By Andrew Warren, Staff Writer
Dreams are weird. They don’t really make sense. They’re fluid and without narrative. They begin in the middle and end when your alarm goes off. For that reason, I’ve always found most dream sequences in movies to feel inauthentic. But Dream Scenario, the new film by Kristoffer Borgl, gets them right.
Paul Matthews is a husband, father of two girls, and an evolutionary biology professor. He’s passive, mild-mannered, and just a little bit insecure. His situation starts to change when miraculously, everyone in the entire world starts dreaming about him. And in every dream, Paul just walks by whatever strange events are occurring, waves, and moves on. And people love him for it. He becomes a viral celebrity and enjoys the fame and privilege that comes with it.
Alas, the good times do not last long. The dreams become nightmares and Paul’s avatar starts attacking people in their sleep. Even though the real-life Paul has no control over what happens in these dreams, his fame becomes infamy, and the superficial love he used to feel becomes vehement hatred.
Nicholas Cage is as hilarious as Paul Matthews. He embodies Paul with quirky mannerisms and idiosyncrasies to create a very funny three-dimensional character that’s still very down-to-earth. His performance is essential to the movie. It’s hard to get an audience to enjoy an innocent man’s suffering, but Cage gives the audience permission. Paul is just such a goofy figure. The way he carries himself, the way he laughs at his own jokes, one can’t help but chuckle as he digs his reputation’s own grave.
Cage is also a perfect choice for this character, because his real-life experiences mirror the character’s in certain ways. This is an actor who’s gone from critically acclaimed performances to direct-to-DVD trash, to being revived as an internet meme and being the recipient of praise again. Cage doesn’t even understand it himself. You can feel him bringing that experience to this character.
The rest of the actors do a great job of maintaining that understated comedic tone. Given the absurdity of the plot, it would have been expected for certain characters to be equally absurd and unbelievable, but for the most part that’s not the case. Michael Cera, in particular, is very funny as the marketing executive who tries to pitch Paul on selling Sprite, when all Paul wants to do is write a book about ants. Cera’s quiet exasperation plays off very well against Cage’s confused entitlement.
The movie is written, edited, and directed by Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgl. The editing is very effective in a subtle way. The film doesn’t have montages or rapid cross cutting, but there is a presence of speed. Scenes end earlier than you’d anticipate, keeping the audience off guard. This contributes to the feeling of losing control, which is the state Paul Matthews finds himself in for most of the movie.
Borgl and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb flex their creative muscles in the dream sequences of the film. These scenes have a style and ambience notably distinct from the real world sections of the film. The illogic of dreams is approached with restraint. The silliness gets to speak for itself, as opposed to being thrown in your face.
The movie is very engaging up until the last ten minutes. Many audiences will probably find the ending unsatisfying. Considering Paul has no control over the dreams, he ends up having very little impact on the plot’s resolution. There’s an epilogue of sorts that attempts to satirize social media influencers, but it’s a broader sort of comedy than the rest of the film and doesn’t quite jive tonally.
Dream Scenario is about social media, going viral, and “cancel culture.” The internet is society’s collective unconscious. It’s always in the background of our minds, trying to tell us how to think and feel. G-d forbid you get caught in its spotlight, because with attention comes scrutiny and we all have skeletons in our closet. There is no way to win in this game. As Dream Scenario tells us, if you’re playing. You’ve already lost.