If dreams could predict the future, Nicolas Cage and film team should be toasting awards success with Dream Scenario for its on-point and absurdly funny representation of the subconscious mind, fame and social media and cancel culture.
Like the random firings of neurons that form dream scenarios, this compelling collective tale of utter ‘ordinariness’ escalating into extreme ‘extraordinariness’ follows unremarkable, middle-aged Professor Paul Matthews (Cage) as he navigates appearing in people’s dreams like some divine intervention, from family to total strangers.
The film opens with Matthews raking leaves by a swimming pool, simply observing, as chaos swirls all around him. In reality, the scholar lives a quiet, modest life and is happily married with two daughters. However, the mediocre-achieving biologist has one nagging regret that he missed his chance of academic notoriety with his ‘ant-elligence’, a theory that is then robbed before his very eyes.
Feeling helpless and dejected, Matthews unwittingly gains infamy overnight during others’ slumber-time, launching him on a global platform via mainstream and social media that he secretly craves to pen his contribution to science. Only he has no control over his newfound trajectory. Fame comes at a high price.
Cage taps into the nuances of the tortured soul of previous screen characters to flesh out Matthews, a mildly successful man who is downbeat, but also rattling around in a privileged life and domestic bliss. Gone is the expected eccentricity of previous Cage roles, swapped for an average Joe character who is battling to find answers in the ensuing maelstrom. However, Cage brings the same intensity, as Matthews’ desperation grows. We sympathise with elements of the professor’s plight but never quite grow fond of him either, perhaps because his vanity acts as the catalyst for wrecked relationships and career opportunities.
There is also a painfully hilarious scene that creates a general air of malaise when a young PR girl asks the older professor to help re-enact her dream. Michael Cera and Kate Berlant are a comedic tonic as hipster publicists wanting to holistically match Matthews’ exceptional ‘gift’ with (un)suitable brands, while their client attempts to shun the fame he clearly wants. As the story develops/unravels, there is an ever wonderful comparison with how far things have gone, as long-suffering wife Janet (an understated Julianne Nicholson) and daughter (Lily Bird) react to situations.
Equally fascinating is writer-director Kristoffer Borgli’s full-on confrontation of the disturbing influence of social media and subsequent cancel culture that the Norwegian filmmaker tackled in the superb Sick of Myself in last year. Once again, Borgli achieves this in a humorous, poignant, excruciatingly awkward and terrifying fashion, only this time the central character is helpless to its power rather than the instigator. Borgli even makes a terrifying prediction of leveraging the potential of dreams in future marketing that Matthews’ also gets to experience.
Dream Scenario is a darkly comedic delight, immensely enjoyable and oddly satisfying without the need for explanation for the dream occurrences by the end. Perhaps, these merely serve as Matthews’ self awakening. It is without a doubt a Cage career highlight, a role defining moment for the versatile actor as beleaguered and baffled Matthews.