Fame can be a nightmare.
In Dream Scenario, Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) is a family man and tenured professor who cares about his students and their education. Fumbling through middle age, he’s respectable, honourable and… barely noticeable to those around him. Suddenly, Matthews finds himself at the centre of controversy when he randomly appears in people’s dreams. From family and friends to total strangers, his appearance in their minds makes him an instant celebrity. At first, this unexpected fame feels like a dream come true. But the images begin to take a sinister turn, leaving Matthews the focus of public hatred.
Written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli, Dream Scenario is a hilarious and sharply-written satire about the trappings of fame in a ‘cancel culture’ world. Viciously funny in one moment yet terrifying in the next, Borgli somehow keeps the tone balanced throughout. As Matthews ‘goes viral’, his unusual form of fame is both dream and nightmare but Borgli sees the potential to explore our inability to separate celebrity image from celebrities as people.
Of course, much of the film’s success relies heavily on strong work from Cage himself. Although best known for his wild and frenetic antics, Dream Scenario requires him to a dial down his performance tremendously. With anxiety bubbling within his soul, Cage brings Matthews to life onscreen as a man who has a quiet spirit yet yearns for bigger things. Unassuming in presence and stature, Matthews is an educated man who cares for his family.
Nevertheless, to the general public, Paul Matthews remains as dull as dishwater.
But that all changes as he begins to appear in people’s dreams. For Matthews, this Scenario appears to be quite the Dream at first. Suddenly, people care about his opinion and seek him out due to sheer curiosity. In the blink of an eye, the world’s most unassuming professor has become the world’s most interesting man.
Finally, people are hanging off his every word. And he’s loving every minute of it.
However, what people have in their minds cannot be controlled. So, when these dreams turn sour, what can be done on his behalf? In this way, Scenario absolutely sparkles as a satire regarding the nature of ‘cancel culture’. With an insightful glare, the film asks questions regarding what it means to truly evaluate other people and their actions. After all, within this Scenario, Matthews has no ill intent in relation to these dreams, even if others find himself guilty. Here, Borgli does an excellent job of highlighting the way that public opinion shapes reality. Whether or not Matthews is responsible is irrelevant. The views of others entirely dictate his ability to move freely about his life and livelihood, affecting everything from his career to his personal life.
Even so, while Borgli’s script is both incisive and insightful, one can’t help but wonder about the overall message that it communicates. Although the film offers a graceful picture of its unassuming professor, one cannot help but wonder if this Scenario inadvertently suggests that trauma is only in the mind. (“Everything is trauma today,” we’re told.) While the film argues that our culture may have swung the pendulum too far in one direction, does Scenario also suggest that these sorts of accusations exist only in the mind of their accusers? If so, that’s a far more reckless claim but Borgli keeps his cards close to his vest.
In the end, Dream Scenario remains an engaging and hilarious satire that features a stand-out performance by its lead. But one just can’t help shake the feeling that this film may play a little too fast and loose with real world Scenarios that may be rooted in real nightmares.
Dream Scenario is available in select theatres on Friday, November 24th, 2023 and expands on Friday, December 1st, 2023.