A Post-Structuralist Analysis to “Varsayalım İsmail”

Varsayalım İsmail was a TV series that was screened in 1986, when the second television channel of TRT was recently started its testing broadcast. Until Varsayalım İsmail, Ferhan Şensoy and his friends from Ortaoyuncular crew were preparing short TV sketches on TRT. As there was less control in the new channel because of testing broadcast, Varsayalım İsmail was suitable for TV2 rather than TV1 [1].

Varsayalım İsmail


There is little information about Varsayalım İsmail on the internet. It is known that there were 13 episodes published in 1986, then the series screened again in 1991 on Show TV. The episodes from 1986 formation can be found on Youtube as a playlist [2]. The main cast of the series was consisting of Ferhan Şensoy (also writer and director), Derya Baykal, Zuhal Olcay, Bülent Kayabaş, Sevil Üstekin, Tarık Pabuççuoğlu with guest appearances from names such as Erol Günaydın, Baykal Kent, Mediha Gökçer and Rasim Öztekin.

Varsayalım İsmail is based on İsmail, who often sleeps and dreams. He has an unhappy marriage and he always argues with his wife. He works in a small advertising agency, and because of his dreams, he always arrives late at the office. In his dreams, Ismail constantly sees some characters. He may see some of these in reality or dreams as a different person: İsmail says “Hi” to this person as he knows him/her from his previous dreams, however the other does not know İsmail and even has another name. This results in İsmail seeing dreams inside another dreams, and the blend of dreams and reality. The strange thing for him is that sometimes the incidents and people in İsmail’s dreams may be parallel to İsmail’s reality. He falls in love with a woman in his dreams, and by knowing this blend, İsmail starts to search for that woman. He intentionally dreams to get clues about her name, house or friends. The series has its plot based on this search.

It is strange to see a native TV series that is such experimental and complex in the “straight” TV world of Turkey in 80s and 90s. Thus, Varsayalım İsmail is a work very open to make a post-structuralist reading.

Post-Structuralist Analysis

There are three reasons for Varsayalım İsmail being open to analysis with a view from post-structuralism: (a) It has an unstable timeline, (b) it blurs the relation between reality and dreams, and (c) it incorporates a language that is very characteristic of Ferhan Şensoy’s style. The first two reasons can be examined together. 

Unstable Timeline and Blurring of the Relation Between Reality and Dreams

In most movies which are generic, casual, and normal, time has a straight direction to forward. If there is a flashback, it is emphasized to the viewer that the movie has paused its timeline and showing a moment from the past with the flashing effects at the start and the end of the scene, or a color change is used on the images. However, in Varsayalım İsmail, the timeline is often interrupted with İsmail’s dreams. It jumps to a parallel timeline, and when İsmail wakes up, it may jump back where the reality was interrupted, or a further moment. As İsmail wakes into another dream and so on, these jumps become so complicated that the viewer is deceived about the point they stand. Even to İsmail, it is hard to determine whether a scene is a dream or reality. The reference point for reality in Varsayalım İsmail’s timeline is not constant, it is always changing and sometimes fading. Although there are some signs to determine whether İsmail is in a dream or in reality such as the clothes of İsmail, antiquity of environment, or the weak determination of imaginary characters, especially for the first-time viewers, it is so hard to keep the reference point on the timeline. Some dreams lack these signs, some characters behave totally different from previous dreams.

Analysis of an Episode

In short, Varsayalım İsmail destroys the structure that we know as “one dimensional timeline” and the distinction between dreams and reality. Without these structures, the movie becomes much liquid, yet still consistent on its own. To see how this is exhibited, one of the episodes of Varsayalım İsmail is examined in the following part. The episode is numbered as both 1 and 2 by the uploader, even if it is one piece.

