If you were to go back in time a couple of months and predict that one of my readers would be able to pick three films that are each perfectly symmetrical in their story structure, I would have answered, “In your dreams!” Well, I’d have to eat those words right now because that’s exactly what happened. It turns out that an amazing man named Jordan is a dream come true!
That’s right, the same one who inspired the Tron and Escape from New York Cinematic Chiasmus articles is back again. This time, it’s Dreamscape, a 1984 movie with a star-studded cast. I’m so excited to share this one with you. Not only is Jordan a perfect 3 for 3 when it comes to predicting movies that follow a chiastic story structure, but this is a unique one in another way.
This is the first time I’ve done this sort of analysis on a film I’ve never seen before. I had heard of Dreamscape, but I had never actually sat down and watched it until I was told it might be a chiasmus. So it was quite a unique experience to write my initial overview of the chiasmus with no idea of when or where the turning point might happen. But I found it on my first viewing! After that, everything fell into place perfectly.
Let’s see what dreams may come as we explore the symmetrical nature of Dreamscape.
Before we delve too deeply, let’s look at a summary of Dreamscape’s chiasmus:
A. The president dreams of his dead wife fleeing a nuclear explosion, and he awakens in distress
B. Bob Blair tells dream experts he wants Alex Gardner to join them
C. Alex gets accosted by some bad guys at a racetrack, but he sneaks away
D. After escaping, Alex goes home and listens to his answering machine
E. Alex gets intercepted by Dr. Paul Novotny’s men and driven to Thornhill College
F. Alex discusses dreams with Jane DeVries
G. Alex reunites with Paul and they discuss entering dreams
H. Alex watches another psychic unsuccessfully try to help a boy named Buddy Driscol overcome a nightmare
I. Alex refuses to help, but Paul blackmails him over his tax avoidance
J. Jane demands Alex take his psychic tests seriously
K. Alex meets fellow psychic Tommy Ray Glatman in his room after a third psychic loses his mind
L. Alex’s first dream projection ends in him falling off a skyscraper that’s under construction
M. Bob exerts his control over Alex
N. Buddy tells Alex about his recurring nightmare
O. The president has another nuclear nightmare about scary creatures lurking in the shadows
P. Bob offers to help the president as a friend, but he’s hiding his true intentions
Q. Mr. and Mrs. Webber have trouble getting to the heart of their marital issues
R. Alex enters Mr. Webber’s dream to help him face his fear of his wife’s infidelity
S. Alex tells Paul he wants to help Buddy
S. Alex tells Buddy he’s going to help him
R. Alex enters Buddy’s dream and helps him defeat his worst nightmare
Q. Tommy is jealous of Alex’s success and discovers Alex’s greatest fear
P. Alex comes clean, stating that he wants to be more than friends with Jane
O. Alex meets a horror author named Charlie Prince who believes sinister things are afoot
N. Alex finds Jane asleep and enters her dream to make love to her
M. Bob manipulates Paul into putting the president under his control
L. A woman Tommy was supposed to be helping dies of a heart attack during a dream
K. Alex confronts Tommy in a cafeteria about Tommy’s failure to save the woman
J. Paul protests Bob’s demand to change the president’s quarters
I. Bob tells Tommy he has big plans for him, and Alex discovers Tommy murdered his own father
H. Alex and Charlie unsuccessfully hide in a crowd, and Charlie is killed
G. Bob tells Alex that Tommy killed the woman in her dream earlier, and Alex runs away
F. Alex calls Jane
E. Alex gets help from old “friends” and escapes Bob’s men in a horse trailer
D. Paul tries to make a call, but his phone gets cut off and he’s caught by Bob’s men
C. Alex interrogates one of Bob’s men after sneaking into Thornhill
B. Despite Bob’s efforts, Alex enters the president’s dream to stop Tommy
A. The president and Alex flee Tommy in a nuclear wasteland dream, and they eventually kill Tommy and Bob in their dreams
That’s a lot to take in. So let’s explain in even more detail how each of these points match up.
A. President’s Dreams
After the opening credits, we see the president’s dream of his wife running. We don’t know that it’s a dream at first. We don’t see what she’s running toward, but we do see what she’s running away from. A nuclear explosion engulfs New York City behind her, and the blast eventually envelops her, too. As she burns to death in the fiery cloud, the president wakes up screaming. It turns out that this is his worst nightmare. One of his aides asks if he’s all right, and he tries to deny that anything is wrong. He lies back down in bed, looking like he’s far too terrified to sleep.
