Brendan Collins ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
It’s fair to say that there are very few current actors who can tout the same reputed standing as that of Nicholas Cage. The once-action heavyweight has had his last several years defined through roles of the bizarre and oftentimes crazed, from the nightmarish Mandy to the Lovecraft adaptation Color Out of Space. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent appeared to be the brashest possible re-entrance into Hollywood blockbusters, a testament to the actor’s image and staying power and a reminder that, yes, he’s here to stay.
With this in mind, Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario, at least on paper, rejects this ideology fully. Cage appears as Paul Matthews, a schlubby college professor at a New England college. He’s balding and wears thick-rimmed glasses. His idea of an intriguing conversation is on the nature of zebra’s stripes. He’s emotionally loud and often socially unaware. We all know a Paul Matthews, or did at one point or another; his primary quirk is how naturally uninteresting everything about him appears to be.
And yet, as the movie’s first act reveals, he’s the only thing people think about. Paul has begun randomly appearing in the dreams of friends, old acquaintances, and even complete strangers. Within a few days, he’s become one of the most well-known figures on Earth for the simple fear of appearing stationary in the dreams of others, voyeuristically watching on as they experience euphoria, fear, disdain, and whatever madness occurs in their nocturnal subconscious (everso brief segments of the bizarre – think of this as Monsters Inc. but with Family Guy cutaway gags). For someone who’s so rarely appeared on such a pedestal, he takes the chance immediately, reaching out to news outlets and asking his students for examples of their dreams. He fully indulges in this new persona of his and the way his life has changed so drastically so quickly. He even hopes it will help secure his new book.
Those who were drawn to the film due to its connections with current horror maestro Ari Aster, who produces the film, may be surprised at how little the film goes into the territory of the genre, especially when given Cage’s recent repertoire. Instead, the film relies heavily on its cringe comedy, seeing Cage spiral deeper into the repercussions typically imbued within modern celebrity culture, all while being woefully out of his league. None of this would be nearly as entertaining as it is without the actor’s inspired performance. Cage encapsulates the nature of his character so well that any shred of his famous 90’s gusto seems to have completely vanished. Playing off of him just as successfully is a loaded supporting cast, with Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, and Tim Meadows (along with cameos too wonderful to spoil in this review) fully leaning into the awkward nature of the given circumstances
As it plays out, Dream Scenario’s primary metaphor becomes gradually less and less veiled, playing out as a fable on the modern state of social media fame and cancel culture. Those hoping for a large, earth-shattering twist may be left disappointed as the film follows a fairly formulaic track laid before it. Yet with satirist Borgli’s care, it plays off less lazily and far more as a supremely calculated and contained parable of the modern age. The film, just over an hour and a half in length, only takes the story, and its twists and turns, as far as they need to in order to make their point. Some of these land much better than others – a particular sequence near the end of a film, made with the cruel energy of an unskippable YouTube ad, is particularly on-point.
It can be argued that the film loses significant steam in the last act, once most of the absurdism cools down and much of what remains is seeing the rest of the extended cancel culture metaphor play out. The film clearly does little to sympathize with Cage’s character – one action of his in the final act elicited humorous groans from the audience as they caught on – and yet, come the film’s end, you do begin to feel sympathetic for the toll this wild occurrence brought onto him.
Dream Scenario starts as a film not just about the literally nocturnal dreams of the masses, but of the innate desires of the mundane and background characters in our lives. While its message about social media relevancy and cultural fallout eventually takes over, leaving some viewers out in the cold, it continues to hold steady with its deadpan absurdism and total commitment on behalf of its cast. Even as the film draws further and further into its absurd take on modern social interaction, it still remains as clear – if not slightly off-putting – as seeing a bearded Nic cage in your dreams, watching you from afar.