The opening scene shows İsmail sitting at the back seats of a luxury car with a handmade stick in his hand, looking around while going thru a road slowly. After the credits are finished, he gets out of the car in front of a house and rings the door. A woman with white dress opens it, then İsmail starts to talk in a highly deconstructed language, greeting the woman. She does not know him yet, İsmail introduces himself in his classic words and confesses that he loves her. Meanwhile, voice of İsmail’s wife is heard, the screen shows İsmail hugging himself on the bed with his wife near, trying to waking him up. She interrogates him about the dream and asks him to get bread from the grocery. He turns his head and sleeps again, returning to the woman with white dress. However, his wife interrupts the dream again and asks İsmail if he is going to the work. İsmail answers no, “assuming” that it is holiday and sleeps again eagerly, returning again to the woman with a pillow in his hand. After the questions of the woman, İsmail tells her about his wife but confesses that she is his “woman of dreams”. At this moment, İsmail’s wife pours water on him in order to wake him up completely. İsmail goes to the shower, turns the tap on, and then is seen prepared, combing his hair, leaving the house to go to work. While he is walking on the road, he encounters a man that İsmail knows him as Cevdet from his previous dreams. However, the man does not recognize İsmail and tells that his name is not Cevdet. While the man walks past İsmail, İsmail suddenly thinks about the dream that he saw Cevdet in his home with his wife, whose name is Desen. In this scene, a smart-suited İsmail enters from the window of the house of Cevdet and Desen. The couple is confused with fear as they do not know İsmail. After the scene ended, the camera returns to İsmail on the road, looking behind the “man who appears not to be Cevdet” in a confused expression. He continues to walk, hands a taxi unintentionally and get on the car. In the cab, İsmail asks constantly about the taximeter and makes the driver angry. He later confesses that he has got in unintentionally and has no money on him except for two way bus ticket, resulting in dismissal of him out of the car, and walk past a near public garden. Later, it is revealed that İsmail has been sleeping on the toilet near the flowing water since he turned on the tap of the shower. His wife comes in and wakes him up again. The scene changes to the office where İsmail works. His boss comes into the room and asks İsmail’s colleague where İsmail has been. While they are arguing, İsmail comes and sits on his table, acting as continuing an interrupted work. His boss asks about the time, İsmail talks a lot with excuses. After the boss gets out of the room, the voice of İsmail’s wife is heard again, jumping to a scene where İsmail is sleeping again. She wakes him up, İsmail quickly exits house knowing that he is too late. When he is at work, the taxi driver comes in and asks for the fare. İsmail confuses as he remembers the taxi driver from his dream, and then the episode finishes.

As mentioned above, there are some interruptions that reveals all the previous scenes as dream, even if they were looking so realistic. The cascaded levels of reality confuses the viewer as well as İsmail. Therefore, it is helpful to tag the levels in order to analyze the episode. For an analysis of the timeline in that episode, the levels of reality are tagged with a letter:

(a) The house of white dressed woman. İsmail’s wife interrupts this moment
(b) İsmail’s bedroom. İsmail persists sleeping.
(a) Return to the white dressed woman. İsmail’s wife interrupts again.
(b) İsmail’s bedroom. The couple argues and İsmail sleeps again.
(a) İsmail returns again to the woman with a pillow in his hand. İsmail’s wife pours water on him.
(b) İsmail goes to shower and turn the tap on.
(c) İsmail is ready except for combing his hair, and gets out to go to work. He sees a man and calls him Cevdet, however the man does not know İsmail and his name is not Cevdet. He walks past İsmail. İsmail thinks about a previous dream.
(d) House of Cevdet and Desen.
(c) After he finishes thinking, he walks into a taxi, then is rejected from the cab, walking through the garden.
(b) The shower is pouring water to the tub and İsmail is shown sleeping on the toilet. His wife wakes him up again.
(b) The office of İsmail. After his boss complains about him being late, voice of İsmail’s wife is heard again.
(e) İsmail’s bedroom. He gets up in hurry knowing that being too late.
(e) The office of İsmail. The taxi driver from “Level C” gets in and asks for the taxi fare. İsmail is confused, the episode ends.

With this tagging, the episode has been clearer. The tag of level has been never changed unless an act of İsmail’s waking up wraps the previous scenes as a dream and opens a new or recurring reality level. Therefore, the last four scenes are considered of “Level B” and “Level E”. After this analysis, it is arguable that Level C and Level E overlap because of the taxi driver asking for the fare. However, it is impossible to connect C and E together as C is a sublevel of Level B, and Level B is a sublevel of Level E. They are hierarchically at different levels. Thus, it may be considered illogical in terms of structuralism, however, it may also be possible in the context of Varsayalım İsmail. The sudden jumps between levels prove the “unstable timeline”, and the conflict between Level C and Level E proves the blurring of the relation between dream and reality.

