Fantastic Fest 2023: DREAM SCENARIO and Nic Cage

The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.

Nicolas Cage is one of cinema’s greatest treasures. In his new film Dream Scenario he plays an extremely normal, unremarkable man that finds out the world at large is dreaming about him.

Cage’s Paul Matthews hates himself so much that he projects himself into other people’s subconscious. What they dream about is what he most fears: that he’s pathetic, ineffective, and hapless: so in dreams he stands idly by and watches, doing nothing to help those in peril. It’s harmless though – he becomes a sensation as the collective unconscious sees someone that’s mild and slightly funny looking, bumbling around in their dreams.

If the whole world dreamed about you, you’d quickly become one of the most famous people alive. Paul doesn’t handle this newfound fame well. An incident shifts his internalized perspective and eventually his self hatred focuses on a different flaw; he begins to view himself as a monster and, as before, that manifests in the dreams of others (but this time with dire consequences).

Dream Scenario is an A24 film from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself) and producer Ari Aster. “A24 and Aster” sells a lot of what the film is about, blending comedy and drama with (mild) horror elements. There’s an anxious undercurrent permeating the whole affair. Kaufman will probably be the biggest comparison, but his Adaptation is different enough both in tone (Dream Scenario is sweeter) and Cage’s performance.

Cage brings so much depth and angst to an unremarkable man. He shows that even the most mundane person has a rich inner life. We’re all the main character of our own story and with that comes a baseline of neurosis and vanity, and Cage taps into that as he deteriorates throughout the movie. The lack of accurate self perception is painful: he considers himself such a loser but he has a loving family, a beautiful home, and a great job, so it becomes a deeply sad movie as he devolves. 

There’s some surprises in the cast I won’t spoil but everyone is delightful. The dream sequences are both hilarious and frightening. There’s also a 15 minute stretch in the middle that’s one of the best things to hit screens this year, with a punchline so funny I cried laughing. It’s a near total package.

Near total because the ending – it’s nearly there but introduces some new ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out and distract from the emotional resolution. I felt moved by the time credits rolled but the lack of focus in the home stretch prevented it from being the absolute best thing I saw at Fantastic Fest; however, it’s still excellent and one of the year’s best.

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