Nicolas Cage’s latest role may be his most “Nicolas Cage” yet. The film is a bizarre commentary on the dangers of social media and the allure of viral fame. It presents the idea that fame is now within reach for anyone, regardless of their actual accomplishments. This type of fame is created and consumed through smartphones, and has the power to captivate people’s thoughts because they can imagine themselves in the same position.
Nicolas Cage portrays the role of Professor Paul Matthews, a university professor whose career is satisfactory but uneventful. He specializes in biology and teaches about how animals adapt to avoid being singled out and killed. Cage’s character is portrayed as a dull and unremarkable man, with thinning hair, glasses, and a habit of wearing a jacket with a furry collar. However, privately he is consumed by anger over his lack of published works and the stagnation of his career. Meanwhile, a former colleague who shares similar ideas has achieved great success, and another college acquaintance is a popular media academic who hosts sophisticated dinner parties that Paul and his wife Janet (played by Julianne Nicholson) are never invited to attend.
Unfortunately for Professor Matthews, fate has deemed him a fusion of Freddy Krueger and Leonard Zelig – the shape-shifting nobody from Woody Allen’s comedy who manages to insert himself into every major event of the 20th century. He also bears resemblance to the miserable male lecturers in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace. Matthews’ troubles begin when people he knows, as well as strangers, start doing double-takes and giving him amused looks. Even his students suddenly become engrossed in his lectures. In a strange and eerie turn of events, the previously dull and unremarkable Professor Matthews starts appearing in everyone’s dreams – but always as a comically insignificant character in the background of intense or violent dream scenarios. He goes from being an NPC (non-player character) in life’s video game to an ironic cameo star. Matthews gains widespread recognition when word spreads about this phenomenon, but even that cannot explain his nationwide dream celebrity status. However, as if in a cautionary tale, his likable and unassuming persona in these dreams changes when he tries to capitalize on his newfound fame and potential for romance.
The director of this film is Kristoffer Borgli, a Norwegian filmmaker who has a strong interest in satirizing the self-absorption and craving for fame among celebrities. However, I personally found his previous film, Sick of Myself, to be heavy-handed. In contrast, Dream Scenario is a clever film that explores the eerie experience of fame, its self-awareness and sense of detachment. It delves into the feeling of being both wary and secretly amazed by one’s own famous persona, similar to the disorienting sensation of running into someone we had dreamed 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 strikes a unique balance between being light-hearted and ominous.