Film: Dream Scenario
Cast: Nicholas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Marnie McPhail, Lily Bird, Michael Cera, Dylan Baker, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula
Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Runtime: 104 mins
Is this film about a dream or a nightmare? This Nicholas Cage outing doesn’t slot itself in a specific genre. It’s a darkly humorous tragic-drama with touches of horror and whimsy to wind you up, as it gushes forth, fueled on pure imagination and great ideas that come good.
In a bizarre turn of events in his steadfast ordinary family life, a tenured professor, a PhD in evolutionary biology no less, Paul Mathews (Nicholas Cage) finds himself the subject of a million dreams. Literally, at first, he is stumped, his family consisting of a wife and two daughters find the whole idea intriguing and his friends and peers think of it as queer. But just when he thinks he can make the most of his unexpected, unwanted notoriety, things get out of hand. The dreams turn into nightmares and the very people who think of the bizarre occurrence as fun, turn on him. Thereafter, the timid, hapless family man finds himself forced to navigate through the minefields of his newfound stardom.
This could be termed a horror film with a unique perspective. The slow destruction of the life of an ordinary man for reasons which were completely outside his control and definitely not his fault is horrifying no less. But the manner in which the narrative unfolds makes it all worthwhile. Beautifully conceived, and plotted in virtuoso fashion, this film can also be read as a darkly satirical condemnation of social media fame and cancel culture. It’s main theme though is about a social media-obsessed world going paranoid and violently targeting a man for no fault of his own. This may not be a true incident but we have been seeing several related events unfolding across the globe and especially in India. The lynchings that follow rumours originating from posts on social media going viral are symptomatic of a world where logic, humanity and common sense fail to find a firm footing.
In the last fifteen or so minutes, the narrative takes an even weirder turn. The new introduction denounces what has gone before and reeks of opportunism rather than creative genius. It also turns Prof. Mathews into someone who goes with the crowd in the hopes of gaining back what he has lost. This story in fact highlights the lack of humanity in a world addicted to gadgets and instant fixes.
Ari Aster’s connection (as co-producer) to the film comes as no surprise since he has already given us a masterpiece on paranoia, the surreal ‘Beau is Afraid,’ just recently.
The opening sequence itself is quite unsettling. Borgli and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb unsettle us with low-angled profile shots intermittently while the editing uses jarring cuts to shock you out of the scenes of calm. It’s a fascinating esoteric atmosphere, though contrived, plays out with a what seems like unique creative impulsiveness.
The film is hilarious – funnier than a generic comedy. It’s powerful narration taps into your emotions too. The film is also thought-provoking and gets quite touching and sad towards the end. To top it all, Nicholas Cage as the hapless and powerless central character subjected to some unreal and blackly comic moments, puts forward his best and most convincing performance yet. Julianne Nicholson as Paul’s wife, Janet also does brilliantly as the person who does not take Paul seriously because she knows him beyond all the recent hoopla that has brought their lives to a turning point. This film is different and that’s its calling card!