Dream Scenario  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Kristoffer Borgli,  US, 2023, 102 mins

Cast:  Nicholas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera

Review by Carol Allen

Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli here explores the bizarrely interesting idea of a boringly normal guy – zoology professor Paul Matthews (Nicholas Cage), – who becomes virally famous when he keeps popping up in other people’s dreams.  

He first finds out this is happening, when people he knows tell him.  There’s a particularly telling scene, when he asks a roomful of students what he does in their dreams.  The answer is nothing.  Just like in his real life he wanders through ineffectually on the sidelines.  An ad agency, led by Michael Cera and Kat Berlant, try to persuade him to cash in on his newfound fame with commercial sponsorship but they are totally uninterested in his proposal for a book on his personal passion but them unexciting subject of ant intelligence. 

But then Paul discovers he has a more erotic role in the dreams of their pretty assistant (Dylan Gelula) and she wants to experience her dream in real life.  In an excruciatingly embarrassing encounter between them, she confides in him her desires.

Then things start to get more complicated.  Paul’s role in strangers’ dreams becomes even more proactive, in fact distressingly and terrifyingly violent and his life spirals downwards as he finds himself perceived  and blamed for his dream persona rather than who he is in real life.

Playing against type, Cage is very good in this.  A shambling, ineffectual middle aged man with a receding hairline,scruffy beard and clothes that look like they’ve come out of a jumble sale, who is totally bewildered by his unwanted and unexplained notoriety.   Julianne Nicholson is good too as his dryly realistic, down to earth wife, whose support is stretched beyond limits

The film’s swipes at contemporary culture –  the ad agency guys with their eagerness to turn Paul into profit and particularly the cancel culture aspect of the story, all hit their target and a lot of it is very funny.  Paul’s students, who previously treated him with amiable contempt, now claim to feel “unsafe” around him and shun him.   People no longer see the real Paul and take no responsibility for their own thoughts and imagination.  They perceive him as the violent person in their dreams.  “Grow up”,  he responds.  But no.  Society takes their side.

The story has a bizarre internal logic which for most of its length works well.  Towards the end though it takes a weird, rather baffling turn, which isn’t properly set up and rather deflates what has up to now been an intriguing, bouncing balloon of a tale with its own creative logic.