Film Review: Dream Scenario

Words: Francesca Beaumont
Tuesday 14 November 2023
reading time: min, words

Nicholas Cage flexes his comedic skills in Kristoffer Borgli's new absurdist comedy film...

Dream Scenario Nicolas Cage Featured

Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Michael Cera, Julianne Nicholson
Running time: 102 minutes

Dream Scenario's plot unravels from the perspective of Paul, a tenured professor who has inexplicably entered the dream’s of humans worldwide. Paul acts as an on-screen representative of the human anxieties that arise from the mundanity and ritual of everyday life. Despite reaching acclaimed intellectual heights Paul feels as though he has fallen short of the respect and social standing that should accompany his lofty academic accolades, engaging in long, jealous monologues about his abdication from the social events of his fellow scholars. That is, of course, until he transforms into a conduit for people to link their dream scenarios to real life events. 

As the masses rhapsodise over Paul’s mysterious astral appearances, he seems to be preoccupied with his portrayal in such dreams as an ‘inadequate loser.’ In all of the dream scenarios explained to him by his students, Paul  ‘just shows up and occupies the space’, essentially taking on the role as the inactive serial observer in other people's dreams. And in the age where everyone is an artist and there is a constant pressure to outsource all of your creative and intellectual property into the world, in some form of blog, book or high-profile speaking event, many have adopted the rapidly emerging anxiety that they will be nothing other than the observer to everyone else’s success. 

Paul's precarious position as the watcher mirrors back his real life anxieties; for years Paul has shied away from actually writing the book of the thesis that shaped his entire academic career,  whilst simultaneously feeling shunned by the academic world for not receiving the academic accreditation he will eventually deserve from such a book. Paul suffers from self-wallowing bouts of envy towards those who have curated their own scholastic successes. He is, in short, incredibly anxious about his lack of input into the world. And it is through this impact anxiety and quest for self-accreditation that Borgli has interwoven a subtle social commentary on the individual self-image and how it has come to be mediated via the collective unconsciousness. 

A large component to why the character of Paul just works as a figment of fantastic social satire is through the casting of Nicholas Cage, as an awkward man teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. In the scope of Cinema, Nick Cage has almost become a figment of satire of himself and when considering the composition of the average A24 fan, It seems a stroke of genius to have Nicolas Cage sit at the centre of such an absurd social satire. Whilst the film can attribute a lot of its deadpan hilarity to its play on the ‘it’s funny because it’s nick cage’ feature, this is not a particularly bad thing, for it does actually work incredibly well as Cage breathes genuine depth and nuance to the role of a middle aged man oscillating between anxiety and vanity.

It is very difficult to create a social satire that is equal parts amusing as it is moving but in the films final sequence Borgli manages to do just that

In every dream scenario Paul makes no effort to help. The audience watches as nightmarish horrors unfold and then cut to an awkward Nick Cage standing dazed and confused, offering no help. And Cage as an intentionally awkward actor works to make the absurdity of the plot even more amusing. 

In the clamour of being an overnight sleeper sensation online, Paul’s only friend, Brett, played by Tim Meadows, attempts to cut through Paul’s enlarged ego with a rational wake up call. But, unable to de-root Paul’s rapidly expanding egoism, he has no choice other than to allow Paul to fly out to NYC to meet with THOUGHTS: a dubious agency, owned by Michael Cera, who perfectly satirises the archetype of a millennial hipster fronting a failing start up business in the cultural hub of America. 

The Cera sequence showcases how commercialism constitutes the national identity of American culture, and in a clamour to capitalise upon this cultural insincerity Cera and co. attempt to get Paul to collaborate with Sprite. Capitalist ideology has manufactured a strong material monopoly over every aspect of modern life and through Paul, it now has the ability to encroach into the social arena of dreams. 

The idea follows that; just before bed the sprite Twitter team will mass release photos of Paul posing with sprite, as a form of astrally projected product placement. With the result of people, not just dreaming of Nick Cage, but dreaming of Nick Cage holding a Sprite. In conjuring up such an absurd image Borgli crafts a satirical dig at the culture of modern day advertisements. 

As we approach the film's falling action, Borgli shifts his attention from contemporary consumerism to formulate a clever commentary on cancel culture. Following an interlude where Paul, nearly, cheats on his wife with a young woman working as an intern at THOUGHTS. Dream sequences everywhere reconstruct Paul's pitiful, passivity into a freddy krueger-esque perpetrator of violence. Paul's moral anxieties seem to have trapped him within a self-destructive forward momentum, as the film transitions from purely an absurd meta comedy to a piece that packs more of an emotional impact. 

The entire world's collective unconscious is bombarded by brutal nightmares involving Paul's unrelenting violence, and we watch as an unjustly demonised professor loses every semblance of respect and awe from his social circles. It’s an interesting on screen investigation of how one's internal guilt can manifest in how they are perceived by others. It is very difficult to create a social satire that is equal parts amusing as it is moving but in the films final sequence Borgli manages to do just that, concluding with a strange emotional juxtaposition between the impactful moral message and the completely insane premise that Nick Cage is now suddenly the star of every single person's dreams.

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