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Dream Scenario

A24, 2023


Kristoffer Borgli

Reading Time:

6 minutes

Dream ScenarioPath of Purpose (TRMMUPNBM4ILZX8U)
00:00 / 06:01

📷 : Used with permission, Aleks Phoenix

Dream Scenario


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Chris Chaisson


A24’s new sci-fi feature Dream Scenario follows Paul (Nicolas Cage), a tenured professor, husband and father who traverses a monotonous existence. His students view him with complete indifference, and to his daughters, he is the uncool dad. Paul’s major objective is to publish a book on his academic research, an idea with which he is very possessive despite not having written a single word. His reality suddenly changes when family, friends, and strangers alike start seeing him in the backdrops of their dreams. 

Similar to his role in their real lives, Paul serves little purpose in the dreams regardless of how dynamic or perilous they appear. He still plays up his overnight (no pun intended) fame, enticed by the thought of being relevant. He tries to parlay it into a book deal after meeting with a talent agency, who instead steers him in the direction of superficial viral moments. Eventually, the nature of the general public’s dreams about Paul turn dark, rendering him a menace in the dream world and a social pariah in the waking world. The target of much scorn, Paul must figure out how to revive his image.

The film begins in the middle of a dream sequence, immediately placing the audience in the universe of Paul’s burgeoning fame. Not only does this keep the audience engaged from start to finish, it mirrors most of our experiences with dreams. We rarely dream lucid, where our fear dissipates because we know we are not awake. Rather, we experience the surreal and wake up in a panic. This scene, and every dream sequence throughout the film, pull the viewer into the movie’s universe. Through Paul’s interactions in the first 30 minutes, we get a sense of his character and his routine as it was without needing any exposition spoon-fed to us. This story choice allows us to spend more time watching the dreams play out, as well as Paul’s various human interactions with the characters who were not previously part of his life.

Kristoffer Borgli’s feature gives an original take on the trappings of celebrity. The common perception of the public’s treatment of celebrities is that we build them up only to tear them down. Though the nature of the dreams about Paul are out of everyone’s control, their treatment of him fluctuates along this same sine wave. Paul finds himself being held accountable for actions that he did not commit in the real world, and to compound his issues, he does not have the charisma or public relations team to smooth over his image. Thus, he winds up digging himself into deeper and deeper holes, even alienating his own family. 

Arguably, Paul’s biggest mistake and tragic flaw is his welcoming of the attention in the first place. Against the warnings of friends and family, he sacrifices his own privacy simply for undeserved fame. Similar to many famous people in the real world, giving away privacy can create mental health issues and tumultuous personal relationships. Though Paul never has control over whether or not people dream about him, embracing his celebrity legitimizes the recurring dreams in the eyes of everyone else. The temptation to do so comes from his dissatisfaction with his mundane life as it previously stood. His feeling of being underappreciated is a growing trend even in the world today, especially as people assess their own value or celebrity by their social media presence. Fewer and fewer people are satisfied with an anonymous lifestyle and embrace attention that is, or could, turn negative. 

Dream Scenario presents other social commentary as well, most notably the power that many people lend to their dreams. Instead of viewing dreams as random and meaningless, many people interpret them as a call to action. For instance, early in the film, Paul’s ex-girlfriend approaches him to tell him that she has seen him in her dreams and asks him out for coffee in front of his wife. Just the same, an attractive talent manager from the agency he meets with asks him out for drinks in order to get to the bottom of her recurring dreams featuring Paul. Despite his marriage, Paul rejects neither of these advances, paving the way for turmoil later on. Both interactions, however, speak to how often people let dreams guide their behavior and spur them to connect with those that they may have ignored. 

A subtler theme in Dream Scenario is the disregard for academic prowess. As a professor with a doctorate, Paul’s work receives little to no attention and is not appreciated. His lectures fall on deaf ears until the students start having dreams about him. He finds his most engaging sessions are when he foregoes the class material and simply discusses the students’ dreams with them. Similarly, the talent managers he meets with do not care about his expertise or his goal of writing an educational manuscript whatsoever. They instead discuss commercials, talk shows, podcasts and celebrity meetups to amplify his mystique. Paul very clearly starts to devalue his own work, simply riding the wave of his popularity and begging for sympathy when it runs out.

Dream Scenario presents itself as the sci-fi twist on the Oscar-nominated 2022 film, Tår. Lydia Tår allows esteem and celebrity to inflate her ego to a point that she mistreats others. Once the collective opinion of her takes a turn for the worst, the same people who propped her up ostracize her and cast her out. Paul gets put on a pedestal by people who have never met him and he enjoys the positive attention he initially receives. Once he allows it to go to his head, the dreams change and public opinion turns on him quickly. Just as is the case in the real world, both Lydia and Paul become victims of the trappings of celebrity. Each film demonstrates that fame is a kind of power, and those who get a taste scramble to hold onto it while thirsting for more.

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