In the present era, popularity has taken a unique shape. Platforms like TikTok have enabled short and meaningless videos to thrust someone into unexpected stardom. Dream Scenario, starring Nicolas Cage, examines the contemporary idea of fame and how it can be a delicate issue in the public eye, even for something trivial. The movie cleverly utilizes satire to communicate its message, though some viewers may perceive it as complicated due to its murky messaging.
The movie made a surprise entrance at Fantastic Fest 2023 as one of its Secret Screenings. At first, the addition seemed odd, considering Fantastic Fest prides itself on being a festival for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. But by the end, the inclusion of Dream Scenario made complete sense.
[Warning: mild spoilers and impressions ahead for A24’s Dream Scenario.]
Dream Scenario: The story
Directed and written by Kristoffer Borgli, Dream Scenario centers on a college professor named Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage), an overweight, balding man of academia. At the film’s start, his daughter describes a dream about her father, where bad things happen around her, and Paul seemingly doesn’t react to the situation, nor does he rescue his little girl from danger.
Soon after, he meets an ex-girlfriend who describes the same dream and wishes to have dinner with him to try to settle old feelings. Tensions over this begin with his wife, Janet Matthews (Julianne Nicholson), who becomes increasingly uncomfortable with Paul’s public attention. Then, colleagues have dreams about Paul, followed by his students. And then the news gets a hold of the phenomenon, turning a mostly inconsequential man into a celebrity.
And while Paul embraces his newly established stardom, the wave of fame happens without him having a say. But his unintentional fame unintentionally backfires when the dreams become nightmares. This places Paul in a spiraling world of infamy resulting from dreams he never caused.
The good, the bad, and the frailness of present-day fame
The satire in Dream Scenario is incredibly poignant, with layers of subtext about lazily produced fame. Paul becomes a viral sensation, but he technically did nothing to earn it. One can see comparisons to some TikTok or Instagram icons who profit millions by sharing a post. This writer’s statement (or influencer critique) is not intending to say some influencers don’t work hard. But some celebrities literally became famous by making facial expressions to songs on TikTok.
Adding to this, Dream Scenario aptly depicts the ever-changing tidal wave of internet fame. More specifically, how easy it is for the online public to flip a switch on an individual overnight. For example, a segment of today’s fandom still has it out for James Gunn, all this while he had a smash hit movie over the summer. These concepts feel authentic as the film uses dreams to symbolize online fame.
Nicolas Cage is wonderfully weird and outstanding
The dreams are executed with jarring sensibilities and work perfectly for someone like Nicolas Cage. He is an actor who can be understated when needed, then over-the-top intense if required as well. In both dreamlike situations, he conveys dark humor effortlessly for the “dream scenarios.”
Cage once again delivers a phenomenal performance. He gives Paul an awkward insecurity that is admirable. Comedy often requires an actor to look foolish, and Cage is clearly brave enough to drive his characters into uncomfortable places comedically. Some readers may be unfamiliar with this news personality, but Cage’s performance of Paul appears to be inspired by CNN news anchor Michael Smerconish if the news anchor had a splash of neuroticism. The role is wonderfully weird and might bring back memories of watching Cage’s performance as Charlie in Adaptation.
There are elements of Dream Scenario that feel conflicting in messaging. Specifically, it feels unclear what it’s trying to say about cancel culture or if it’s trying to say anything about the topic at all. To much relief of this writer, it doesn’t hold a Joe Rogan position on the subject as it takes a few jabs at Rogan-like pundits. However, the ambiguity of the messaging could leave some room for these types of personalities to interpret the film as taking their side in particular situations. It didn’t destroy the experience but left me with some concerns while watching.
Dream Scenario is a delightfully dark satire
The most surprising aspect of Dream Scenario is the sci-fi element in the film. For the most part, Kristoffer Borgli’s film is based in actuality, but it takes a comedic shift into Black Mirror territory out of nowhere. Introducing sci-fi elements adds a unique quality to the film, although it remains firmly grounded in reality. The shift is a delightful surprise for viewers and only adds to the film’s distinctiveness.
While not perfect, Dream Scenario is another film that provides evidence that Nicolas Cage is an outstanding actor with versatility. Kristoffer Borgli’s movie is uncomfortably hilarious and clever in its conception. The message about cancel culture is muddled to a fault, but the film is nonetheless entertaining.
Dream Scenario is a delightfully dark satire on modern-day fame and the ever-changing undertow of getting caught in the tidal wave of being a celebrity. Like 2021’s Pig, Nicolas Cage has made another performance-relevant piece worth seeing when Dream Scenario hits theaters this November.
My rating for this film
A24’s Dream Scenario starring Nicholas Cage opens in theaters on November 10, 2023. Are you planning to check this one out later this year? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.