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Film / Dreamscape

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Dreamscape is a Science Fiction film directed by Joseph Rubin and starring Dennis Quaid. The film was released in the United States in 1984 by 20th Century Fox.

Alex Gardner (Quaid) is a man with special talents — psychic talents, to be exact. While participating in ground-breaking studies on the powers of the mind at the age of 19, he suddenly quit and attempted to disappear, from then on only using his abilities for petty personal gain. Years later, his extraordinary "good luck" both at the race track and with the ladies has drawn the attention of unsavory eyes... and now he and his talents are in high demand by everyone from local gangsters to shady government agents.

When Alex is contacted by the college professor that performed the studies on him years ago, Alex agrees to hear him out, both for old times' sake and to have a place to momentarily hide from everyone who wants a piece of him. When the professor explains what he's working on — a project that will allow those with psychic abilities to enter the dreams of others — Alex is intrigued, and with a little "convincing" agrees to help out. With the professor's assistance, Alex is quickly able to master the ability of entering, observing, and even modifying people's dreams. At first he feels exhilarated, intoxicated by the freedom and power that come along with his new-found ability. However, things are not quite what they seem... inside the Dreamscape, Alex finds that he is facing progressively more dangerous nightmares, and outside he must deal with the schemes of not only a rival psychic, but also of the shadowy machinations of the people who are truly behind the Dreamscape project.

Not to be confused with the web series of the same name

This film provides examples of the following:

