True to its name, Dreamland has the soft cadence of a reverie. From the very beginning, we are warned not to take the story at its word: this is a family legend, a young woman telling the tale of her beloved older brother Eugene (Finn Cole) and his mysterious relationship with the famous outlaw, Allison Wells (Margot Robbie). Whether or not things actually happened the way the film describes them is not only left up to interpretation, but legitimately unknowable. Dreamland is filled with unreliable narrators — Allison, the consummate saleswoman, peddles her version of the truth, and our storyteller Phoebe is unable to know what occurred, due to her young age and inexperience at the time.
The legend will always be more fascinating than the truth, and first-time film director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte knows exactly what kind of story he’s telling. With a keen eye for visual impact, he sets his film in Dust Bowl-era Texas, where there are few opportunities for a young man like Eugene, and the news of an escaped outlaw on the loose nearby with a reward on her head is too tantalizing to resist. Dreamland is filled with wide, sweeping vistas of the devastated farmland, and the color palette is brown and lifeless: this is a dying community in every sense of the word.
Eugene sets out to find Allison Wells, but as it turns out, he doesn’t have to look far: she’s hiding out in his family’s barn, nursing a nasty-looking bullet wound. And what’s more, she isn’t going to make it easy for him to decide whether to turn her in or not. Throughout the entire film, Allison’s intentions are unclear, and it’s difficult to tell exactly what game she’s playing. Is she just manipulating Eugene into helping her, or are her affections genuine? She may truly care for him in her own way, but she also knows exactly what she’s doing as she casually flirts with him and subtly guides his decision-making. Eugene is an impressionable young man, and Allison’s capable of playing him like a fiddle, even if she doesn’t ultimately have malicious intentions.
But all of this is, in a way, what draws them to one another. Allison is attracted to Eugene’s innocence and optimism. After having experienced so much darkness, to be with someone who truly wants to see the best in her is refreshing. She needs someone to tell her she’s not an evil person, and who actually believes it. And for Eugene, well, Allison is like a being from another planet. He’s never met a woman like her, one who isn’t tired and weather-beaten and defeated. She’s like a bolt of lightning, and the part of him that has always longed for escape and adventure finds a willing partner in Allison.
Their relationship is exciting but also sad, tinged with the bittersweetness of inevitability. We know that however their story is destined to go, it will not end well for one or both of them. They seem to know it too.
Dreamland has the hazy edges of a half-forgotten memory, preserved through sheer force of will more than anything else. That such an intimate story passes on into the realm of legend is surprising yet somehow fitting. After all, if Allison Wells teaches us nothing else, it’s that our stories have the power to take on a life of their own, and the legends are the only part that survives us.
Directed by: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Cast: Margot Robbie, Finn Cole, Travis Fimmel, Garrett Hedlund,