In the president’s dream, a psychic named Alex Gardner helps the president run away from an evil psychic named Tommy Ray Glatman. A nuclear explosion has engulfed Washington, D.C., and there are many people with radiation burns. Tommy embodies Alex’s worst fear, and Alex pays him back by mimicking his worst fear in return. The president manages to kill Tommy. Then Alex later kills an evil bureaucrat named Bob Blair in his dream. Bob has a terrified look on his dead face when his wife tries to awaken him. Before the end credits roll, Alex and his lover Dr. Jane DeVries board a train, not caring about where they’re going, only what they’re going away from. And they’re a little uncertain if they’re awake or dreaming.
B. Including Alex
Dr. Paul Novotny introduces Bob Blair and Dr. Jane DeVries to his former pupil, Alex Gardner, a gifted psychic. Bob wants him to join their dream research project. Bob is sure he can find Alex, if he’s alive.
Tommy prepares to enter the president’s dream. Alex uses his psychic power to enter the dream, too. Bob had taken active steps to take Alex out of the picture and is unaware of his meddling. Alex intends to keep the president alive.
C. Alex Escapes
Alex makes a lot of money at a racetrack betting on the right horse. It looks like pure luck, but it’s actually the result of him using his special powers. He tries to sneak into the ladies room to escape some men who want a cut of his winnings. But they find him and try to get him to give them the money he just won. He tries to escape through a number of doors, but they’re all locked. Thankfully, a jockey exits one room, and Alex manages to slip in just before a bad guy reaches him. He hitches a ride home in the back of a car.
Bob has put all his chips on Tommy. He tells Tommy the president’s death will look like a purely natural heart attack, even though he’s planning to use his special powers to kill the president in his dream. Meanwhile, Alex sneaks into Thornhill College with Jane’s help. The front door is locked, but Jane opens it and allows Alex to enter right after some bad guys pass by. Alex holds one of Bob’s men at gunpoint to get information. Then they find Paul’s dead body in the back of a car.
D. Phone Calls
Alex goes home and listens to his answering machine. Various people come across as quite friendly to him. But he pays them little attention. A girl named Maggie stops Alex in his tracks when she calls to break up with him, but then she changes her mind.
In his office, Paul attempts to call one of the president’s men, but he gets disconnected before he can say anything. Bob approaches and pretends to be Paul’s friend, but he has murderous intentions. Paul wants to leave. However, two of Bob’s men intercept Paul and stop him dead on his way out.
E. Escaping with Help from Old Friends
Alex gets spotted by a couple of men who turn out to be working for Paul. They have orders to bring Alex to Thornhill, and they won’t take no for an answer. Alex sees a couple of men he outran at the racetrack earlier also approaching, so he agrees to get into Paul’s men’s car. He tries to weasel his way out once he’s out of danger, but they don’t listen. He is unable to escape and gets locked in a room at the college.
Alex gets spotted by Bob’s men, who have orders to kill him. They try to hit him with a car, and they chase him into a racetrack. The men he outran at that same racetrack grab him, and he agrees to help them win big on bets later if they slow Bob’s men down. He’s told he’s a dead man if he welches on his promise. He escapes the racetrack in a horse trailer.
F. Alex’s Commitment to Jane
After Alex gets locked in a room, he writes a message on the one-way mirror he knows is being used to observe him. Jane lets him out, and she introduces the dream research project to him. They talk about the patients being studied. He’s noncommittal about joining the project.
When Bob gives Alex an ultimatum about the dream project, Alex leaps out of a moving car and escapes. As the president, Bob’s newest patient, arrives at Thornhill the next morning, Alex calls Jane to tell her about Bob’s dark intentions. Alex commits to coming back and stopping Bob.
G. Talking About Entering Dreams
Alex sneaks into an unauthorized area called the dream chamber and reunites with Paul. Paul apologizes for having to force Alex to return. They talk about their past research work together. Then Paul introduces the idea of entering dreams and manipulating them.
Alex gets forced into a car where he is reunited with Bob. Bob makes no apology for his methods. They talk about Bob’s murders to protect his current research work. Then Bob brags that they’ve gone beyond entering dreams and manipulating to now being able to kill people using their dreams.
