Nicolas Cage's Surreal Ride from Everyday Man to Viral Sensation
Man with backpack by a car with painting on it saying LOSER

Nicolas Cage in “Dream Scenario.” Credit A24

"Dream Scenario" is a clear metaphor for the toxicity of overnight fame on the average person. It also critiques cancel culture and the dangerous impact of our era's constant interconnectedness. Written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli ("Sick of Myself"), he allows Nic Cage to deliver one of my favorite performances of his in years.

The story follows a dull, forgettable, hapless family man named Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage), a tenured professor with a deep passion for evolutionary biology and worries about his own anonymity. One day, Paul discovers he is appearing in other people's dreams at an alarming rate.

Like his real-life presence, he's a non-intrusive observer in strangers' bizarre dreams. He unexpectedly becomes an overnight celebrity, gaining the recognition he's always wanted, but not for the reasons he'd like. As the dreams turn violently nightmarish, Paul is forced to confront his newfound fame as his life spirals out of control.

Nic Cage is an alpha. But his character, Paul, is a beta — a far cry from his real-life persona. Cage effortlessly transforms into a suburban dad, bearded and bald, full of subtle mannerisms. The mere sight of Nicolas Cage casually strolling through bizarre disaster-laden dreams, doing nothing, is amusing enough.

Cage's natural energy and charisma appear, especially when he enjoys his unexpected viral fame and attention. As he relishes his viral fame, Paul is puzzled and self-conscious about why he's in everyone's dreams, doing nothing.

As the dreams commence and heighten, the plot sends Paul on a roller coaster. At some points, deranged people want to kill him, and women fantasize about him –– which sets up an awkward scene with a younger woman. She's drawn to the dream persona of Paul, only to be bitterly disappointed by reality, echoing the “What I ordered vs. What I got” Amazon meme.

Additionally, characters like Michael Cera's ambitious marketer see him as a business opportunity. At the same time, Paul is more focused on using this situation to pitch his unwritten book to publishers. Feeling entitled to publish a book he hasn't written yet, Paul becomes frustrated as others capitalize on his ideas and situation. He selfishly believes the world owes him this recognition. Cage cleverly portrays his character's identity crisis as he wrestles with outdated ideas of success versus today's unpredictable internet fame.

As the film shifts to a darker tone, everyone begins having nightmares about Paul, leading to nobody wanting to be around him. Confused, he feels it's unfair since he can't control what people dream about. The fun ride he was on eventually comes to an end.

Leading to Paul as a "canceled" figure, he is advised to appear on Rogen –– oh, the meta-narratives weaved in this film. Not to mention using social media influencers like Josh Richards to endorse a dream-insertion tech device invented primarily for advertising following Paul's downfall.

There is not one theme or message to pinpoint as Borgli alludes to fame, social media, monetization, and existential crisis. Its cinematography, with a grainy, dream-like quality, blurs the line between dream and reality. The film's first half, where Cage grapples with sudden fame, is more effective than the second half's portrayal of chaos and downfall. It loses its momentum trying to pin the world against him.

"Dream Scenario" serves as a commentary on our pursuit of deeper fulfillment and recognition once our basic needs are met. These goals, not always clear, lead us to behave strangely during our search, often leading to disappointment in chasing unattainable happiness. It's a witty and insightful look at how fame can turn one's life upside down. We have not grasped how unhealthy this type of viral fame is.