Dream Scenario marks an ambitious new creative direction for actor Nicolas Cage and Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli. Cage, known for portraying intense and eccentric characters, here disappears into the role of Paul Matthews – a dreary biology professor whose life is upended when he inexplicably starts popping up in strangers’ dreams worldwide. This propels the unassuming academic to viral stardom, leading to a surreal rollercoaster ride through the fickle nature of internet celebrity.
With his deadpan wit, Borgli emerged through art films like Sick of Myself that satirize the warped values of social media using boldly absurdist premises. Dream Scenario continues this trend, plunging Cage’s befuddled everyman into a cascade of chaotic dream logic and public scrutiny. Borgli skewers our viral-happy culture by subjecting Paul to whiplash changes in fame and infamy over things entirely outside his control.
This high-concept comedy aims its satirical lens at hot topics like cancel culture, marketing opportunism, and toxic masculinity. But does Dream Scenario hit its targets in a clever way, or indulge in lazy generalizations? By reviewing the trajectory of Paul’s journey from professor to prophetic figure to pariah, we’ll determine if Borgli’s latest exercise in surrealism offers rewarding social commentary or falls short of a meaningful message.
An Overnight Sensation Spirals into Infamy
Paul Matthews keeps a low profile as a balding, bespectacled biology professor at a nondescript college. Though tenured, he harbors deep insecurities and regrets over his stagnant career publishing unremarkable papers on animal behavior. At home, Paul’s regarded as an awkward oddball by his wife Janet and two eye-rolling teenage daughters.
Paul’s humdrum life takes a bizarre turn when a random ex-girlfriend informs him that he’s been appearing as a passive bystander in her dreams. Soon, reports cascade in of Paul cameoing in the dreams of strangers worldwide. His initial confusion gives way to bashful excitement over this sudden viral fame.
As Paul’s dream visits surge into the millions, he gets plunged into the spotlight. Talk show appearances and a book deal offer beckon, while hip marketing firms try to harness his overnight notability. A sexually aggressive assistant for one agency admits Paul plays a central carnal role in her dreams, leading to an excruciating failed hookup that highlights the gap between his fantasy image and real self.
But Paul’s phenomenon curdles when his dream cameos transform from standing mute to committing horrific acts of violence. The public turns on their newfound celebrity, vilifying him as a monster despite no conscious wrongdoing. Protestors hound Paul in public as his reputation implodes. The university places him on leave, and his family recoils from the controversy enveloping him.
Desperate to regain control of his image, Paul attempts apologies that only stoke more outrage. In the court of public opinion, he’s been deemed irredeemable. Now a pariah, Paul loses everything to mass condemnation over these unconscious crimes. His viral notoriety has collapsed into infamy, with neither the adulation nor animosity rooted in Paul’s own volition.
Examining the Fickle Nature of Viral Fame
At its core, Dream Scenario is a razor-sharp satire of internet virality and cancel culture. Borgli creates a heightened version of real phenomena to underscore the arbitrary, herd-like nature of both fame and condemnation in the digital age.
The film taps into the absurdism of everyday people becoming overnight sensations or targets of global scrutiny for little substantive reason. Paul transitions from anonymous to internationally recognized not through talent or conscious actions, but a random quirk catapulting him into strangers’ subconscious minds. His initial taste of stardom as “the dream guy” morphs into vilification just as haphazardly.
This rollercoaster mirrors the experience of many viral personalities, subject to the mercurial whims of public opinion. Borgli skewers the loss of privacy and control over one’s image that fame entails. Paul lacks any say in his narrative as marketers plot to monetize him and the public judges his unchanged real-life behavior against his fictional dream persona.
Borgli sharpens his satire by making Paul an entitled yet unremarkable man who secretly craves recognition. His hunger for validation despite lack of achievement epitomizes a certain pathetic strain of mediocre masculinity. Yet Paul remains relatable enough for us to appreciate the jarring anguish of his fall from grace.
By becoming condemned over unconscious acts, Paul embodies the absurd lengths cancel culture can reach to shun problematic figures. But Borgli avoids simplistic critiques. Paul’s reprehensible dream behavior reminds us of the real trauma caused by powerful men, even as his experience illuminates the excesses of reactionary groupthink.
Ultimately, Dream Scenario transcends specific debates to highlight timeless truths about human nature. Borgli suggests that public appraisal often reveals more about the fickle herd than any individual placed under their microscope. Through Paul’s surreal journey, the film emphasizes how sanity depends on finding purpose away from the spotlight’s glare.
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Heightening Absurdity Through Minimalist Filmmaking
Borgli’s understated direction immerses us in the absurdism of Paul’s journey. He films dreams and waking life through the same restrained, naturalistic lens. This matter-of-fact approach makes the surreal premise play out uncannily like real events.
As Paul becomes infamous, Borgli increasingly incorporates dream logic outside of defined nightmare sequences. He allows disorienting jumps between Paul’s point of view and the subjective contents of strangers’ slumber. The timeline fractures, and bizarre qualities seep into Paul’s banal reality.
By grounding the early scenes in mundane details like drab winter weather and nondescript suburban architecture, Borgli makes the descent into paranoid absurdity more stark. A bleak atmosphere permeates as angry mobs and bizarre violence engulf Paul’s formerly comfortable world.
Cage’s disappearing act into the role relies on external changes like a bald cap and dowdy dad wardrobe. This schlubby getup visually signals Paul as an everyman inexplicably caught up in extraordinary circumstance. Borgli often films Cage at a remove, small in the frame, to convey Paul’s lack of control over his larger fate.