H. Charlie’s Introduction and Demise
A man, who we later discover is horror novelist Charlie Prince, watches Alex at a bar at night, but doesn’t approach him. Later, unable to sleep, Alex, enters the dream chamber again and watches another psychic, Edward Simms, unsuccessfully try to help a boy named Buddy Driscol overcome a nightmare. Buddy is terrified by something in his nightmare.
Alex approaches Charlie at night, and Charlie warns him that he’s in danger. He also says that Mrs. Matusik didn’t die in her sleep from a heart attack. They try to hide from Bob’s men in a pep rally crowd, but they’re unsuccessful. Bob’s men grab Alex and shoot Charlie in the chest, killing him. Alex is overcome by shock and grief.
I. Dirty Little Secrets
Paul wakes Alex up, and they talk about the risks of entering people’s dreams. Alex refuses to help. But Paul blackmails him by telling him that if he doesn’t join the dream project, the IRS will audit his tax returns to recover their cut of the money he’s been making from gambling.
Bob enters Tommy’s room to talk about his big plans for Tommy. Tommy is tired of being cooped up. Meanwhile, Alex sneaks into Paul’s office and discovers the horrible truth about Tommy. He murdered his own father, and Bob must have been pulling some strings to hide that fact and keep Tommy in the dream project.
J. Getting Serious
Alex takes a number of psychic tests with Jane as part of his admittance to the dream project, but he does something unexpected. He starts to purposefully mess up. He shapes up, but then he reads her mind, answering her unstated (and off-topic) question. Jane demands Alex take his tests seriously. He cynically responds that everyone wants something from him.
Paul is preparing part of the college to admit the president, but Bob does something unexpected. He demands Paul put the president in an impractical college wing. Paul wants to know what Bob is up to, but Bob refuses to answer. Paul cynically wonders aloud if Bob’s sole concern is the wellbeing of the president.
K. Tommy’s Contentious Exchanges
While in the shower, Alex hears someone playing his saxophone. It turns out to be the other psychic named Tommy Ray Glatman. Alex would clearly prefer privacy, but Tommy refuses to grant it to him. Tommy makes accusations and brags about his superior knowledge and abilities. He tells Alex that Edward lost his mind the previous night in an attempt to scare him off the project.
While eating at a cafeteria, Tommy senses Alex approaching him from behind. It turns out that he’s right. He tells Alex he’d rather be alone, but Alex refuses to grant his wish. Alex accuses Tommy of killing Mrs. Matusik, but Tommy feigns ignorance. Alex notes that a woman died on his watch, and Tommy nonchalantly responds that everyone dies.
L. Deadly Dreams
Alex goes into Bill Hardy’s dream with instructions to just observe, nothing more. But he almost immediately disobeys his orders when he sees a distracted Bill get hit by a steel beam. Bill is in danger of falling. Alex intervenes and tries to pull the steel worker to safety. Instead of succeeding, Alex falls off the building. Thankfully, he wakes up before he hits the ground. Tommy watches on as Alex comes out of the dream.
Tommy is in Mrs. Matusik’s dream with orders to help her. But things go wrong almost immediately. Alex enters the dream chamber, distracting Jane at a critical moment. We don’t see inside the dream, but whatever is happening is causing Mrs. Matusik to have a massive heart attack. An emergency medical team tries to revive her, but they’re unsuccessful. Tommy doesn’t even seem to care that she’s dying as he awakens. Alex looks at him in horror.
M. Bob’s Control
Bob chooses to introduce himself to Alex when Alex is strapped down and coming out of a CAT scan. Bob refuses to free Alex and even locks the door, showing his control over the situation. He reveals that he’s in charge of the dream research, and it’s a government project. He congratulates Alex on his successful dream projection, and then he expresses his hopes for the potential of the project.
Bob talks to Paul, asking if there’s a possibility that the president can be helped. What he really wants is to get the president under his control. Paul wants to know why he’s getting involved. Bob hints that the president is losing his mind and needs the kind of help only dream experts can provide.
N. Alex and Jane
Alex runs into Jane sitting on a park bench next to Buddy. She invites Alex to look at pictures the boy has drawn of a monster he keeps seeing in a recurring nightmare. Alex talks with Buddy to try to befriend him and then he walks with Jane and Buddy toward a building. The boy is sitting in a wheelchair and needs assistance to get where he’s going.
Alex returns to Jane’s office and finds her sleeping on her couch. He enters her dream, uninvited, and makes love to her in a dream that neither of them has shared before. She wakes up shocked, and Alex tries to smooth things over with her. Before she leaves in a huff, Alex notes that he didn’t need machine assistance to enter her dream.
