The Dreaming (1988)

The Dreaming
Director: Mario Andreacchio
Writer: Mario Andreacchio, Rob George, Stephanie McCarthy, Josephine Emery
Cast: Arthur Dignam, Penny Cook, Gary Sweet, Laurence Clifford, Kristina Nehm, Patrick Frost, John Noble
Part of: SLASH Film Festival
Seen on: 1.10.2021

Content Note: rape, racism

Plot:
Cathy (Penny Cook) is a doctor at the hospital. One night, a young indigenous woman Warindji (Kristina Nehm) is delivered to the ER with severe injuries after trying to steal back artefacts from the museum. Cathy is convinced that something weird is going on, especially when tribal markings appear on her own wrist and she starts to have vivid and frightening dreams. She realizes that it may very well be connected to the archaeological dig her father Bernard (Arthur Dignam) is conducting. As the dreams get more intense, will Cathy have enough time to unravel the mystery?

The Dreaming makes some interesting points, but has the wrong protagonists and a few lengths here and there. It didn’t work that well for me.

The film poster showing a face made of sand with tribal paintings over it.

The Dreaming was one of a slew of films commissioned around the 200th anniversary of Australia, and according to the film intro we got at the festival, it was the one film that managed to take the side of the Indigenous people (who have been in Australia much longer, of course), quite by accident. Considering that this film is no anti-racist masterpiece, it makes me shudder to think about the other films.

It is true that the film acknowledges the brutality with which science has plundered indigenous cultures in Australia (and elsewhere), and it also acknowledges the racist violence of settlers (though dubbing them whalers) against the indigenous people. But it uses those facts to tell the story of a white woman who gets caught up in it, to repeatedly show images of an indigenous woman being hunted and assaulted by white men in a rather exploitative fashion, and to kill off the only two modern indigenous characters who have more than a passing role very quickly. In short, don’t expect too much from it regarding criticism of racism.

Cathy (Penny Cook) looking very serious.

That Cathy gets the role she has in the story remains inexplicable to me (apart from the explanation that the film wouldn’t have an indigineous woman as the protagonist). The ending is also creepily oedipal for it. But at least Penny Cook plays her heart out and really does her best to sell us the character and the story anyway. (Also, the sheer 80s-ness of her costumes are a sight to behold.)

Overall, I have to say though that The Dreaming felt much longer than it was and didn’t really manage to draw me in the way it should have. I wish I saw more subversive potential in it, but I don’t think it aged very well.

Bernard (Arthur Dignam) talking to his boss at the museum, Dr Richards (John Noble).

Summarizing: Not a film you have to have seen, I think.

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