The Sandman: Gothic Fairytale

The Sandman Movie Poster Source: Netflix (Link to

Liza Boguslavsky, Scoop Writer

Dreams are what hold human beings together and rule their days and nights. So what happens when the lord of dreams gets captured? When dreams and nightmares run wild, and people stop waking up? 

The Sandman is a brand new 2022 dark fantasy series aired in early August on Netflix, produced by DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. It is based on the graphic novels written by famous writer Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Sam Keith, Dave McKean, and more. While the graphic novels may have a cult following, it is certainly not necessary to read them before enjoying the series. The adaptation is in good hands, with Gaiman himself as an executive producer. 

The series stars actors such as Tom Sturridge and Boyd Holbrook as the king of dreams and The Corinthian, along with Patton Oswalt as a talking raven. Smaller roles also feature famous actors David Thewlis, Charles Dance, Gwendoline Christie, Mark Hamil and the beloved Stephen Fry, just to name a few. 

Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), the lord of dreams, or simply called Dream is the being known as The Sandman. In the opening scene of the show, a mourning sorcerer Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance) attempts to summon Death in order to bring back his son, and instead captures Dream. Deciding he could settle for power, wealth, or immortality when his son wasn’t an option, the sorcerer imprisons Dream, begging him daily for gifts in exchange for Dream’s freedom. While Dream is locked up, nightmares such as the Corinthian escape the realm and wreak havoc in the human world. Alongside an immortal serial killer nightmare on the loose, a so-called sleepy sickness arises, since Morpheus is no longer in control of dreams and nightmares. People go to sleep and simply do not wake up, remaining in a coma-like state for years. After 100 years of imprisonment, Dream finally manages to escape. Upon Morpheus’s return to his realm, the Dreaming, he finds it in shambles, with many of his creations gone and his palace in ruins. He sets out looking for his stolen relics, his sand, his helm and a ruby that grants wishes. Along the way, Dream also tracks a dream “vortex” Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai AKA Kyo Ra) and his escaped creations. 

One of the most delightful aspects of the series is the casting. Each performer seems perfectly made for their role, bringing a certain charm and authenticity to their parts on screen. 

For example, Tom Sturridge plays Morpheus with a calm and almost emotionless yet tormented elegance while Boyd Holbrook brings unmatched charm and charisma to the Corinthian, even as he plays a bloodthirsty nightmare.  Patton Oswalt provides the much needed comedic relief amongst the darkest times as a newly reincarnated raven. 

Unlike most fantasy franchises, the characters within The Sandman are a rarity. While a majority of them are not actually mortal, they are all extremely human. Far too often within the genre of fantasy, characters are caricatures, pushed too far to be perfect in every way: heroic, brave, moral and selfless. The show never attempts to make its protagonists perfect, or pretend that they are ideal. This is seen even with Dream himself. While Morpheus is elegant and dignified, he can also be blinded by pride and vengeance, and unaware of others’ feelings. He is even occasionally characterized as cold and heartless, or unfeeling. This humanization of characters makes the show that much more immersive and believable, adding depth and realism among all its fantasy elements. 

Of course, even with their flaws, the characters are never beyond salvation. Most (but not all) characters grow and change by the end of the season, especially Dream (who has the longest way to go). Morpheus changes from a cold and uncaring, self-pitying character to a warmer and kinder lord. 

Another upside within the show is the diversity among characters with race and sexuality. While including diversity, the show never mentions labels or issues such as racism or homophobia. The series is the epitome of natural diversity, never making a big deal of things or patting itself on the back for the bare minimum.

Source: Netflix (Link to

The world building is incredibly well done, while being extremely unique. Since a large part of the series takes place in the Dreaming, a realm of literal dreams and nightmares, it has to be well done. Due to the series being based off the comics, it was supposedly “unfilmable”, but that was quickly proven wrong. With incredible CGI, the Dreaming comes alive as a gothic but fantastical realm. 

Of course, this high fantasy genre has its drawbacks to the particular kind of viewer. To some, the fantasy features such as dragons or weird creatures may come off as childish or stupid. But fear not, this issue does not arise much within the series as any encounters with such characters are brief and generally unimportant. 

Then, the soundtrack also cannot be left out. Composed by David Buckley, a decorated composer who has created beloved tracks such as those in Jason Bourne and Batman: Arkham Knight, the music adds a final dimension to the series. Not only adding suspense and mystery to the series, Buckley’s music adds tension and emphasis to interactions and pivotal scenes. 

Perhaps most importantly, there’s the composition and the feel of the series. The overall show can almost be classified as art. Watching the series feels like watching a moving painting, with unmatched costuming and set design. Every shot feels like an art form, with unparalleled cinematography. The aesthetic and color palettes appeal to a gothic and occult theme, and are enticing to fans of dark fantasy or academia. 

Since The Sandman is a dark fantasy, its themes are just as dark.

A few themes developed in the show are the power of dreams and the way they compel humans, as well as the role any given person plays. 

Many times throughout the show, Dream’s importance is called into question, as he has power over only dreams rather than anything thought to be more consequential. But how important are dreams really? Do they not push people to take risks, to keep living? In a certain episode, it is explored what happens when you take away someone’s dreams. (Spoiler alert: nothing good.) 

Dream’s creations also take issue with their roles, running away to be something else and fulfill their own dreams outside their given parts. Dream himself is shown to be miserable in his role, but admits that it is his duty to play his part, regardless of what he wants.

However, the most prominent example throughout the series is confinement or imprisonment. Quite literally, at the beginning of the show, Dream is trapped by a sorcerer. Even after his escape, his imprisonment has long lasting effects on him and his opinions of mortals.

Source: Netflix (Link to

This theme is shown quite beautifully in a tragic way through the composition and costuming of each character. For example, through Dream’s confinement, he is often shown alone, desolate or shrouded in darkness. Frequently, he is solitary on screen or shown to be contained in a certain space. Dream is also dressed in an extremely gothic way, contrasting with the other prominent characters. Another example is the Corinthian, who constantly wears dark glasses to hide his eyes, only taking them off in a couple pivotal moments in the show as a symbol of truth and vulnerability. 

The Sandman is an unforgettable and spectacular show with incredible themes, design and casting. A unique and thrilling edge-of-your-seat drama, it is a treat to watch that will linger far after it is finished.