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Review: ‘Dream Scenario’ is enigmatically bizarre

‘Dream Scenario’ is the uncanny story of an ordinary man who unwittingly appears in strangers’ dreams

A scene from 'Dream Scenario'
A scene from 'Dream Scenario' courtesy of VVS Films
A scene from 'Dream Scenario' courtesy of VVS Films

‘Dream Scenario’ is the uncanny story of an ordinary man who unwittingly appears in strangers’ dreams, significantly impacting his real life.

Sometimes things occur that cannot be easily explained. Life is full of mysteries with many theories, but no concrete reasons. Therefore, people must either accept the lack of rationale or obsess and worry until they’ve found some justification that satisfies their curiosity. The alternative response is to embrace the unknown and leverage it to one’s advantage — at least until someone or something dethrones you with a more logical counter. In Dream Scenario, an ordinary man makes cameos in the reveries of people, including total strangers, inspiring an unprecedented phenomenon and upending his personal life.

Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) is a tenured science professor. He’s been married for 15 years, has two daughters (Jessica Clement and Lily Bird) and lives an otherwise unassuming life. Then his youngest daughter describes a dream in which she is in distress and he just idly stands by, making him feel inadequate as a father. Subsequently, he hears of others having similar dreams in which he fails to intervene — even people he’s never met before. While his inaction is troubling, Paul begins to revel in the attention, becoming an overnight celebrity. But in spite of not controlling his actions in the dreams, people hold him accountable. So, when his imaginary presence turns negative, so do people’s feelings towards him.

This is a bizarre commentary on cancel culture, as well as a fascinating extrapolation of the Mandela Effect, in which multiple people share a collective false memory. In this case, people around the world are experiencing the same dream cameo in which Paul behaves similarly in each scenario. No one seems to have a problem with it when his presence is banal. But when he acts badly towards the dreamer, they take offence, connecting those actions with the real-life Paul and ostracizing him for how their dreams made them feel. Notably, the changes in his imaginary behaviour do actually correlate with changes in Paul’s personality, though there’s no direct parallel.

This is the closest to a common man that Cage has played in some time, yet there’s nothing really typical about Paul. When he’s upset, his voice raises an octave and his smile widens uncomfortably. He has a habit of shaking his head “no” when he’s lying to people with a positive remark. During intimate conversations with his wife (Julianne Nicholson), he seems awkward even when he’s exuding confidence. Paul craves recognition, but wants it to be on his terms, even though nothing in his life is noteworthy — particularly not the book he regularly refers to in spite of never writing a word.

Once again, like many of Cage’s projects, it’s not likely this movie will appeal to everyone, but it’s enticing — before losing its way in the end with an improbable invention that feels like the filmmakers are trying to tack on a final point/warning, even though it doesn’t really gel with the rest of the narrative.

Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson and Tim Meadows

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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