O. The Stuff of Nightmares
The president has another nuclear nightmare. It’s eerily similar to the one he had earlier. This time he sees buildings exploding and then the horrible aftermath that’s something out of a horror story. The president sees a closed door that seems to be hiding something sinister. He opens the door, and several disfigured children attack him. When he awakens, his daughter comforts him, and one of his aides witnesses the whole thing.
Charlie Prince introduces himself to Alex at a bar. He looks familiar to Alex. We saw him staring at Alex earlier. This time he reveals himself as a horror novelist. He inquires about the dream project, and he opens Alex’s mind to the possibility that something sinister is going on behind the scenes. During their conversation, one of Bob’s men approaches, chasing Charlie away.
P. Beyond Friendship
The aide who witnessed the president’s awakening from his nightmare summons Bob. The president tells Bob about his nightmares. Bob claims that he is only there because he’s the president’s friend. But he has secret ulterior motives. The president doesn’t want to jeopardize world peace, which is why he’s about to negotiate nuclear disarmament with the Soviet Union. Bob says he just cares about the president’s peace of mind.
Alex walks into Jane’s office, unsummoned. He invites her to dinner, but she declines. He drops the pretense and tells her flat out that he likes her and wants more than friendship. She doesn’t want to jeopardize their research, which is why she refuses to negotiate with him on progressing their relationship. Alex sneaks a kiss before he leaves, dismantling her peace of mind.
Q. Worst Fears
Mrs. Webber tells Jane that her husband has many nightmares. Mr. Webber says he can never remember what he was dreaming about. They admit that they’re having problems with their sex life, but they hope it’s just a passing issue. Alex plans to get a closer look by delving into Mr. Webber’s dream.
Tommy approaches Alex, who’s drawing a picture of the Snake Man he saw in a nightmare. He says that it’s from Buddy’s dream, and he can’t forget it because it scared him so much. Tommy tries to get Alex to admit that the Snake Man affected him more deeply than he’s letting on. Then Tommy looks more closely at Alex’s drawing from the dream.
R. Facing Fears in Dreams
Alex enters Mr. Webber’s dream. Mr. Webber tells Alex his plan to discover what his wife is hiding, and he asks if Alex is scared. Alex says no. They enter the house. They go upstairs and find Mr. Webber’s worst fear. Mrs. Webber is being unfaithful to him with numerous trusted figures, even his own brother. Paul determines that Mr. Webber needs to face his inferiority complex to end his nightmares and improve his marriage.
Alex enters Buddy’s dream. He tells Buddy he doesn’t have to be afraid, but Buddy is definitely afraid of the Snake Man, especially when they hear a knock on the door. Buddy’s worst fear attacks through the window and chases them downstairs. His own father won’t help him. Buddy faces his fear of the Snake Man and kills it.
S. Alex Wants to Help Buddy
Alex tells Paul he wants to enter Buddy’s dream to help the boy defeat his personal demon. Paul refuses at first, noting that he’s already lost one psychic over this case. Alex gives Paul an ultimatum: he’s out of the project unless he’s allowed to enter Buddy’s dream. Paul agrees to his terms and gives him a drink. Paul then tells Alex that he has to get Buddy to face his fear and conquer it within his dream.
Alex goes to see Buddy as he’s getting ready to go to sleep. Buddy expresses fear that he’ll have the same nightmare again. Alex lets him know a little secret: he’s going to be there with him in his dream. He gives the boy a baseball glove. It’s a reminder that Buddy will be playing little league baseball again after he faces his fear.
A Dream Come True
This has been so much fun to discover the predictive power of Jordan. I think he might be on the same wavelength as Alex Gardner’s psychic powers! You know what the best part is? This isn’t even the last movie that Jordan suggested I look at to see if it is a chiasmus. He originally sent me three, but after I started showing him that he was absolutely right, he gave me one more. So that is what I will do very soon.
I apologize for taking so long to write this after the first two. I had it all mapped out a month ago, but recent events in my personal life made it difficult to focus on such a big project. These Cinematic Chiasmus articles always represent a significant time investment. But they’re always worth it because they’re some of the most satisfying things I write on this website. Especially when they are basically a tribute to one of my amazing readers. Thank you, Jordan! I’ll get to work on your next one sooner rather than later.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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