Fever dreams refer to bizarre nightmares and intense emotions a body experiences when trying to fight an infection (fever). Based on Samanta Schweblin, Netflix‘s Psychological Thriller, Fever Dream is a Spanish film (Distancia de Rescate) directed by Claudia Llosa.
The intricate plot follows a woman, Amanda, who hears a kid’s voice. The voice persuades Amanda to revisit the past and scrutinize the small details. The tangled visions will reveal the cause of her infectious “fever” and an inescapable tragedy that lies ahead.
Samanta Schweblin’s 2014 novel is no short of mind-bending metaphors, and Claudia Llosa tries to adapt them to screen. The narrative combines supernatural elements along with environmental issues that affect humans at large. Let’s dig further.
‘Fever Dream’ Plot Summary
A young mother, Amanda Casali (Maria Valverde), finds herself lying in the woods and feeling worms crawling in her body (probably due to fasciculation). Someone drags her, and a kid’s voice, David, requests Amanda to stay awake to understand what’s happening to her.
The voice guides Amanda, and she recalls the incidents of the past few weeks.
In a flashback, Amanda and her young daughter, Nina, drive to a small village in Argentina. A broker, Geser, takes Amanda to the rented house where she plans to spend the summer. Amanda’s late father, an Argentinian, visited Lake San Lucas when Amanda was young. She wants to see the lake with her husband, Marco, and Nina and spend some family time together.
As Amanda settles in, her neighbor, Carola, brings two buckets of water. Water plays an essential role throughout the film, and hence David’s voice shares intricate details with Amanda. She soon finds out that David is Carola’s son. He has been acting strange since he got sick. For some reason, Carola requests Amanda not to let Nina play with David. The mystery unravels further as Carola reveals the bizarre incident that happened with David.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What happened to David?
In his book, Samanta Schweblin mentions “Rescue Distance.” It is the thread that ties a mother to her children and measures the distance between the two. The thread gets tighter as the distance between the mother and the daughter increases. Mothers always speculate on danger and measure rescue distance so that they can protect their children. But sometimes, the tragedy takes over.
Carola explained to Amanda that when David was born, she was paranoid that he was born deformed. Because all the other children in the farming village of Argentina were born deformed for reasons disclosed at the end of the film. Though David was born as a healthy child, something happened later that changed everything.
Carola’s husband, Omar, was a racehorse breeder. One summer, Omar illegally brought a stallion to breed two mares and raise foals. At that time, Carola worked for her husband. One day when Omar was away, the stallion left the fences and went into the woods. Carola and young David followed the horse. While Carola saddled the stallion, David, in his childhood innocence, started playing in a stream. Carola, in a hurry, brought the horse and David back to the house.
However, later that night, the horse died of poisoning, and David developed a high fever. Carola explained that the stream was probably poisoned and infected the creature as well as David.
How did Carole save David?
Carole told Amanda that she had seen many tragic things in the town. She again hinted at the deformed children. As a worried mother, Carole didn’t wait for a country doctor to arrive. Carole took the ailing David to a village doctor. She lived in a secluded house called Green House and was known for supernatural healing powers.
The Village Doctor examined David’s body and discovered that he had been poisoned. His body was too fragile to fight off the infection, and only migration of souls would save him. The Village Doctor explained that if they could move (migrate) David’s spirit to a healthy body, then part of the poison would also go with him. In the process, half of David’s spirit would leave his body, and the migration would bring an unknown spirit to the sick body. In simple terms, David wouldn’t be David anymore, but Carole would still have her son’s body near her.
Carole took the hard decision and, to save David, she agreed to a supernatural migration. The Village Doctor commenced the rituals, and David’s spirit got split between two bodies. It took away the poison, and thus David’s immunity fought against the remaining amount of poison. David’s body survived the tragedy, but soon Carole realized that he wasn’t her son anymore. He looked like David, but to his mother, he was entirely different.
What poisoned David?
Throughout the film, David requested Amanda to pay attention to the details while revisiting the past. The mystery was hidden in the details that we often tend to miss.
The poison was mixed in a transparent liquid that was essential for our survival. The water in the village was poisoned by the pesticides that caused the death of humans and animals. It also became the reason for congenital deformities witnessed in the village. Carole purposefully noted that she had seen far too many tragic events in town, and as a result, when David was born, she was paranoid of his deformities. In a scene, Amanda visited the village shop and saw a child named Abigail in the store. Like many other children in the village, Abigail suffered from physical deformity as well.
