"I want my watch back!"
There is something appealing about this film, and I'm quite mystified by that. Why? Because I don't know why. If you stop for a minute and ask a few rather important questions about this movie, you'll realize that Dream with the Fishes just doesn't make a lot of sense. However, the film works its magic and doesn't let you focus on those details as you follow the rather peculiar and sad meanderings of Terry and Nick.
Facts of the Case
Terry (David Arquette, Scream, See Spot Run) is a sad and lonely man. He spends his time as a voyeur to those that live around him. It would seem that Terry's present fixation is the neighbors across the alley, Nick (Brad Hunt, Fire Down Below, Blow) and Liz (Kathryn Erbe, Stir of Echoes). One evening as Nick leaves his apartment, we see Terry follow him. They end up in a convenient store that Nick is just about to rob, until Terry walks in. Terry wanders in, buys a bottle of liquor, flashes some money, and makes his way to a bridge. He climbs up the side and prepares to jump off. Nick, seeing the money, follows Terry to the bridge and begins to talk with him. Since he's going to die, would Terry give Nick his watch? Terry refuses. But Nick takes a new approach: he convinces Terry not to jump, because it's too painful, and to take an overdose of sleeping pills instead. Back at Terry's place, Nick gives Terry a bunch of pills. A few minutes later, Terry is hysterical because he's changed his mind: he wants to live. With Terry's watch in hand, Nick dumps Terry off at the hospital. It turns out that Nick gave Terry only mega-vitamins.
Terry is infuriated by what Nick did, so he confronts him at Nick's place. But Nick just brushes him off and goes on his way. After a few moments of silence, Terry leaves too. But he decides it's not over yet, and he follows Liz, who ends up going to the same hospital from last night. Terry quickly learns that Nick is dying, but we do not know what from. Terry again confronts Nick; he doesn't get any answers, but he does get his watch back.
Still being the voyeur, Terry can't stay away from Nick and Liz, so the next day he visits again and Nick makes a proposal. Having sized him up on the bridge, Nick realizes a golden opportunity. Nick is dying and poor, but Terry has money. If Terry will bankroll Nick's final days of fulfilling his fantasies, Nick will sign Terry over as the beneficiary on his $50,000 life insurance policy. Terry agrees.
What follows is Nick living the last days of his life to the fullest, savoring each moment and doing things he had only dreamed of. It also includes a trip back to his hometown to mend old wounds. And along the way, Terry and Nick become close friends, allowing Terry to realize that life is to be participated in, not watched.
This is not the type of movie that I usually find appealing, which is why I'm greatly perplexed that I did enjoy it. Still, when something works at some level and draws you in, why complain? I have to, though, for just a little bit, before I get to some interesting and unforeseen praise.
There are many unanswered questions in this film—loosely based on some real events in writer/director Finn Taylor's (Pontiac Moon) life—that kept nagging at me. The biggest of them all is why are these guys doing this? Why did Terry put himself into this situation? You see, though they don't elaborate on the finer details, it appears Terry never meant to commit suicide; but why did he want to take a more active role in the lives of those he was watching? That's not Terry. Terry is a sad, lonely, twitchy, uptight, neurotic, shy, and pathetic man. This bonding with Nick is the antithesis of his core being. How he made this dramatic move to get involved is just too loose of a thread. It really nagged at me.
But as much as that annoyed me, there's just some wonderful chemistry between Arquette and Hunt. I have never, ever cared for Arquette—he's just too odd a man—and so I've never cared for his acting. But for the first time, I came away thoroughly impressed with his acting chops. He's magnificent in this role, perfectly portraying a man with deep emotional scars. Tapping something I never believed he had, he crafted Terry into someone you would immediately care about, even if he wasn't the one about to die. It was totally unexpected. And then there's Hunt's portrayal of Nick. Nick is a very odd character: part rebel, part free spirit, part troublemaker, part compassionate man. With just a few weeks to live, what would you do? What would you want to see? What would you do to accomplish those goals? Nick makes some decidedly interesting choices and some obvious ones. And Hunt keeps you guessing about Nick. You never know who he really is—there's always a touch of mystery hanging around him. Why did he join up with Terry? Why bring this stranger along and into the final days of your life? It's all very complicated stuff.
I also have a few qualms about the ending, which felt empty. You watch these two men become friends, learn about each other and themselves, and witness the emotions of a dying man, yet the ending needs more. There are some remarkable discoveries and twists, but the preceding film had been so rich and textured that the ending leaves you feeling a bit cheated. I need better closure!
All in all, I wish this film was not the nearly bare bones edition that it is. Coming with just a handful of trailers and a music video, I really would have liked a commentary to explain these issues and a few others I didn't bring up. It would have been good to fill in a few of those blanks, to complete the picture, and to really understand Taylor's message and vision. But, you don't always get what you want.
The transfers on the disc are just about your average fare, being neither exceptional nor terrible. On the audio side, there's truly nothing to say about the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix except that the dialogue is clean and without hiss. For the anamorphic video, things do get a bit more complicated. As I learned from the insert notes, Taylor had a specific visual style he wanted to portray. I didn't quite pick up on that, seeing only a transfer with a subdued palette, lots of dirt flecks, and an overall soft and grainy picture. It turns out Taylor played with the film stock and contrast to add an additional layer of texture to the film. Sorry, I missed that. Thank goodness for the insert.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Don't ask why. It's about the journey.
I do like this film. I can't quite figure out why this one appealed to me when so many other similar stories have not. Maybe it was just a passing "thing," but I cannot be sure. As such, I'm not going to recommend you do any type of blind buy on this film. If you're looking for a guy film that isn't about guns and explosions and swearing, then you may find the eccentricities of Dream with the Fishes a rather unique and refreshing change of pace. Go ahead and give it a rental. I can only hope that whatever drew me in will also work its charms on you.
Dream with the Fishes is hereby found innocent on the charges of voyeurism, grand theft, murder, and exhibitionism. All parties are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Music Video "Sadness"
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