Deconstruction of Language

Ferhan Şensoy is known for his own style of language. He changes words, modifies and creates new words, uses words and phrases in an unexpected form and order. Therefore, comedy through language is seen often in his plays and works. Varsayalım İsmail also contains this style of language in its dialogs, and it fits perfectly to the psychedelic atmosphere of the movie. As an example, a dialogue between İsmail and the woman in his dream from the opening scene of the first episode is quoted below:

-Piyango günler efendim, korkarım size çıktım. O talihli sizsiniz, kutlarım.

-Bana mı söylüyorsunuz?

-Bu ev sizin ev değil mi?

-Hayır kiracıyım.

-Kim kiracı değil ki, o bağlamda sormadım. Yani sizin ikametgah suretinde burası görünmüyor mu?


-Bu kapı sizin kapı, sap kapının kendi sapı, siz mi siz değilsiniz ki ben öyle konuşuyorum, maksat radyasyon olsun. Pardon yani.

-Beyefendi siz kimsiniz?

-Varsayalım İsmail. Ne olacak, neye faydası var?

-Ne istiyorsunuz?

-Hiç, geçiyordum, uğradım. Dört tekerli menkul değerimle dolaşalım mı?

-Sizi tanımıyorum beyefendi.

-Kim kimi ne kadar tanıyor hanımefendi? Varsayalım sizi seviyorum.

Ferhan Şensoy constantly uses different words for “nice” in saying “Have a nice day”. In Varsayalım İsmail, the word here is “lottery”, and has a tendency to remind the people about coincidence. Coincidences may be important in the context of Varsayalım İsmail, because one of the usual exclamations İsmail say is “Tesadüfün iğne deliği!”, which is a substitute for “Tesadüfün böylesi”, strengthening power of coincidences by using the pinhole (iğne deliği) metaphor.

The phrase starting with “Bu kapı…” is a strong example of Şensoy’s progressive and psychedelic language. Some pieces in the sentence develop gradual and has a rhyme itself (“This is your door, knob is the door’s knob” / “Bu kapı sizin kapı, sap kapının kendi sapı”), while the other parts come in a freestyle yet consistent.

İsmail always introduces himself as “let’s assume” (varsayalım), and asks what the benefit is for being İsmail. His purpose for seeing people is also constant through the series: “Just passing by” (geçiyordum, uğradım). These types of dialogues makes sense with the existence incorporated in Varsayalım İsmail, because that subject is left controversial to the audience. Thus, it supports the blurry existence portrayed in the series. 

Finally, his description of his car indirectly as “four-wheeled property” (dört tekerli menkul değer) is also another language trick that is completely “Şensoy-esque”. All these examples are good enough to illustrate the deconstruction in a language from Ferhan Şensoy’s mind.


Varsayalım İsmail is an important example in the Turkish cinema and TV history, because it is one of the few TV series in Turkey that leaves traditional fictions and dialogues. Therefore, Varsayalım İsmail is completely open to a post-structuralist reading both by its story and screenplay, and also its use of language. The “now” in Varsayalım İsmail consistently jumps between different reality levels, resulting deformations in the movie timeline. These jumps also suggests that some of the previous scenes were dreams, therefore it confuses both İsmail and the audience as they assume that some scenes are real while watching it. After a while, this situation creates doubts in people who watch Varsayalım İsmail, and they tend leave their reference points that help them find the way among the levels of reality. The audience can no longer be sure what is real or dream until they reach the end of the episode (or the complete series). That fading of reference points is completely contradictory to the structuralism, thus it makes Varsayalım İsmail is a very suitable example of post-structuralism.


[1] Ross, Stephen David. “Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory”. State University of New York Press, 1984. pp. 7-8 

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Ibid. 

[4] Plato. “Republic”. Book X. 

[5] Balzac, Honoré de. “Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu”. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Produced by David Widger. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23060/23060-h/23060-h.htm 

[6] Ibid. 

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