The escalating absurdism is enhanced by Borgli’s stark, minimalist style. With distorted sound, abrupt cuts, and lacking traditional cues for dreams, he keeps us off-balance. By layering uncanny events into this banal world, Borgli entraps us in the same confusing maze as Paul. The director immerses us in the arbitrariness of viral fame and condemnation through crafted surrealism.
Cringe Comedy Brought to Life Through an Ensemble Cast
Dream Scenario thrives on cringe-worthy humor, which the ensemble cast executes with aplomb. At the center is Nicolas Cage’s hilarious disappearing act as the loser-ish Paul Matthews. Cage makes the character simultaneously pathetic yet relatable, eliciting laughs and empathy for Paul’s deteriorating plight.
As Paul’s wife Janet, Julianne Nicholson provides an emotional anchor amidst the absurdity. But she’s relegated to a minor, undeveloped role primarily representing collateral damage in Paul’s downward spiral.
The supporting cast shine by instilling eccentric personalities into roles designed to subvert expectations. Michael Cera channels sleazy insincerity as the head of a viral marketing firm trying to exploit Paul’s notoriety. His sexually aggressive assistant portrayed by Dylan Gelula is a standout, engineering the movie’s most excruciatingly funny and awkward moments.
Other supporting players like Tim Meadows as Paul’s university dean and Nicholas Braun as an unctuous talk show host offer perfectly-pitched sendups of authoritative figures desperately trying to appear hip and relevant. Their cringey attempts at relating to Paul as an overnight celebrity lead to many squirm-inducing laughs.
But the glue holding this bizarre premise together is Cage’s anti-charismatic turn as Paul Matthews. His lumbering body language and distinctive drawl are muted just enough to make Paul devoid of discernible personality. Yet his increasing desperation elicits sympathy once public tides turn against the harmless professor. Cage’s precisely calibrated performance grounds the satire in poignant truths about human nature.
The skilled ensemble cast plays each absurd development straight, allowing the layered social commentary to shine through. Their commitment to characters trapped in laughably awkward situations creates a comedic alchemy that elevates the screenplay’s ideas into memorable cringe comedy gold.
Muddied Messages and Unrealized Potential
While Dream Scenario skewers internet notoriety with bite in its first half, the film loses focus and momentum when specifically satirizing cancel culture. Borgli’s attempts at cultural commentary grow less nuanced as the story progresses.
The early scenes offer clever takes on viral fame by plunging Paul into absurd dream logic scenarios. But Borgli’s critique of so-called “cancel culture” relies on broad generalizations and straw man arguments. He portrays the public outrage against Paul’s unconscious behaviors as irrational mob mentality, without empathy for why such backlashes occur.
These clumsy jabs at “woke” movements feel reactionary rather than enlightening. And the film’s messages become muddled amidst an overstuffed final act overloaded with ideas. Borgli attempts to cram in commentary on redemption, the dark side of fame, and more – leaving each theme underdeveloped.
Adding to the clutter is the waste of potentially meaningful supporting characters. Julianne Nicholson is gifted little screen time to develop emotional depth as Paul’s wife Janet. The family roles overall feel thinly sketched, denying Cage’s performance the complexity of grappling with real human relationships.
By losing narrative focus and resorting to blunt cultural criticism, Dream Scenario squanders much of the goodwill earned through its viral fame satire. Borgli proves unable to maintain the incisive, surreal social observations that initially make Paul’s journey so compelling. The result is a film of unrealized potential, weakened by its own muddy messages in the final stretch.
An Absurdist Satire Undermined by Muddled Messaging
Dream Scenario shows flashes of brilliance in its mission to skewer internet culture through surreal absurdity. Borgli’s inventive direction and visuals smartly enhance the film’s high-concept premise. And Cage is perfectly cast as the audience surrogate plunged into viral fame chaos, delivering an uproariously pathetic yet sympathetic everyman performance.
When centered on upending our understanding of celebrity and condemnation, Dream Scenario provides biting observations on the fickleness of public judgment. But the screenplay loses focus in the second half, diluting the incisive satire with clumsy broadsides against “cancel culture” and muddied thematic overreach.
Borgli attempts to juggle more ideas than he can handle in the final act, sacrificing nuance. The film derails into reactionary generalizations that undermine the thoughtful questions raised earlier about herd mentality in the digital era. With its unrealized potential, Dream Scenario stands as an intriguing curio unlikely to satisfy those seeking a substantial message.
Yet glimmers of brilliance still peek through the messy ambitions, especially when Borgli trains his satirical eye on the arbitrary nature of viral fame. Uneven but periodically inspired, Dream Scenario ultimately provides a flawed yet worthwhile plunge into an absurdist house of mirrors reflecting the strangeness of living online.
Dream Scenario shows promise in its mission to skewer our viral-happy culture, buoyed by Borgli’s surreal imagination and a game Nicolas Cage performance. But the film’s insightful satire is undercut by broadsides against “cancel culture” and thematic disarray in the final act. Those seeking a substantial message may leave disappointed. Still, glimmers of brilliance can be found in this flawed peek at absurdism for the extremely online age.
- Nicolas Cage gives an excellent deadpan comedic performance as the pathetic yet sympathetic protagonist
- The premise of a random man appearing in strangers' dreams is inventive and surreal
- Borgli's direction enhances the absurdist satire, especially in the first half
- Strong cringe comedy from actors like Michael Cera and Dylan Gelula
- Smart satire of internet virality and arbitrary nature of viral fame
- Loses focus when specifically satirizing cancel culture in second half
- Critique of cancel culture lacks nuance and empathy
- Muddled messages and too many ideas in the final act
- Reactionary generalizations about "woke" culture
- Underdeveloped female supporting characters
- Doesn't fully deliver on the potential of the provocative premise