In her dreams, Amanda saw David warning her to leave the town to save her life. At one point, Amanda took the car and drove away. On her way out, she saw a group of deformed children crossing the street. David told Amanda that very few children are born normal in the village.
The poisoned water was slowly killing everything in the village. In a scene, Carole called David a monster and recalled an incident where David was burying the dead birds in the garden. Carole believed David killed them, but David told Amanda that he found the birds dead floating in the river. Purposefully, the plot highlighted the contaminated water again and again without revealing much.
What poisoned Amanda and Nina?
In the end, before leaving town, Amanda decided to pay a last visit to Carole. She worked in a pesticide company and probably had a vaccination against the poisoning (speculative). While Amanda waited for Carole, a worker outside the office accidentally dropped a container filled with pesticides. Amanda waited for Carole outside the facility where the workers sprayed the pesticides. David, in Amanda’s fever dream, outlined that she was close.
Moments later, Carole arrived and walked with Amanda and Nina in the wheat fields. Soon after, Amanda suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. In her fever dream, Amanda saw dew on the wheatgrass. David again explained to her that she sees it but doesn’t understand it. This was the exact moment that made Amanda realize what had happened to her.
Nina ran to Amanda in her fever dream and told her that she had gotten wet with dew. Amanda thought it was just “dew” and took out a popsicle infected with poisonous dew. She gave one to Nina as well, which infected her further. In the end, Amanda discovered that it wasn’t dew but rather the pesticides farmers were sprinkling on the field. It was everywhere. Not once it rained in the village, but Amanda found dew on her car’s front windshield each morning. The pesticides leaked into the water that probably poisoned the whole town.
Did Amanda survive?
The village lacked proper medical facilities and didn’t even have an appropriate doctor for emergencies. Amanda was admitted to a facility that looked like a school infirmary. The nurse told her that the doctor was coming, but Carole knew that by the time the medicine man would arrive, both Amanda and Nina will be dead. Without Amanda’s permission, Carole took Nina to the witch house for another migration to save Nina’s life. Amanda, in her fever dream, told David that Carole wanted Nina for herself.
Carole probably had an ulterior motive in the whole setup. After David’s migration, his body lost a part of his soul, and Carole desired to fill the void with a soul of her likeness. Throughout the film, Carole really got along with Nina and probably wanted a part of Nina’s soul for David’s body.
From the beginning, David was trying to warn Amanda of her mother’s intention in Amanda’s fever dream. It was David who was dragging Amanda in the woods. Amanda asked David to take her to the Green House to save Nina and her soul. David took Amanda’s body pinned down with fever and loaded her in a boat. However, while in the boat, Amanda felt that Nina was fleeing away, and the rescue distance between them was expanding. Suddenly, the thread snapped, and Amanda probably died.
‘Fever Dream’ Ending, Explained
David wanted Amanda to see one last thing. A few days after Amanda’s death, her husband, Marco, visited Carole’s house seeking answers. Her husband, Omar, told Marco that Carole had already left them. Marco informed him that Nina was acting strangely after the incident. Though she was psychically recovering, mentally, she became distant. Marco begged Omar to tell him what happened to his daughter, but to Marco’s surprise, Omar too had the same question on his mind and wanted to ask someone what happened to David after the poisoning.
While the two estranged fathers discussed their children, David saw Amanda’s car and quickly sat inside it, holding Nina’s beloved soft toy. Omar inhumanely dragged David out of Amanda’s car, and Marco failed to see his daughter’s soul present right in front of him. Yes, the village doctor migrated the other half of Nina’s soul into David, transforming him into a complete being again.
Marco had always been busy with his work and never spared time for his daughter. Amanda complained of the same thing when she was alive. While Marco left Omar’s house, a pleading David (with Nina’s soul) emotionally looked at the car riding away, as if his world had come to an end.
Carole always wanted to move out of the village and travel the world. After the second spirit migration, she probably felt that she had fulfilled her parental duties and hence left. Nevertheless, with two souls in David’s body, he wasn’t her son in the end.
Fever Dream (Distancia de Rescate in Spanish) is a 2021 Psychological Thriller film directed by Claudia Llosa. It is based on the book of the same name written by Samanta Schweblin.