Director Kristoffer Borgli seems to be on a mission to identify and satirize the modern condition as to the image of the self under the expanding capitalistic disturbance of social media culture. He did so in 2017’s mockumentary, ‘Drib,’ framing the consumer as the absurd target of contemporary commercialism, and he did oh so well in ‘Sick of Myself’ of 2022, giving us one of the most critical portraits of today’s narcissistic manifestations. His style sits quite well with the leading figures of Scandinavian cinema (thoughts of Joachim Trier and Ruben Östlund are irresistible), as in his inquiry ambitions of society and, of course, the sharp and piercing humor. His new film, ‘Dream Scenario,’ takes some steps further with a transborder production (i.e., the ubiquitous A24 company and Ari Aster) and a pretty much universally resonating script.

A seemingly unremarkable, stale academic is cruising a life that lacks spark at any point. Paul Matthews runs a university course on behavioral science without managing any outstanding interaction with his students; he has a loving yet unpassionate relationship with his wife and two daughters, who basically tolerate his presence. As for his broader network of colleagues, they seem to overlook him and his value at any chance given.

Paul has the face of Nicolas Cage—this exceptional and bizarre actor who can embody the frenetic and mundane circumstances of being alive to the bone. Yet, there is a more solid reason why Cage is the ideal choice for this role, and it is not because of his ability to carry out perfectly a dull middle-aged man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The trick of the ‘Dream Scenario’ story transcends to a rather metaphysical nature, one evocative of ‘The Twilight Zone’ dimension; Paul Matthews starts appearing in the dreams of his close circle repeatedly as a persistent figure that stands still while the horrors of dreams unfold to the unfortunate sleeping sufferer. Soon, this random phenomenon spreads over and across his direct reach and beyond anyone’s understanding, making Paul an attractive persona to any passing soul. In short, he goes viral.

Nicolas Cage is probably the first star of his scale to take the brunt of the extreme, mean reactions of social media, turning his face into a series of (popular) memes in the very early peak moments of this practice, back in the mid-2000s. Beyond the intricacies of the meme culture and the concomitant mania to parodize ideas and expressions and their communication of them, Cage received, famously but unwillingly, popularity that fused his acting career with his personal life and the success of his face.

This is also what happens to Paul. He becomes the center of a rush that gives him fame, as well as a complete lack of control over his life. Nevertheless, he embraces this fame as an opportunity to pursue his unfulfilled dreams, to publish a book (that he has been so pitifully speaking about, without having written a word for it). His new ambition takes a strange turn when a branding agency focusing on internet personas (commonly known as influencers) offers him a central position in commercial campaigns—that little has to do with his aspirations for fame of an academic kind. Paul’s dream slowly becomes a nightmare as his ongoing viral appearance in people’s dreams gets darker: from a background, still figure, Paul’s character starts acting on the dreams of everyone, violently and, at times, murderously. As a consequence, Paul gets canceled.

Dream Scenario (2023)
A still from Kristoffer Borgli’s ‘Dream Scenario’

En passant, it should be mentioned that this story is more real fabrication than a product of cinema fiction; at the start of 2006, a website named ‘Ever Dream This Man?’ claimed to be gathering stories and providing explanations regarding the appearance of the (specific but unidentified) face of a man in the dreams of thousands of unconnected people. A few years later, this story became viral across the Web, gaining more contributors and, of course, provoking memes. To this day, the rights of this story are attributed to a marketing agency, with the claim of artistically experimenting with ‘subversive hoaxes.’

In a way, reading ‘Dream Scenario’ in connection to this event indicates a sharper commentary towards a world led by the need for success, the subjugation to fame, and the absurdity of the media. Although with a first scan, this film bends the boundaries of conventional logic in ways that Charlie Kaufman would do, Kristoffer Borgli is not really interested in the metaphysics of his story. He doesn’t spend more than a few minutes dealing with the ‘what’ or ‘how’ questions to use his time and intensify the sequence of the story. He does that with inventiveness and playfulness—much screen time is given to the illustration of the referred dreams, and it is the moments worthy of the biggest laugh.

That said, although ‘Dream Scenario’ has a solid connection to its time, it holds some timeless features. The scenes of the dreams are an authentic take nearly against the mainstream cinematic representation of dreams. They are funny and disturbing but not surreal; they are enriched renders of the surrealism running over reality. The script itself denounces the complexity of life, from the most extreme manifestations of contemporary yearnings to the most basic interpersonal relationships.

Also, Read: Three of Us (2023) Movie Review: A Tale of Persevering the Present than Preserving the Past

And yes, the social commentary is embedded in all the points of the film  – whether referring to the ready-to-be-blown-down constitution of fame or to the focus on what can actually matter in this life, such as the growing love of a married couple – which could imply that this is an art-house film, but ‘Dream Scenario’ is constructed in a genre-breaking way. Because it is charming and likable, alright, but it is mainly relatable. This makes it absolutely accessible, basically, to anyone (excluding, of course, the ones who have yet to appreciate the fulsome presence of Nicolas Cage.)

I cannot sign off without mentioning the beautiful cinematographic work, textured and lighted, and loyal to the color palette of his very own Benjamin Loeb, whose style you might recognize from ‘Pieces of a Woman’ (dir. Kornél Mundruczó, 2020), the sci-fi drama ‘After Yang’ (dir. Kogonada, 2021), or ‘Mandy’ (dir. Panos Cosmatos, 2018, starring Nicolas Cage).

‘Dream Scenario’ premiered at the 48th Toronto International Film Festival and was also part of the ‘Bonkers! Competition’ section of the Leiden International Film Festival 2023, which, by the way, picked up Bogli’s previous work ‘Sick of Myself’ for their official selection for the 17th edition.

Dream Scenario (2023) Trailer

Dream Scenario (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Dream Scenario (2023) Movie Cast: Nicolas Cage, Lily Bird, Julianne Nicholson, and Jessica Clement

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