A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Either because of Claire's superlative review or perhaps just because we tend to see things similarly, it was inevitable that I would also make note of the oppressive language and behavior of the supposed caretakers in this film. Ultimately, what this film shows is the contrast between responses to survivors of abuse, illustrated in the reactions of the staff members, ranging from exploitative (furthering the abuse) to dismissive (calling suicide "cowardly") to misguided (sedation) to acceptance and belief (Nancy). The last is what I want to talk about, and the one crucial piece I think Claire didn't address (for good reasons, I think, in that she was taking on that role herself in her writing).

Nancy's role is that of a healer and a defender and a guide. She is remarkable in that she takes her Final Girl role (this has been written about before) to a new step, to empowering a new generation of survivors. In the three NOES films I remember seeing (the first three), it seems like every time, there's a little bit of backstory revealing that at least one character--usually the final survivor--has already been having Freddy Dreams. In this one, multiple people are in that situation. It feels like that old piece of writing advice to start as close to the ending as possible used to develop a bit of atmosphere and mythology, but in this film, it also sets the stage for Nancy's mentorship role.

What struck me most is how far she is willing to go in this role. She recognizes the signs of these kids' torment because it is her own, which gives her insights into how to protect them. Her first step is to appeal to the authority figures already working with them, revealing her own pain (this is an act of courage that needs more lauding). She fights for a controversial treatment. She fights for the value of the kids (I can't remember who qualifies them in their defense as "smart kids," but it struck me as a striking example of how we concede to ableist, capitalist values in our vain attempts to garner support for those in need). She puts her reputation on the line, and she puts her life on the line. She confronts her own father (and her own past). She also does not allow the kids to be victims. She draws them together instead and encourages them to find their own strength. (This has unfortunate ableist implications in two cases, but in one the metaphor works on another level well enough that I fought back tears).

parents ("She just wants a little attention." So give it to her, dammit! we all need attention, care, concern, interest, love.), - from Claire's review

Mostly, though, Nancy just believes them. She fucking believes them when they tell her their experiences. I am not an expert on abuse in any way, but I am well familiar with the impact of not being believed by those you turn to for help (my story is of course very different from theirs). Even if I were not personally familiar with medical disbelief, I have read and heard and seen a thousand stories (mostly from other women), ranging from not receiving adequate pain medication to being refused hormone treatments to the most horrifying tales of sexual assault and rape and abuse.

We should not live in a world where simply being believed is a relief so profound it brings you to tears. In this film, the kids bond almost instantly with Nancy, and in the end, their love for her inspires almost religious devotion.

"I'm going to dream you into a beautiful dream forever and ever"

The film has scattered missteps, not least of which is the false dichotomy it sets up between science and religion, but that dichotomy does represent in context the same contrast as between Nancy and the other doctors. Nancy is a believer. The others skepticism is blinding, not edifying, and the gap there (in the context of the film) prevents their work as healers. That's at the core of the whole series (that I have seen), I feel. Dreaming is crucial to health, mental and otherwise; the core of Freddy's terrorism is that he poisons dreams. Whether he kills his victims directly or if they spend their lives avoiding him, they are going to die because of him. No one can survive without REM sleep. It's a torture technique. As a concept, the entire set up is perfect as a horror series, tapping not just into this lose-lose scenario, but also into the most universal, uncontrollable source of fear humans have (nightmares, obviously). And that idea--poisoning our healing mechanisms--is analogous to the effects of patriarchy, white supremacy, and other bigotries on our healing institutions. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The other central metaphor of this series that stands out is that Freddy's power and motivation is drawn from crimes his targets' parents committed. That, too, fits the themes on multiple levels, both as crimes from parents against kids (either as abusers or disbelievers) and crimes parents committed that continue to affect their kids (the historical crimes like institutionalized oppression). Freddy is a manifestation of pain and a symbol of how pain echoes from one grave sin outward through communities and cultures and further. His origin is transgressive and misogynistic and ableist, and that, too, fits, as oppression teaches oppression. (This does not forgive the problematic nature of it.)

Going back a moment to the powers of each kid, the one that stood out and moved me most is Joey's. His power is literally to be given back his voice. Despite the ableist undertones, the metaphor is poignant. That is, as a metaphor for believing survivors of abuse and trauma and as a metaphor for fighting capitalism, it is blunt, obvious, but powerful in context. This is not a film for subtle allusions or complex figurative storytelling; this is a NOES film with a hair metal soundtrack and claymation effects. Within that framework, a mute individual subduing the might of pure terror and torment with his shout of defiance is soul-affirming.

I watched this long ago when I was a kid, and I responded most to the dream powers. I just wanted to live out mystic fantasies. That feeling still lingers, but even as a kid I was vaguely disappointed that they didn't amount to much. This is a horror film, though, not a fantasy film. This isn't about an empowerment dream; it's about a nightmare. That, too, is an apt metaphor.

(Also, I love that the bar was called Little Nemo's.)

October count: 21/31

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