Dreamland is a beautiful, lite-Malickian effort than smartly boasts both gorgeous, mythopoeic expositions and thrilling storytelling.
Set during the Great Depression and amidst the dusty storms of small-town Texas, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s sophomore effort Dreamland opens with intoxicating narration courtesy of the half-sister of the film’s youthful outlaw protagonist. “Eugene left me with something more important than any of the facts. Now, first thing people get wrong about his story is the beginning.” Phoebe, that half-sister grown-up, conjures a historical milieu for us, her Malickian voiceover accompanying and commanding an impressive series of human portraits and geographical landscapes, stretching from the time of their parents’ venture into homesteading to Eugene Evans (Finn Cole) as a young man. His father left when he was five and sent him a postcard of Mexico, the “eye of God”; his stepfather, a sheriff’s deputy, shackles him to a restless state of discipline and mundanity. A clandestine reader of pulp fiction, Eugene longs for adventure: Mexico, Mozambique, anywhere away from the arid and meager prospects of subsistence farming. Such is his obsession with the gun-toting outlaws from his dreams that when one of them appears — first in the news, and then before his eyes — he plots not to take them into custody and claim a bounty that would put his family in financial comfort for the rest of his life, but to join them.
Allison Wells (Margot Robbie), the outlaw in question and wanted for murder after a bank shoot-out, holds both subversive charm and sexual allure for Eugene; wounded from the shoot-out and recuperating inside the Evans’ barnyard, she recounts her misfortunes to the starstruck adolescent, desperate to impress upon him the severity of her situation and his pivotal role in transforming it. Naturally, concupiscence conquers its master, conservatism; with little but a loving mother and lovable sister to lose, and a whole life (potentially alongside Allison) to gain, Eugene sets out to chronicle the latter as his own. The gorgeous if somewhat generic expositions in Dreamland’s first half soon give way to a compelling odyssey of two souls on the lam. Joris-Peyrafitte, as if anticipating criticism of the initial stretch’s plodding aping of greater classics and their memorable world-building, soon changes gears and veers into storytelling proper, inflating his Bonnie and Clyde with a mythos befitting of legends. A wild-goose chase for dreamland finds itself outpaced by the sheriff’s team, Eugene’s stepfather included. Allison, unmoored from Eugene’s naïve buoyancy, tries to caution the boy: in one of the film’s most striking shots, the camera lingers on Eugene for the longest time in the shower as he strips and wrestles with this irreversible transition. We glimpse Allison only in the periphery, and not until he affirms their shared destiny does she come into frame, and their visages — previously cut off — emerge, united. Dreamland concludes with a running off into the great, unknown expanse of fiction; more important, sometimes, than any of the facts.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | November 2020.