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  • Benjamin May

Dream Scenario (2023) Review

Nicolas Cage is an endlessly watchable actor. From ‘Moonstruck’ and ‘Adaptation’ to ‘Pig,’ he has given many startlingly powerful, nuanced performances, that are hard to forget. At the same time, Cage has given many overblown ones, in efforts like ‘Vampire’s Kiss’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil,’ which are even harder to forget. Whether understated or over-the-top, Cage is always entertaining, oftentimes making unremarkable films not just watchable, but memorable.


In Kristoffer Borgli’s ‘Dream Scenario,’ Cage plays Paul Matthews, a professor of evolutionary biology at Osler University. A middle-aged, insipid fellow, Paul yearns for recognition. One day, he runs into an old flame, who tells him he has been appearing in her dreams, which she writes an article about. Suddenly hundreds of strangers report seeing Paul in their dreams, and he becomes a global sensation. However, Paul soon learns that fame is fickle, as his life becomes a waking nightmare.

‘Dream Scenario’ is a funny, interesting film examining multiple themes, though fails to explore all of them thoroughly. As Paul becomes famous, and later infamous, the film satirises the preposterousness of notoriety, how people nowadays become celebrities while doing practically nothing. Although not exactly an original point, Borgli’s screenplay navigates this idea in a clever, comedic way. At the same time, the film shows the downsides of fame, skewering cancel culture; revealing how celebrity can transform from adoration to infamy in an instant.


However, as the film progresses, other ideas are introduced, which aren’t covered in depth, and the final act underwhelms. Though Borgli’s attempts to lampoon the phenomenon of “influencers” provides some laughs, it also distracts from the established narrative. Additionally, the film’s supporting charters are rather underwritten, lacking development. Conversely, Paul is an intriguing character, whose massive ego is hidden beneath layers of self-consciousness and doubt. A timid, yet opinionated man, Paul is, to quote Kris Kristofferson, ‘a walking contradiction,’ and a compelling one at that.

Borgli and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb capture Paul’s rise and fall with keen eyes. Shot on 16mm film stock, the visuals are beguiling, mirroring Paul’s journey through the tumultuous cycles of fame, as well as contributing to the film’s dreamlike atmosphere. They make excellent use of light and colour, as well as subtle distortions and low angles, immersing viewers in the surreal world of the narrative.


Additionally, Borgli’s intuitive editing keeps thing cohesive, while also adding to the film’s atmosphere. His use of quick cuts in otherwise calm scenes- creating a sense of unease- is reminiscent of the work of Yorgos Lanthimos. Similarly, the dream sequences- particularly in the latter half- are more than mere plot devices; they’re visual poetry, weaving symbolism, surreal imagery and emotional subtext seamlessly into the narrative, thanks to Borgli’s astute edits.

Furthermore, Owen Pallett’s score enhances the film’s atmosphere and emotional impact. Talking Heads’ ‘City of Dreams’ is used to particularly strong effect, leaving few viewers with dry eyes as the credits roll. Kaysie Bergens and Natalie Bronfman’s costume design effectively contributes to the characters’ personalities, while production designer Zosia Mackenzie’s canny work amplifies the surreal nature of Paul’s experiences.


Cage, however, is all one can think about when the film is over. He delivers a marvellous performance, funny, sad and profoundly realistic. A heightened, deeply insecure man who just wants the world to read his book about ants- which he has yet to write- Cage’s Paul is one of his finest cinematic creations, up there with his turn as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in ‘Adaptation’ and Ben Sanderson in ‘Leaving Las Vegas.’ Multifaceted, funny, memorable; it’s classic Cage.

While his supporting cast all do fine work- Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows and Dylan Gelula especially- they aren’t given substantial material to work with. Nicholson is particularly good in the underwritten role of Paul’s wife, demonstrating remarkable emotional depth. Cera is hilarious in the all too small part of Trent, the head of a viral marketing firm, while Meadows and Gelula both do stellar work as the Dean of Osler University and Trent’s assistant Molly, respectively.


Kristoffer Borgli’s ‘Dream Scenario’ is an entertaining film, though has its issues. While the conceit is novel, Borgli’s examination of themes like cancel culture and fame- though funny- aren’t particularly original. However, the cinematography is striking, the score stirring and the whole affair edited astutely. Nicolas Cage is absolutely fantastic, while his co-stars all do fine work in underwritten roles- Julianne Nicholson especially. Although ‘Dream Scenario’ might not be perfect, it’s definitely not a nightmare, and more proof that Cage is an endlessly watchable actor.

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