then one of the puppies, that had the face of Lord Palmerston, suddenly started screaming at me, "Where's the spoons, where's the spoons, where's the bloody spoons?"
- LOST generally did a good job of keeping the dreams realistically weird - while no less plot-relevant. Usually things start pretty normal, but then the dreamers suddenly find themselves in unexpected locations, other people pop in and out spontaneously and then the really freaky stuff begins: butcher choping off doll heads, baby crib full of blood, people covered in blood and repeating Creepy Monotone Madness Mantra - examples can go on.
- In a a rare verbal and non-visual example Charlie is describing about a dream he's had:
Charlie: I have this dream... I'm driving a bus and my teeth start falling out. My mom's in the back eating biscuits. Everything smells of bacon. It's weird.
- In Blackadder 2 Walter Raleigh says he's brought Queen Elizabeth lands beyond her wildest dreams...her response is to ask if he's sure because she's had some pretty wild dreams, like the one where she was a sausage roll, or the one where there was this enormous tree and she was sitting right on top of it.
- Obviously, given that the main character is a psychiatrist and a lot of episodes focus on psychological issues, dream sequences in Frasier usually are symbolic and meaningful. However, some dreams are totally nonsensical, like Daphne dreaming about Queen Elizabeth drinking cocktails with Martin on the latter's balcony. Also, in one episode Frasier has a recurring dream about being in bed with Gil, which he thinks means something and which he tries to analyze, but upon pondering the details, winds up realizing that the dream actually makes no sense and has nothing to do with anything in his life.
- In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Doppelganger", the problem of the week is an alien entity making everyone have nightmares in which Sheppard is trying to kill them. The team meets for lunch, everyone compares their Sheppard-dreams... and then McKay, who hasn't been affected yet, talks about his nightmare about Carter inviting him to dinner, serving him lemon chicken (given his strong citrus allergy) and telling him she's promoting Zelenka over him, after which he gets eaten by a whale.
- Seinfeld: I had a dream that a hamburger was eating me.
- As mentioned under Film, Twin Peaks' dream sequences juxtaposed the horrifying with the utterly mundane to create an uncanny atmosphere. The first such dream sequence involves a waiting room, a little person, coffee freezing instantly, out of nowhere comments about chewing gum coming back in style, and an apparently-demonic figure named Bob (or BOB), an old man wearing a lot of denim.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Phantasms", Data's new dreaming program gives him his first nightmares, including workmen breaking apart the ship, himself being unable to speak without making a high-pitched squealing noise, mouths appearing on strange parts of peoples' bodies, an old-fashioned telephone inside his own chest cavity and Troi turning into a "cellular peptide cake with mint frosting" which he cuts up, causing her to scream. The crew eventually hook Data up to the holodeck to experience these dreams in person. It turns out that his dream program is trying to warn him that interphasic organisms (the workmen) have infected both the ship and the crew and are feeding on their cellular peptides and he can destroy them by emmiting an interphasic pulse (the squeal he makes). A highly surreal and disturbing episode.
- Although the ones related in The Bible always turn out to have some sort of meaning, they're pretty much always weird. Like the one where emaciated cows come out of a river and eat fat cows, and show no sign of having eaten. Or the one where withered heads of grain do the same thing to good heads of grain.
- One of Max's election speeches in Sam & Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die! plays on this.
I have a dream, America! It starts out where I'm in an all-nude production of Death of a Salesman
on ice, but I haven't studied and I can't remember my lines. Suddenly, it begins to rain marshmallows, but that's okay, because trees are made of graham crackers, and chocolate bars are the official currency. I believe that by working together, we can make that dream a reality!
- The 2011 version of You Don't Know Jack featured a question category where the host would describe a bizarre dream he had (usually involving his mother and his cats Poopsie and Mayonnaise) which vaguely resembled the plot of a movie the player is meant to identify.
- Anders of Dragon Age II tells the player at one point that he dreamed of Grand Cleric Elthina naked except for her miter..."and then there was this giant glowing cheese wheel." Considering that she's an elderly priest whom he hates, this is probably not an Erotic Dream. Probably. May also be a reference to the Cheese Man from the dream-sequence episode of Buffy, mentioned above.
- The third story in Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star takes place in a dream the heroine is sharing with Nageki. They take a train across the stars, hop off to explore one called the Holiday Star, meet an oddly animated forwards King who's very timid and has RPG quests and sometimes just appears... They find their other friends in various odd roles in the dream, like Okosan as the Divine Messenger of Pudding (of course) and Shuu as a chef who wishes to cut up and cook people. Then it turns out that this is a shared dream that does not have origins with any of the dreamers - it's an element of the afterlife, and the King will not let them leave now that they have visited.
- In Kingdom Of Loathing, you can get weird messages when resting about the kinds of dreams you have. Some are stock dreams ("You dream that you're standing in front of the Council of Loathing dressed only in your underwear.") and some are pop culture references (you might encounter Freddy Kreuger, and possibly Jason Voorhees). But the messages you get if you have an Unconscious Collective familiar in your terrarium definitely qualify for this trope.
- Combined with Not Wearing Pants Dream in this Giselle strip about a wishing well.
- This Hark! A Vagrant strip about the Ides of March:
Calpurnia: Caesar, you mustn't go today! I had a dream that you died.
Caesar: Why, that's amazing, Calpurnia. I had a dream! I was wearing a robe made entirely out of hot dogs.
- Cyanide and Happiness used the same idea as The Onion example below:
Martin Luther King: I had a dream.
MLK: I was freaking flying!
- In this Skin Horse strip, Unity responds to the Abbess's description of her prophetic dream with an inverted Marshmallow Dream ("I dreamed I ate all the pillows in the house, and when I woke up the marshmallows were gone!")
