Wednesday, January 27, 1999

In Dreams

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Claire’s nightmare is always the same: a boy, screaming, chained to his bed — water flooding the streets, pouring into empty staircases, breaking through the windows, settling in his room — the boy’s eyes wide-open, his hands pulling at the chain. His name is Vivian and he was left to die alone, in a town, underwater.

But the boy doesn’t die. With a cry, making barely a splash, he breaks through the liquid ceiling and inhales deeply the fresh air of the afternoon. His name is Vivian and he grows up to be a killer. He steals children and takes them to places of wonder where his dark and sinister soul still searches for affectionate companionship. He’s kept his mother’s clothes. "Bad mommy’s clothes": the red suit, the high heels. A memory flashes through his brain like the sharp blade of a knife. He doesn’t harm the children if they keep quiet. Crying children must be put to sleep. And what better place to sleep than underwater, where everything is still and timeless?

His name is Vivian and he is a killer. His fairy tales have taken unexpected turns; his dreams are mostly nightmares. He takes the children to a deserted place, on the dark side of the moon, on the other side of the mirror, where nursery crimes are plenty and bright red apples lie about, thickly laced with poison. He takes the children by the hand and they follow — scared but understanding — for Vivian is nothing but a child who fought his death and won. Then, with a cry, making barely a splash, they sink to the bottom of the lake, tiny silhouettes handcuffed to someone else’s nightmare.

This is what clairvoyant Claire (Annette Bening) sees in her dreams. This is how she meets Vivian (Robert Downey Jr.). This is why he takes away her child.

An unpredictable, unfinished and — at times — unhappy mixture of horror, mystery and twisted fairy tale, Neil Jordan’s film resists interpretation. Invited inside malignant but breathtakingly beautiful territories of the mind, with a sigh, making barely a splash, we follow Vivian in search of the children, underwater, where time is of no essence and happy endings don’t apply.

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