  • Actor Allusion: Alex meets author Charlie Prince, played by George Wendt, in a bar... where one would often see Wendt in his most famous role, "Norm" from Cheers.
  • After the End: The President's nightmares take place in the flaming ruins of a nuked city.
  • Alien Sky: The construction worker's dreamscape looks almost normal, except that the wispy clouds overhead move very fast across the sky.
  • Always Someone Better: Tommy can't stand how Alex is better at this than he is.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The train worker from Jane's dream appears in the real world at the end, leaving her and Alex shocked. However, they elect to ignore him and keep with their travel.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • The circumstances of Tommy's parricide. His sociopathy and the newspaper cuts imply he killed his father coldly, but when Alex confronts him under the form of the old man in the President's dream, Tommy suddenly turns into a shaking, apologizing mess.
    • It's not clear why the bite Snake-Tommy gives to Alex heals quickly by itself. It's vaguely implied that it was the President who unconsciously altered the causality of his dream in their favor when he chose to face their enemy, but this is never explained.
  • Anti-Hero: Seemingly, how Blair sees himself, as he believes he and Tommy are being heroes by saving their country from fatal president decisions. Tommy, on the other hand, seems to have no illusions about what they're doing.
  • Anti-Villain: Blair is an amoral agent who is willing to sacrifice the President, but he only tries to do so in the fear that the latter's decisions will leave the country defenseless in the midst of the Cold War, and it's never implied this motivation isn't honest. He also seems to have a loving wife and to treat kindly those who serve him.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Tommy is a rare exaple who is both literal and metaphorical. He believes himself to be the best of the psychics, but is also a fan of martial arts and has kung fu posters in his room.
  • Beast Man: The Snake Man.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: After Tommy Ray rips a security guard's heart out of his chest.
  • Catapult Nightmare: The President has a couple, and Alex awakens from the construction worker's dream in the same way.
  • Dangerous Windows: The Snake Man breaks in through a window to grab Buddy. It's apparently a nightly occurrence in Buddy's dreams, as one of the boy's drawings depict clawed hands reaching for him through windowpanes.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: Played with. Alex seduces Jane in her own dream through his psychic powers, something that could easily be construed as rape by fraud (he deluded her on purpose and she didn't give consent). Accordingly, Jane is seriously disturbed about it when she wakes up, even berating him for awhile for doing so, but she eventually forgives him without much of a fuss. It's very, very doubtful that she would have done the same had he physically raped her.
  • Dream Weaver: Alex and Tommy can enter and alter people's dreams.
  • Erotic Dream: Inverted/Invoked. Dream Weaver Alex uses his powers to enter Jane's dream to make out with her, without telling her it's not just a random dream she's having about him.
  • Friend to All Children: Alex insists on helping Buddy with his nightmares and threatens to quit the project if Novotny doesn't grant permission.
  • A God Am I: Tommy Ray makes this boast:
    Tommy Ray: In this world, Alex, you're nothing. And me, I'm God.
  • Gunman with Three Names: Played straight with Tommy Ray Glatman, a dream killer.
  • Guilt Complex: The President has been plagued by nightmares about nuclear war ever since the death of his wife. He dreads the prospect that he might someday be culpable for starting World War III, and is determined to pursue bilateral peace talks to avert that possibility. It's this very intention that convinces hard-liner Blair to try to assassinate him.
  • Harbinger of Asskicking: The announcer at the racetrack proclaims "And they're off!" at the exact moment Alex starts running from the bookie's thugs.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Blair, who sponsored the experiments and got Tommy Ray to prove you could assassinate someone in their dreams, gets killed by Alex using Tommy's techniques.
  • I Know You're Watching Me: It becomes clear to the scientists secretly observing Alex through a two-way mirror that he knows what's going on when he writes "Let's get on with it" on his side of the mirror in pen... especially since he writes the letters backwards so that those on the other side can read it.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Tommy meets his end on the business end of an improvised spear.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight with Buddy; in the President's dream, the kids trapped in the ruins aren't just dead, but mutilated to Body Horror levels.
  • Intimidation Demonstration: While in the President's dream, Tommy Ray creates glowing nunchaku (martial arts weapons) with spiked heads. Before attacking, he spins them around his own body to show how quick and deadly they are.
  • Mind over Matter: Minor telekinesis is among the range of Psychic Powers Alex displays over the course of the film, as we see a still movie slide of him levitating a small metal ball bearing. However, if viewers were expecting him to use this at any point in the film to save himself from a dangerous situation, they will be disappointed because the movie focuses on his ability to enter minds instead. It never becomes the Chekhov's Gun.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: When a subject is killed in the real world by dying in the Dreamscape, Alex starts to realize he's in over his head... what he doesn't know is that the government is training his rival, Tommy, to assassinate people in their sleep.
  • Monumental Damage Resistance: During a recurring nightmare the President of the United States is experiencing, a partially destroyed Capitol building is seen in the ruins of Washington, D.C., after it was ravaged by nuclear war.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Alex, played by Dennis Quaid in his prime.
  • Mundane Utility: Alex uses his amazing psychic powers to win bets on horse races.
  • Mutant Draft Board: After Alex learns the truth, Blair makes it clear: join the team or die. Alex makes a run for it and spends some time ducking Blair's mooks.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: During the Shapeshifter Guilt Trip, and rather surprisingly, Tommy expresses genuine guilt over murdering his father.
  • Never Sleep Again: Tommy Ray Glatman assassinates people by using his psychic abilities to enter their dreams and kill their dream selves.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Inverted; first Alex draws a picture of the Snake Man from Buddy's dreams, then Tommy Ray mimics the creature from the drawing to fight Alex in the President's nightmare.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Charlie Prince, a fiction writer with a "royal" last name.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Alex's rationalization for covertly inserting himself into Jane's dreams to make her think she was having a sex fantasy about him, rather than making out with the real life person. The fact that she enjoyed herself doesn't negate the fact that he just basically raped her (Mind Rape?), as she was in no position to give informed consent.
  • Nuclear Mutant: The horrifically-damaged train passengers in the President's last nightmare, who seem more like zombies than victims.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The train conductor that appeared in Jane's dream later appears in the real world.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: President Target, at least where dreams are concerned; in the real world he's more President Iron.
  • Partial Transformation: Tommy Ray partially scales back his snake transformation when he is confronted by the image of his dead father. Interestingly, even Tommy Ray's initial Snake Man appearance is more humanly flat-faced than the original from Buddy's nightmare, because Tommy based it on Alex's frontal-view drawing.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Alex pistol whips a federal agent while re-infiltrating the project facility.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: After Blair asks Alex how he got in his dream: "It was easy."
  • Psychic Powers: Among others, Alex makes a living predicting the outcomes of horse races. Tommy Ray can sense when the President has gone to sleep from an adjacent room.
  • The Pursuing Nightmare: When Alex enters the President's dream to protect him from Tommy Ray, Tommy attacks and pursues them within the dream, taking on various forms including that of a ninja and a snakeman, while also sending zombies and wolves to hound them as well.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Savage Wolves chasing Alex and the President in the final dream sequence have red Glowing Eyes.
  • Red Filter of Doom: The President's recurring nightmare about a nuclear holocaust has it.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Buddy's nightmare takes the shape of a half-man/half-snake creature. Tommy later assumes this form while in the dream world, copying a picture Alex drew of it. Alex himself adopts the same shape to dream-kill the Big Bad as payback.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Alex knows Blair will come after him for foiling his plan to kill the President. So Alex kills him first.
  • Savage Wolves: Alex and President must outrun couple of wolf-like feral dogs with red Glowing Eyes along with Scaled Up Tommy Ray.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After saving the President, Alex and Jane intend to get out of there before Blair can strike back. They're stopped by men in suits, though it turns out to be the President's bodyguards.
  • Shapeshifter Guilt Trip: Alex turns himself into Tommy Ray's dead father to distract him from killing the President.
  • Shared Dream: The main character is psychic, at first he has to use a machine to share dreams, later he gets the ability to do this by himself. The villain also learns to do this without the machine as part of a plot to kill the President.
  • Swirly Energy Thingy: Alex's entry into dreams is portrayed with this kind of imagery, accompanied by sound effects that foreshadow the dream's motif.
  • Tear Off Your Face: Alex does this to himself to introduce Blair to the Snake Man.
  • Tempting Fate: Despite the President knowing what he tried to do, Blair boasts that he's untouchable. Alex disagrees.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: After the woman in his Dreamscape trip suddenly dies, Tommy tries to claim he's all broken up about it despite all evidence to the contrary, including his own body language. Alex obviously sees right through it and calls him on not feeling the slightest bit awful about what happened.
  • Villain Ball: Tommy had ample opportunity to kill the President in his dream, but he just had to take the time to mess with his and Alex's heads.
  • We Need a Distraction: Alex uses Shapeshifter Guilt Trip to distract Tommy long enough for the President to impale him.
  • Wolverine Claws: During the dream battle, Tommy turns his fingernails into small blades in order to rip a heart out.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Not only is Alex capable of causing himself severe mental damage while in the Dreamscape, but both the subjects and the psychics helping them can be killed in real life if they die while dreaming.