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Dream Scenario ★★★★



Director: Kristoffer Borgli

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Julianne Nicholson, Kate Berlant, Dylan Baker, Dylan Gelula, Lily Gao

Release: 10th November 2023

What kind of character do you picture when you think of Nicolas Cage? Just over a year ago, the actor known for portraying wildly exuberant eccentrics got to reckon with his public image in the fittingly self-aggrandizing tribute, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. The millennial internet culture embraced Nic Cage for his larger-than-life persona, and director Kristoffer Borgli surely took more than a few notes: in his scorching takedown of celebrity culture, Dream Scenario, Cage embodies the Gogolian “Little Man” for the age of social media clout and collective short attention spans.

After delivering yet another lecture on evolutionary biology, Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage), a timid university professor, goes home to once again complain about everyday injustices to his amenable wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson). He believes he’s destined to be recognized on the academic scene for his research, even going as far as claiming his former colleague used Paul’s analysis for her acclaimed book. This sad, seemingly perennial routine would’ve continued as usual if not for one bizarre occurrence: all of a sudden, strangers from all over the world start seeing Paul in their dreams.

Even though this unlikely hero becomes an overnight celebrity, his thirst for attention remains unquenched: he’s frustrated by his dream character’s impotence, as his friends and students claim that Paul “just stands there and does nothing”. It’s clear that Borgli’s intentions lie in examining fragile masculinity. Yet, Paul isn’t some irredeemable incel — on the contrary, he’s that omnipresent everyday man facing fairly common trials and tribulations. This parallel between Paul’s sex life and celebrity status is a clever provocation that gets even more compelling once the film shifts gears at its halfway point.

Naturally, dreams could also turn into nightmares, and soon, Dream Scenario starts veering towards its haunting punchline. Paul’s innocent image suddenly becomes a poster child for disgraced celebrities, as more people claim that his dream persona is becoming more akin to a suburban soccer dad version of Freddy Krueger. “For some reason, they love you in France”, exclaims the ad agency clerk, who proposes to pivot from Sprite ads to reactionary podcasts in light of this recent development. Borgli deftly balances awkward comedy with surprisingly unsettling horror, as Paul’s desire for fame backfires just as swiftly as his questionable rise to success. One could easily empathize with the poor guy when he’s blaming social media influencers and the trauma generation for creating this ghastly image – even if his pathetic tantrums seem more in line with the videos of Jordan Peterson crying about the struggles of white men.

It’s somewhat ironic that the film is produced by A24 and the “trauma king” himself, Ari Aster, considering Borgli’s frustration with the state of hollow trauma narratives in contemporary culture. Paul is a stand-in for every meme-friendly persona rendered a corporate product. He is a feeble man whose insecurities get exploited just as much as his calculated attempts to trick the capitalist algorithm. Nicolas Cage is perfect for Paul, as his dramatic transformation into the world’s favourite punching bag evokes profound sadness amidst riotous laughter – a brief moment of sincerity for someone who probably doesn’t deserve one.

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