The dream is what’s left.
Paradise is the place humanity escaped with the bite of an apple and yet also what we aspire to find upon death. We want it until we have it and subsequently always want more. It’s a pursuit in which we’re inevitably corrupted as selfish greed consumes any shred of empathetic compassion we once possessed. Sometimes someone does come along to remind us—lover, child, etc.—to see through the veil of conquest and recognize the joy we’ve been conditioned to reject, but for how long? Too many will still destroy themselves in this quest, blind to what matters and blinded by dreams whose fruit only expose how wrong they were to crave its potential. We ignore the past, resent the present, and forever prove disappointed by the future.
Why? Because faith in the future is easier to conjure than belief in today. Only in hindsight do we realize what we had and desire its return. To see wars, famine, and hate permeating our twenty-four hour news cycle is to long for a time of blissful ignorance. We now know that those hoarding everything they can guarantees those without means today can’t do the same tomorrow. We now understand people’s inherent embrace of racial (and financial) lines traveled upon by the COVID-19 pandemic and their demand that restrictions championed when their lives were at risk be lifted regardless of other lives remaining in danger. They remember how yesterday worked for them despite any human cost and suffer the pain of knowing their privilege is no longer assured.
Without proper context, however, it’s a pain that can hurt anyone—oppressors and oppressed alike. If all one sees is the magic and beauty of that past’s surface, how could they not wish for a return? This is the burden Moira (Jordan Monghan) must hold as the latest in a line of women cursed by a nightly dream of what was. Sworn to secrecy, these ancestors have carried the weight of Anmaere’s fantastical history on their shoulders while forced to endure the hardships of what’s left of its splendor. So Moira unsurprisingly loathes this vision to the point of barely sleeping in a bid to avoid it. Who would choose to wake-up from an impossible dream every morning only to confront reality’s nightmare outside their door? No one.
Writer/director Nicholas Ashe Bateman rightly doesn’t ask her to either. Rather than force her to become a prophet within The Wanting Mare, he merely asks for Moira to be a witness and lightning rod for a truth we too often ignore. He does so by giving her hope removed from today. Sometimes it means going to the city in Whithren to listen to a recording of her mother singing on an 8-track. Sometimes it means fantasizing about the unknown possibilities afforded by the almost mythic Levithen—a prosperous land that buys their horses and allows for a select few immigrants to travel the sea with a ticket more valuable than their life. Maybe the world of her dream still exists there or maybe it’s all an empty promise.
It ultimately doesn’t matter, though, since both outcomes leave Moira with only one foot on the floor. If every action she takes holds the intent to flee, how can she ever open her eyes and truly see what it is she’d be leaving? Enter Lawrence (Bateman himself): a small-time criminal Moira stumbles upon in the alley, blood pouring out of a gunshot wound. Here’s a man that might be able to provide her love and a reason to stay. But that’s not why she helps him. No, she patches him up because his amoral compass and lawless connections reveal him as the sort of man who could procure her a ticket to Levithen by any means necessary. That’s her request for compensation. And that’s what he cannot give.
He can’t because he conversely does see her as a reason to build a life exactly where they are. Maybe Whithren isn’t perfect. Maybe it’s a pale shadow of what it was however many centuries into the past Moira’s dream takes her. None of that matters when they have each other and the unbridled joy that connection brings. What does he do instead? He risks everything for the chance of preserving her innocence. He’ll sabotage his joy knowing it can’t reach full strength until Moira’s fascination with escape is satiated. So he saddles her with something else before disappearing: an orphan baby found washed ashore in the rocks much like the first dreamer in her family (if legend is correct). Lawrence ends her search to begin his own.
Thirty-four years and another identical cycle of longing later introduces Hadeon (Edmond Cofie) and Eirah (Yasamin Keshtkar)—another criminal and the person able to change him. Suddenly we have to wonder if the incessant dreaming is actually a curse or just the effect of being a connection to the remnants of that past. These women are evidence that the horrible things we do for power and money are worthless compared to what can be created with love. As the years turn Anmaere ever darker with murder, theft, and greed, Moira and now Eirah are somehow able to touch the cruelest of hearts and make them feel. They become glimmers of hope for a world depleted. They remind us that paradise isn’t something to chase, but something to build.
It’s a profound message highlighted by the fact that we all possess pasts that simultaneously inspire and conjure fear (you will meet Moira and Lawrence again, aged and matured beyond those days of selfishness as Christine Kellogg-Darrin and Josh Clark respectively). It also can’t help but turn focus onto the stunning fact that so much of The Wanting Mare is built on the computer thanks to years spent honing the craft of VFX to bring Bateman’s vision to life despite a miniscule budget. (Who better to advise on getting the most out of a dollar than executive producer Shane Carruth?) Whether fog, cityscapes, or subtle allusions to an otherworldly façade via decomposing bodies and horses holding secrets beyond this chapter alone, we know we’re not in Kansas anymore.
And yet we recognize the emotion, drama, and quiet reflection anyway. Bateman projects his own ancestral lineage through a fantasy prism to manufacture a world that speaks about our shortcomings and promise with the power of silent understanding between characters awakening from futility’s cold slumber right before our eyes. It’s an evocative environment filled with a despair that may yet dissolve if the right person forces a new path forward. Levithen, Heaven, etc. are nice to think about in the abstract, but so too were the places we find ourselves right now. Their propensity for miracles is only as great as that which we supply. So stop wasting energy by reaching beyond yourself. Spend it on what’s in front of you. Spend it on what’s real.
The Chattanooga Film Festival’s digital edition is open to residents of The United States only. Fest badges can be purchased at www.chattfilmfest.org/badges.