From the beginning, Dreamer appears to be a film about a man traveling backwards in time. Daniel, the main character, is a 30-year-old white man living in Chicago. As he struggles to make sense of this reverse sequence of events, Daniel’s awareness and motivation falter. He is unable to follow-up with a needed job opportunity. He wakes up beside a woman he does not recognize. Another morning, he finds himself bleeding profusely from a wound on his side without apparent cause. At the end of the film, we learn that Daniel is a war veteran who served for three years, and is presumably suffering from PTSD.
In terms of technical highs and lows, the strength of Dreamer is the film’s visual landscape. The shots of Chicago’s cityscape—as Daniel stands on a bridge over the Chicago River, or walks past an outdoor sculpture—are beautiful and eerie in the evening darkness. The camera work was well done and a cut above most other aspects of the film. On the flip side, the primary technical issue that interfered with my viewing was the audio content. Due to the high level of background noise, many of the scenes were inaudible to me.
From a feminist perspective, I was disappointed that Dreamer does not subvert or challenge gender norms. This portrayal of a modern-day war veteran did not deepen my empathy for Daniel and was, in fact, quite problematic. The main character is a portrait of normative masculinity throughout the film, without sufficient character development. When Daniel catches up with an old friend, small talk turns to the subject of “pussy.” When he stumbles upon a dodgy character, the stranger and Daniel get into a fistfight in an alley. Perhaps most disappointing is that the movie ends with Daniel making a rapid escape following the second night spent with a woman who has already given him a second chance.
After this closing scene, there is a dedication to American veterans who served in the armed forces. However, by the end of the film, I felt less compassion for the veteran than the woman he has disrespected yet again. Furthermore, was this closing to suggest that if Daniel had not been traumatized by the war, he would have behaved otherwise? I am not entirely convinced. Instead I wondered: how has the war actually shaped who Daniel is? How did this affect his expression of masculinity? What potential has Daniel been unable to realize since the war left him with a debilitating mental illness? Portraying the main character in a one-dimensional manner makes it difficult to answer these questions. Dreamer is a film that normalizes oppressive constructs of masculinity, albeit in a society that fails to provide adequate support to war veterans.