TIFF 2023: Dream Scenario

Directed by: Kristoffer Borgli
Distributed by: A24

Written by Christopher Cross


Every year, Nicolas Cage appears in multiple films and continues to maintain a presence in pop culture thanks to his dedication to cinema. In 2023 alone, he has already appeared in five films at the time of this writing and his sixth, most recent effort, “Dream Scenario” broaches the idea of a man who appears in strangers’ dreams and becomes an overnight success. Kristoffer Borgli’s latest feature is an absurdist take on fame and influencer culture, that eventually shifts into a nightmare as an ordinary man who just wants some recognition for his craft becomes more meme than person to the public.

Paul Matthews (Cage) is extremely ordinary. A professor with very little else going on in his life outside of providing for his family, he is unassuming and unmemorable. That is, until he begins appearing in the dreams of people all around the world and often remains just as unassuming in the dream world as well. He becomes a celebrity simply by appearing when the world sleeps, and as a result, his life becomes turned upside down as he wrestles with unexpected fame and the chance to potentially better his career.

Produced by Ari Aster, there’s a confrontational element to “Dream Scenario” that Borgli employs just as much as Aster did with “Beau is Afraid.” Plain, milquetoast characters reveal their true selves when thrust into situations out of their control, and Paul Matthews is no different. There’s a fascinating element of what happens to people when fame goes to their head, and Borgli’s screenplay explores that concept fully. It’s hypnotic to watch Paul attempt to maintain some normalcy while leveraging his newfound attention, ultimately struggling to control his own narrative as even he can’t control his own appearances within people’s dreams. He’s a celebrity for no reason other than that people see him.

“Dream Scenario” escalates until it has exhausted itself with ideas all tangentially related to the idea of one person having power over many when he himself doesn’t hold any power over his success. Cage is perfectly cast – an actor whose presence alone garners attention and even the most mundane of films can be sucked into the vortex of memification just by having him deliver a single line. It’s something that “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” confronted in a much more literal sense, but has been tiptoed around in other films that utilize Cage’s eccentric and singular acting style.

Unfortunately, Borgli’s screenplay has a lot of ideas surrounding its character and the delirious circumstances surrounding him, but lacks any real central thesis. It touches on influencer culture, cancel culture, memes, social media, and many other 21st-century topics, but it doesn’t really say anything noteworthy by the end. There’s a muted nature to the climax of the film, despite it narratively being propulsive. Ideas that held weight earlier in the film are unpacked and only their skeletons remain, leaving a thought-provoking exercise but no real intent to it all.

It’s the darkness haunting Paul’s every movement that gives “Dream Scenario” any heft, but any confrontation of that darkness feels half-hearted and cautious. In fact, Borgli’s screenplay feels like a mirror for society without any reaction to what it’s reflecting. Its execution is novel, but there’s very little impact to anything despite there being plenty of nuance. Comparisons to films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Adaptation” are only apt in so far as the approach to its respective subject matter is engaging, even if there’s no substantially new arguments to be made. 

It’s inevitable that “Dream Scenario” will satisfy those looking for more memes with Nicolas Cage, and the film itself seems fully aware of the power it’s wielding. Cage, and a supporting cast that help ground the situation engulfing his character, give tremendous performances that sell the world Borgli has created. While its concept may be surreal, it’s only slightly removed from reality, making its thought exercises all the more accessible. Darkly funny, and surprisingly moving at times, “Dream Scenario” is a delightful treat for Cage fans that doesn’t wear out its welcome – though it also doesn’t leave the strongest of final impressions.

“Dream Scenario” Trailer

Christopher Cross is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University. You can find more of his writing on his website and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Substack, or Letterboxd for more of his thoughts.

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