‘Dream Scenario’ movie review: A fantastic Nicolas Cage leads Kristoffer Borgli’s surreal satire

A still from ‘Dream Scenario’

A still from ‘Dream Scenario’
| Photo Credit: @A24/YouTube

Nicolas Cage is eminently watchable whatever he does. Whether it is an Oscar heavy, riding around on a motorcycle with his head ablaze, or swapping his face with John Travolta, one can be assured of a good time at the movies. Writer-director Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario is that perfect Cage vehicle — suitably bizarre and unutterably poignant. And Cage revels in this psychedelic bouquet, whirling like a burning dervish in this ferocious takedown of everything our digital lives entail from viral videos and online brand building to memes and cancel culture.

Paul Matthews (Cage) is an unassuming college professor whose students’ eyes glaze over as he talks of evolutionary biology and the reason for zebra’s stripes. He does not make much of an impression at home either, with his wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson) affectionately tolerating his neuroses and daughters, Sophie (Lily Bird) and Hannah (Jessica Clement) ignoring him.

All that changes when he meets his ex-girlfriend Claire (Marnie McPhail), who tells him she has been dreaming about him. In dreams, like in real life, Paul is a passive onlooker. When Claire writes about the phenomenon, linking the article to Paul’s social media, he realises that he is part of everyone’s dreams — always as a disinterested bystander, wandering in and out of frame.

Dream Scenario (English)

Director: Kristoffer Borgli

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula, Dylan Baker

Storyline: A mild-mannered professor finds his life turned upside down when he invades the dreams of random people

Runtime: 100 minutes

Suddenly, Paul is the flavour of the season; his classes are full, his daughters look upon him kindly, he gains currency at Janet’s workplace, and his colleagues, who ignored him earlier, invite him to fancy dinners. Paul enjoys the attention. However, when a mentally imbalanced man tries to attack Paul at home, he gets an inkling of the downsides of fame.

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His meeting with a viral marketing firm does not turn out as expected, with the firm only keen on him working on an ad campaign for a soft drink, while Paul wishes them to find a publisher for a book he has been planning to write forever. After an embarrassing encounter with an assistant at the marketing firm, Paul’s dream avatar suddenly and inexplicably turns violent, which causes people to turn against him viciously. 

The film follows the rules of dream logic, where we accept unreasonable things, perspective is skewed, colours are vivid or washed out, and laws of physics are binned. The horror of Paul’s situation is also all too real, and just as he had no hand in invading random people’s dreams, he has no agency over his doppelganger’s violent actions.

When Janet tells Paul to apologise or stay away from the children’s play, we can sympathise with Paul for refusing to bow to the court of public opinion, especially as it is a reaction to something he has no control over.

Dream Scenario is an uncomfortable but necessary watch, a sad and spooky indictment of our times. Of course, if you are not in the mood for a treatise on digital Darwinism, you can marvel at Cage’s incendiary performance.

Dream Scenario is currently running in theatres

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