Fame can be a double-edged sword for many. Those who become accidentally famous often never wish to become famous, and must live with that fame regardless. Others who seek out fame and finally achieve it find themselves regretting the attention. Dream Scenario, the sophomore film from Kristoffer Borgli, explores both sides of accidental fame in an immensely humorous film with one of Nicolas Cage‘s best performances.

Cage plays Professor Paul Matthews, a middle-aged man passionate about his evolutionary biology studies. His passion for his craft often causes his students and children to cringe at and ignore him. Paul’s desire to avoid conflict is quite clear from the start. In an early moment, he confronts a colleague from the university about plagiarism, and yet he retracts the accusation by the end of the uncomfortable scene. Paul is seen as a man simply trying to enjoy his somewhat boring life without seeking any bold new ideas or opportunities. Unfortunately for Paul, he starts appearing in the dreams of millions of people around the world. Strangely, not only does he not remember these dreams, but he simply appears in them without any words or actions. Many of the initial laughs in Dream Scenario come from Cage’s character walking through surreal dreams without a care in the world.

The Curse of Fame

Such a constant reminder of Paul in everyone’s brains overnight turns him into a celebrity. His lectures are popular with students who wish to share their dreams with them. He has interviews with the local news and even sees copy-cats on the street for Halloween. Paul relishes in fame; his relatively anti-social work and his meek qualities never allowed him to achieve popularity. He’s also been approached about financial opportunities and brand deals, although he only seeks to promote his book (that he is yet to start writing). Paul attends a meeting at a marketing firm, led by Michael Cera alongside Kate Berlant and Dylan Gelula. The scene is uncomfortable yet all too familiar; it perfectly encapsulates the influencer lifestyle and the monetization of all forms of today’s culture.

Fame, unfortunately comes with drawbacks, and Paul’s popularity backfires on him in no time at all. Early on, a stranger threatens his family, and local authorities advise him to lay low and possibly move away. This incident is just the beginning of his problems. Suddenly, his behavior in the dreams change, leading to sexual and even violent nightmares. One scene in Dream Scenario with Cage and Gelula’s character in which they recreate her dream is one of the most uncomfortable and simultaneously hilarious moments of the year.

A Caged Cage

This shift in dreams allows Borgli to satire even more of our present-day society in Dream Scenario. Cancel culture and the embracing of “cancelled’ individuals by the conservative movement are utilized quite heavily in the film. The script is tight, funny, and also quite somber, but it is Cage’s performance that makes the words work. This is his best performance in years, and it is clear that he’s invested in the concept; the Q&A at TIFF highlighted the “memeification” of Cage, and the type of fame that comes from internet culture. Cage doesn’t force an over-the-top performance, but he instead shows uncommon restraint and quiet in this role. His desire to connect socially and escape his secluded lifestyle is most prevalent, although the escape isn’t exactly what he imagines. Dream Scenario is a nightmare for Paul, but it’s a fantastical vision of our lives that is sure to resonate.

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