Bertolucci avoids direct (didactical) critical characterization of the main characters in the film because to do so would be an authoritarian gesture which is beyond an intellectual artist’s style (enough psychological harm to the movie-viewers especially the young people is done by mass-cultural contrast between hero and villain, where both are, as if, designed by propaganda posters).

So, Bertolucci being a director different from the commercial movie-makers (he feels obligation to express something serious in his films, not just entertain the audience and confirm the viewers’ prejudices) is trying to explain in “The Dreamers” the psychological condition of the young people-the heroes of the film – first, through depicting the psychological structures determining their behavior and secondly, by providing bold visual images which can help the viewers’ understanding by cognitively challenging their perception.

An example of such a cognitively stimulating images is presented in the still above. It is not too easy to spot, but the viewers who are successful will be on the path to understand Bertolucci’s concept of the three main characters of the film. The two people we see here – Isabelle (in the center of the bathtub) and her brother Theo (to the left of the shot – seen from behind) are French teenagers, a twin brother and sister, who have a crush on each other, which has been going on for years without any resolution. To the right we see Matthew, an American boy whom the twins have befriended not without a particular plan (which they already shared with him up to this point of bathing nude together) to use him as a sexual ersatz. In other words – sentimental aspect of love between Isabelle and Theo is their business, but Matthew will be privileged to deflower her as a sign of his friendship with both of them, and by this the twins are liberated from the necessity to violate the incest taboo (this violation, probably, could make them both so guilty that it would spoil their love and life). The point here, according to the logic of Bertolucci’s imagery is not, of course, that the French twins must stay sinless, but that in order to help them Matthew has to participate in his own psychological alchemy, which while being much more widespread in today’s world, practically common behavior, is not less, and may be even much more psychologically problematic than incest. If incest is not just incest, but also love and, therefore a holistic experience, then sex without love (sexual fixation is exactly Matthew’s situation in his relationship with Isabelle) is psychologically de- and im-personalizing.

While looking at the shot we see how young people are indulging in the séance of innocent nudity. And here is Bertolucci’s strange (cognitively challenging and stimulating at least for some viewers) image. We see knees of Theo, we see knees of Isabelle, and we see Matthew’s one leg with a monstrous artificial bulb of a knee, a leg which doesn’t really look like a human leg, but rather like a prosthesis or like a wooden surrogate. What is Bertoluccci up to? What is he expressing here?

Posted on Feb, 6 2015 –   “The Dreamers” (2003) By Bernardo Bertolucci [NSFW] by Acting-Out Politics

Posted on Sep, 28 2011 –   Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2003) – Why Contrary to Herbert Marcuse’s Hope, Young People Are Not Able to Change Society by Acting-Out Politics