- Most of the dreams in Slightly Damned are very relevant to the plot, detailing characters' emotional struggles or serving as flashbacks. And then, Rhea dreams up this.
- It Makes Sense in Context (aside from the flying fish). Snowy the bunny is in bed on top of them, when the shock from her nightmare turns her human, so she suddenly feels heavy.
- In Our Little Adventure, when Jordie was Talking in Your Dreams, Emily is jealous: she dreamed of being naked in an aquarium with people staring.
- From The Onion:
- Our Dumb Century has the headline: "MLK: 'I had a really weird dream last night.'" The article has King describing a really weird dream he had the other night, concluding that he has no idea what on Earth it meant.
- Their horoscope section once had the prediction "You will soon meet the woman of your dreams, the one where every tooth in her mouth has its own screaming face."
- In the Adventures in Care-a-Lot TV series, all the Care Bears share a dreamspace where they tend to have rather mundane dreams (where they do the same things they tend to do in their waking lives), so it was rather refreshing to see the bears having more dream-like dreams in the Share Bear Shines movie.
"We just met a lamppost, and it's our best friend!"
- Flapjack makes note of this:
Skymaid: "Keep wishing, and all your dreams will come true!"
Flapjack: "Even the scary ones?"
- In the Phineas And Ferb special "Summer Belongs to You," Candace calls her Love Interest Jeremy while he's in Paris (where it's the middle of the night):
Jeremy: Actually, it's funny you called, 'cause you were in my dream just now.
Candace: (smitten) Really?
Jeremy: Yeah, it was weird, you and I were in this Dixieland band, and there was an iguana playing the oboe...
- An episode of My Life as a Teenage Robot featured this when Jenny convinced her mother to install a "dream chip" in her. Her first dream is a surreal affair involving dancing on air with her crush in a distorted ballroom full of strange creatures. Then Jenny tries "daydreaming" — which she takes to mean "forcing the dream chip to activate while she's still awake" — and begins to see the world as a bizarre cross between Greek mythology and Dr. Seuss.
- Home Movies - the guys are confronted by the angry goalie Brendon got a goal off of (by the ball bouncing off his face):
Cho: I'm your worst nightmare!
Jason: (snorts) That is so old! Huh? Let me wipe the cobwebs off that line! ...but technically my worst nightmare to date is: I'm sitting in a high chair, and I'm breast-feeding my own mother, and she suddenly opens her mouth and I see my father's head...
Cho: Yeah yeah yeah, all right, I get it, shut up! You're giving me the creeps.
- In contrast to the dreams of the rest of the Justice League in the episode "Only a Dream", the Flash's dream (before Dr. Destiny turned it into an inescapable nightmare) was a surreal romp that included giant frogs in the fridge, cannibal children, and watching cartoons of himself while a small boy picked at the plot holes.
- In the Rugrats episode "In the Dreamtime", Chuckie has dreams that start out like ordinary everyday situations for him and his friends, but quickly turn surreal.
- Adventure Time episode "Worm King" manages to be surprisingly realistic in its portrayal of dreams. Finn and Jake randomly change location without question or comment (mostly) while hugely strange things initially only make them suspicious as though they can't put their finger on what's wrong. Waking up into another dream makes them think they've woken up for real until they look in a mirror, a common way for people to notice they're dreaming in real life and become lucid because the brain doesn't know what it looks like in a mirror and presents a deformed image. Finn summons things by stating that they will occur. The random nature of the surrealistic events that occur and how they flow into one-another is very close to dreams in real life. And it is very, very weird.
- In the season 4 finale "The Lich", after Finn awakens from a Catapult Nightmare about The Lich, Jake tries to reassure him by telling him "I dreamed I was in kindergarten again... but I had really big feet, and I was also the teacher."
- Avatar The Last Airbender has Sokka's "Food eats people! Also, Momo could talk. [to Momo] You said some very unkind things."
- Not to mention Aang's nightmares when he's got a severe case of sleep deprivation.
- Ugly Americans had a twist on the phrase "a dream come true", with Callie bringing Mark's dreams into reality... including such sights as Doug (the Koala-man) riding a saddle on Frank's back, and Callie looking like his naked mother.
- There's an episode of The Fairly OddParents where Timmy, out of guilt at framing his babysitter for a crime, begins wishing in his sleep. Of course, all the wishes he makes while he's asleep are completely bizarre, as they come from his bizarre dreams.
- Neds Newt: In the episode "Broken Record", Newton the newt has an inspiring dream about Ned beating a record... except the dream also includes nonsensical elements, such as cheering people turning into beavers and then, into pudding.
- The Adventures Of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius features this in the episode "I Dream of Jimmy", where Jimmy tries to help his friend Carl overcome a recurring nightmare about a shadowy monster chasing him. When Jimmy goes into Carl's dream, he finds Carl dreaming about being the smartest kid in school instead of Jimmy, but said dream is full of weird details like Libby rowing a canoe into the classroom with a plastic leg ("My paddle broke!"), and the principal being a giant version of Sheen wearing an Ultra-Lord mask. Also, the monster in question is a giant anthropomorphic lima bean. Lampshaded earlier in the episode when Carl tells Jimmy "My dreams aren't as logical as yours, Jimmy... I once dreamed I married a turkey." Carl's turkey-wife even makes an appearance later in the episode.
- Metalocalypse seems to play this both ways, since the dreams are batshit insane, but frequently link in some way to whatever issue the dreaming band member is having. For example, when Toki is taking guitar lessons early in season two, Skwisgaar has one of the strangest nightmares most tropers are likely to have seen on any program, with only some of the images actually tying into Skwisgaar's lack of self-confidence over his own guitar skills relative to Toki's possible improvement. (for the record, Toki's skills don't improve. He's a terrible student.)