Hardly a Dream Scenario
Sick of Myself (Syk pike) was one of my favourite films of 2022. When I saw the film in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, I was eager to see where his career would be heading. Unfortunately, Borgli succumbed to Rule 24, which postulates that any successful European director has to sell out to A24, a brand that typically signifies low quality and even lower significance. Consequently, the director’s third feature, Dream Scenario, was shot in English for A24 with someone named Nicolas Cage in the leading role. The film was screened in the Midnight Shivers section at the Black Nights Film Festival. I walked into the screening room in the beautiful Kino Solaris cinema without high expectations.
The synopsis reads something like this: Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage), a hapless family man and evolutionary biologist, finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams. But when his nocturnal appearances take a nightmarish turn, Paul’s newfound stardom suddenly turns from celebratory to dangerous, with unforeseen consequences for Paul, his wife, and their daughter. The concept of dreams might be a tired one, but it can occasionally spawn some brilliant works such as Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul (Teströl és lélekröl 2017). One of the major themes of Dream Scenario is that Paul is always passive in the dreams, no matter how horrific the situation is.
Apparently, we have another film about masculine anxiety on our hands. Mixed with the dream tropes, what is the risk that Dream Scenario would turn out to be a hodgepodge of themes from the likes of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman? Quite substantial, it would turn out. Add Ari Aster to the mix, and I’m more afraid than Beau that the recipe for disaster couldn’t be clearer.1Initially, Aster was slated to direct with Adam Sandler starring. Still, clarity is one of many substantial ingredients missing from the film, just like with those predecessors, which were rather soporific than dreamy. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is one of the worst offenders, even if it is far from alone.
Paul is unsatisfied with his academic career and accuses another, more successful colleague of stealing his ideas. He is vaguely hinting at a book project, which we feel will never happen, or rather, we are sure about it since nothing in Dream Scenario is subtle. When the film tries to go satirical, it mostly goes for the most obvious targets, even if some jabs at cancel culture are among the few that hit the mark. However, when Paul gets involved with a dream-travel tech company that wants to profit from his dreams, the glib name-dropping serves little more than to pander to a festival audience. Interestingly, even critics who enjoyed the film’s beginning were sceptical about this section.
Dream Scenario doesn’t have a shred of originality or even memorability. The cinematic style is imminently forgettable. If one would like to say anything positive about it, one could point out that the pain is far shorter than what its producer delivered in Beau is Afraid. It remains to see if Borgli will stay under the A24 umbrella or follow his compatriot Bent Hamer’s pattern where every other film is good, particularly the ones shot in Norway. As I suggested above, Dream Scenario seems to be a film that people would like to love more than they actually do. It’s nothing more than a not-very-strong idea that quickly wears tiresomely thin.
If anyone still feels inclined to watch the film, a look at the trailer should get rid of those inclinations instantly.