Directed By Kristoffer Borgli
Starring – Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera
The Plot – Cage stars as Paul Matthews, a listless family man and tenured professor with an affinity for evolutionary biology and anxiety regarding his own anonymity. One day, he discovers he has begun to appear in other people’s dreams at an exponential rate. As in life, his presence in these dreams is banal and non-intrusive, he’s simply there, staring indifferently at the fantasies and nightmares of strangers. Nonetheless, he becomes an overnight celebrity, and is soon showered with the attention he has long been denied. But when Paul encounters a dreamer whose visions of him differ substantially from the norm, he finds himself grappling with the Faustian bargain of fame as his dream-selves start inexplicably becoming violent within their respective subconsciousnesses.
Rated R for adult language, violence and some sexual content
After Acclaimed director Ari Aster walked away from the project, much doubt was cast if anyone could bring to life the meaningful merits of the story, but Borgli feels plucked directly from the same tree as his directorial predecessor, in more ways than one that feel integral towards the experience. For starters, Borgli effortlessly conjures the same kind of tonal specificity that feels directly removed from one of Aster’s many strange installments, with a natural awkwardness in humor that not only brings with it a barrage of effectively endearing gags, but also an underlining layer of poignancy, especially during the film’s climactic third act, which cements a tragic aspect of sorts for our protagonist and the exaggerated emphasis of his conflict. For that aspect, the film immediately wastes no time in surmizing a meaningful discussion on the impacts of dreams and corresponding cancel culture, that takes the storytelling miles, both in the variety of reactions to them that carries over to real life, but also what the dreams about Paul says about our jaded protagonist. Because he consistently comes across as stalled or stagnant in the minds of his peers, it tells us everything about his backstory within an unfulfilling life and his approach towards it than we ever could learn in ten hours of exposition, giving us a full-fledged outline of a man that comes to fruition with the single best performance from Cage in over a decade. I make that claim because it finally feels like Cage is playing an actual character, and not an exaggerated version of himself, bringing a meticulously defined ethos and measurement to personality that emotionally makes him disappear into the role. Cage’s best moments are those defined by overwhelming vulnerability, and considering his character becomes a unwanted universal meme for stardom, there is a meta aspect to the portrayal that easily mirrors that of Cage and his bizarre behavior in films over the last ten years, which has made him a meme of sorts to his adoring public. In addition to Cage’s meaty performance, the film’s production values are also enhanced with a free range of creative options in the movie’s cinematography that satisfyingly reflects those of the varying dreams that they depict. For instance, when a character feels threatened by Paul’s permanent grasp over their psychology, the film looks and feels like a horror movie, with jarring shrieks of score and abrupt editing that zeroes in on the menace. This element alone is the single greatest appeal to Borgli’s commanding influence, and just like the evolving expansions of the script itself and its depiction to the perils of unrequited fame, there’s an unpredictable element to Borgli’s direction that constantly keeps you gripped to the engagement, providing the film with a versatile layer of artistic merit that shifts its shape at the most opportune moments to the film’s brief 97 minute run time.
On the subject of that aforementioned run time, the depth of the script and its various themes occasionally feels wedged and condensed by the the volume of minimal allowance that undercut certain arcs, primarily during the film’s defining third act. While I never had an issue following along with where the film, its characters or their narratives head, certain aspects arise with little to no evidence of their arrival that leaves the film’s second half suddenly feeling a bit aimless, with causes and effects that do line-up with logic, but simultaneosuly feel like they’re missing a scene or two of build-up to properly materialize. In addition to this, my only other issue with the film pertained to some momentary lapses in logic with the script’s dialogue that felt like they were holding the hands of the audience to convey insight towards a particular feeling or corresponding visual. While reactionary responses nothing new or out of the ordinary for films with such strangely bizarre concepts, the kind of such imbedded here to the interactions of the characters constantly lack natural appeal, feeling like they remain prominent to constantly re-evaluate the stakes and circumstances of what transpires, while also sedating the nuance factor of the many dynamics that are otherwise easy to indulge in.
“Dream Scenario” might occasionally feel rushed or obvious in the way it outlines the magnitude of such a freshly compelling idea, but what it lacks in patience, it more than makes up for in tonal and visual tenacity, crafting a cautionary tale on existentialism and cancel culture that, with the benefit of a top tier Nicolas Cage performance in tow, satirically stimulates the senses with unfiltered psychological audacity. Borgli capably fills the shoes abandoned by Aster, in turn gifting A24 another artistically ambitious dreamscape that values all of life’s most strange and silly moments equally.
My Grade: 8/10 or B