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Projecting mystery and terror, the title The Burning Child identifies Vienna as an uncanny place.  Taken from a model dream that Sigmund Freud recounts in his Interpretationof Dreams, it consists of a nightmarish waking situation of a child’s corpse accidentally catching on fire while the father--exhausted--sleeps in the next room.  In the feature film of that title, the "Burning Child" stands as figure for the relation between generations, imagined as an awakening from one dream or nightmare into another. The figure also stands for Vienna and its history, from the outbreak of war in 1914, through Austria’s humiliating defeat in 1918, Hitler’s victory parade in Vienna in 1938 and the extermination of Vienna’s Jews that followed, to the city’s devastation and division in 1945.  Shot Vienna in the summer of 2014, exactly one century after Sarajevo, the film observes the city reawakening to new dreams as it fashions itself again as an important cultural center within Central Europe.  Prior to making the film, the Vienna Project at Harvard commissioned Tim Reckart to create an animated short film representing Freud's dream.



“Among the dreams which have been communicated to me by others there is one which is at this point especially worthy of our attention. It was told me by a female patient who had heard it related in a lecture on dreams. Its original source is unknown to me. This dream evidently made a deep impression upon the lady, since she went so far as to imitate it, i.e. to repeat the elements of this dream in a dream of her own; in order, by this transference, to express her agreement with a certain point in the dream.

The preliminary conditions of this typical dream were as follows: A father had been watching day and night beside the sick-bed of his child. After the child died, he retired to rest in an adjoining room, but left the door ajar so that he could look from his room into the next, where the child's body lay surrounded by tall candles. An old man, who had been installed as a watcher, sat beside the body, murmuring prayers. After sleeping for a few hours the father dreamed that the child was standing by his bed, clasping his arm and crying reproachfully: 'Father, can't you see that I am burning?' The father woke up and noticed a bright light coming from the adjoining room. Rushing in, he found that the old man had fallen asleep, and the sheets and one arm of the beloved body were burnt by a fallen candle.”

From The Interpretation of Dreams, Chapter 7.  



Animation / The Burning Child
Based on a Dream in Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (1900)

Directed by Tim Reckart
Written by Joseph Leo Koerner / Produced by Bo-Mi Choi