Student Cinema Shines in “Phases of a Daydream”

“Phases of a Daydream,” a feature-length film by Piper Mohring ’25 and Caden Stockwell ’25, premiered in Keefe Theater this weekend. Mila Massaki Gomes ’27 and Managing Arts & Living Editor Cassidy Duncan ’25 reflect on how the film’s strange world conveys the experience of loss.

Student Cinema Shines in “Phases of a Daydream”
Nora (Isabelle Anderson ’25) explores a daydream world while trying to process her grief. Photo courtesy of Caden Stockwell '25.

The three-night showing of “Phases of a Daydream,” which premiered last Friday, Sept. 29, was met with anticipation from an excited audience. The thought-provoking 83-minute feature film was written, directed, and shot by Caden Stockwell ’25 and Piper Mohring ’25 and produced by the filmmaking club Plato’s Cave, of which Mohring and Stockwell are founders. It was artfully shot and meticulously designed.

This is Stockwell and Mohring’s first feature film, following their collaboration on the short film “still (despite the push of heavy wind)” (2022). Before the screening, as seats filled, the directors gave credit to those who played an integral part in the film’s making, including Gabriel Proia ’25 (the composer of the film’s original score), the actors in attendance, and the project’s faculty advisor, Associate Professor of Art, Film, and Media Studies Adam Levine.

From the opening titles, the audience was sucked into the film’s world with a slow zoom-in on the protagonist Nora (Isabelle Anderson ’25), accompanied by Proia’s haunting piano arpeggios. The screen revealed a dreary, mundane apartment colored with a black-and-white grade, mirroring Nora’s hopeless state. She is a recent college graduate with no clear path forward. During her shift at an ice cream shop, Nora’s mind drifts off, and while stepping outside for her usual mid-day break, she instead enters the vivid, eccentric world of her daydream. As the plot unfolds, the audience learns that, in addition to facing the challenges of moving away to a big city, Nora is also struggling with the sudden loss of a close friend. She is lost and doesn’t understand why she finds herself trapped in this labyrinth of her own mind.

Nora, dressed head to toe in red, wanders into an all-blue cafe where she meets a cast of peculiar characters, furthering her disorientation and desire to get back home. As the protagonist moves through this world, she finds herself in various monochromatic spaces, each constructed from scratch by students: a pink ice cream shop, a yellow library, and an impressively constructed stop-motion scene in a green park. While the scenes are utterly unlike what we see in our day-to-day lives, “Phases of a Daydream” takes us to a place we know all too well: our own minds.

In the pink ice cream shop, the magic of the multi-color world begins to contextualize the troubles Nora is facing. A proclamation from a talking ice cream cone exposes Nora’s disregard for her feelings, urging her to confront her pain; otherwise it will continue to linger and haunt her. “This film is about you,” the talking ice cream eerily claims — marking a turning point in the film’s plot and a shift to a darker tone.

The film’s artful qualities were exemplified in the green stop motion scene, when Nora meets a kind old man, who spends his days on a park bench feeding pigeons. Ridden with memory loss, the man’s forgetfulness gives Nora space to contemplate her grief. Despite the film’s intensity, its effortless humor, heartwarming characters, and impressive animation offered viewers touching moments of comfort and joy.

The film climaxes in a yellow library, where every book contains a written record of Nora’s memory. She becomes increasingly uneasy and overwhelmed by her emotions and the bizarre world, demanding answers from The Librarian (Zach Hebert ’25). After receiving no response, Nora learns there is no simple way out of the pain and confusion she feels. The Librarian explains that we don’t get to choose how much time we have or who will stay with us for the ride, but we do get a choice to keep going. However, he says, that is easier said than done. After all, persisting sometimes isn’t enough. The Librarian shares that to survive isn’t to live. To live is to find happiness in what is given to us: a cup of coffee, an ice cream cone, or the birds in the park. The film is a whirlwind of color and character that places emphasis on how far away its depictions are from what real life looks like. Though, as “Phases of a Daydream” suggests, being confused and estranged from reason isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes, being lost is an essential part of finding yourself.

Kaisar Perry ’26, who plays the coffee shop owner, stated that he was astounded to “learn how much attention went into every detail of the film.” As a viewer, I must agree. From the beautiful soundtrack to the sets and props for the beautiful monochromatic scenes, every aspect of the film felt intentional: the instrument changes, the inventive cinematography, and the stop-motion scene’s clay figurines. Nora’s journey would not have been complete without Proia’s lovely score: Comforting yet unsettling, the music subconsciously warns us that even the mundane isn’t as normal as it seems and that trouble and pain hide even in the familiar spaces of our conscience.  

If this level of detail sounds arduous, it’s because it was. The film began production on Oct. 15, 2022, almost a full year before the opening night. When asked how this eclectic project came to life, Stockwell said, “Piper and I knew we wanted something colorful, so the visuals came first, and then we knew we wanted it to be personal.” I find it difficult to describe the film in any other way because, to its core, “Phases of a Daydream” is a colorful exploration of the self.