Nicolas Cage may have never embodied his most Nicolas Cage-like persona in what could be considered his most Nicolas Cage-esque performance to date. The film is a surreal satire on the dangerous world of social media and the allure of viral fame, something that is often sought after or fantasized about by individuals. This democratized and easily accessible form of stardom can happen to anyone, regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof. It is fame that can be created and consumed through smartphones, capable of infiltrating people’s minds as they envision, and even desire, the same level of success for themselves.
Nicolas Cage portrays Professor Paul Matthews, a respected academic whose career in biology is considered mundane and uneventful. He specializes in the study of animal behavior, specifically how they adapt to avoid danger by blending in with the herd. Cage’s character is portrayed as a dull and unremarkable man, with thinning hair and glasses. He often dons an anorak with a faux fur collar. Privately, he harbors deep-seated anger towards his lack of published work and the lack of progress in his career. His former colleague, who shares similar ideas, has achieved great success, while another college peer has become a trendy media academic, hosting elegant dinner parties that Paul and his wife Janet (played by Julianne Nicholson) are never invited to attend.
Unfortunately, Professor Matthews’s fate seems to be a blend of Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Leonard Zelig, the unremarkable character in Woody Allen’s comedy who manages to insert himself into significant events throughout the 20th century. He also shares similarities with the unhappy male lecturers in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace. Matthews’s troubles begin when people start recognizing him and reacting with surprised smiles. Even his students start paying closer attention. Somehow, through a supernatural or psychological epidemic, the once-boring Professor Matthews begins appearing in everyone’s dreams – but always as a comically insignificant figure in the background of intense or violent dream scenarios. He goes from being an NPC (non-player character) in the game of life to a satirical cameo star. Matthews unexpectedly becomes famous when the news of this phenomenon spreads, but even that cannot explain his widespread dream celebrity. However, when he tries to capitalize on this newfound fame and potential for sexual encounters, his charmingly non-threatening persona in the dreams changes. This serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of chasing fame and exploiting opportunities.
The director of this film is Kristoffer Borgli, a Norwegian filmmaker who has a history of satirizing the self-absorption and hunger for fame found in celebrities. However, his previous film, Sick of Myself, was overly heavy-handed. In contrast, Dream Scenario is a clever film that explores the unsettling experience of fame and its effects on self-awareness and detachment. It delves into the sensation of being cautious and secretly amazed by one’s own famous persona, similar to the disorienting feeling of encountering someone we dreamt about the night before. Dream Scenario shares similarities with Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, and is highly enjoyable. It manages to be both lighthearted and ominous at the same time.