And in my dream he beat me up and stole my lunch money *sob*
dir: Kristoffer Borgli
Dream Scenario seems like it would be something good, something like the good movies people made with Spike Jonze back in the day. Also, it would be either scripted by Charlie Kaufman or someone would be playing a more pathetic version of Charlie Kaufman (or even his more confident twin brother Donnie). In case you, dear reader, are a young person, I am referring to the ancient film Adaptation and…that came out so long ago, now.
It sounds like an intriguing premise: a guy starts appearing in people’s dreams. Not just people who know him, but people everywhere.
The guy is Paul Matthews (Cage): a balding middle-aged professor of evolutionary biology. For once Cage does not overact in this role. If anything, he leans into the sad-sack patheticness of this chap, and plays him as needy, whiny and defensive. You know, like most older people.
People sleep, they dream, and then Paul appears, just standing around, not doing anything. If people are in danger in their dreams, Paul doesn’t do anything about it, or help in any way, or do anything, really. He’s just passively there. Not even observing their suffering. Just…standing around.
How is this happening? Why is this happening? Well, think of some reason, and go with it, because that’s the most you’re ever going to get with regards to an explanation.
Well, will they do anything amusing with it?
Mileage significantly varies between audience members, don’t it?
Paul goes from being a nobody, to a vaguely recognised figure, to a viral figure, to a figure of infamy, in short order, despite not himself having done anything either to deserve the fame or the infamy. He wants to parlay his newfound fame into a book deal. A social media marketing company called Thoughts?, which is just downright appalling, wants to get Paul spruiking Sprite in people’s dreams. He just wants to get his book about ants published.
Past a certain point the Paul that turns up in people’s dreams takes a dark turn. That dream Paul attacks people, terrorises them in their sleep, even his own daughter. If people in real life were looking at him with confusion before, now it’s with abject terror loathing.
His entire class at college dreams of him. Not a single one can bear to be in the same room as him now, so deeply are they traumatised by something he did not do.
You could be thinking, despite the fact that I’ve deliberately been trying to downplay it, that all of this could be interesting, depending on the performances and how everything is realised.
It just wasn’t, for me. It may be an interesting premise, but I didn’t find that they did anything interesting with it. They use it as an excuse to deride or at least bring up so-called cancel culture, or online virality, or late-stage capitalism’s mindless need to commodify everything, but none of those things chart interesting or otherwise engaging paths for any of these characters to take.
Surreal it may be, and quite often we can’t tell what’s “real” and what’s a person’s dream (and then we ask ourselves “who’s dream is this?”), but because there’s no explanation for what happens, no crescendo beyond the dreams getting nasty, and then disappearing altogether, with Paul left to pick up the pieces alone, it ends up feeling a tad pointless. Unless of course the horrible product / advertising opportunity for people’s dreams was the point of it all.
For me, and just for me, but I’ll share it here anyway, there’s a secret buried in the script, which isn’t a clue, per se, but maybe hints at where the story was ultimately coming from. When Paul meets up with someone who he used to date a long time ago (much to his wife’s discomfort), she mentions something about Jung, and how Paul would ridicule her about giving anything he wrote any credence. But who better than CG Jung to explain this flick’s idea of a collective unconscious, and Paul (or more correctly his shadow self) turning up in everyone’s collective dreaming?
I’m not saying it’s an explanation, I am implying though that even as the flick positions Paul as being blameless in what’s happening, I do think there’s a connection between his mental state and the fact that his dream self starts attacking people in their dreams. Before, when he was harmless, he often seemed offended when people described how passive and useless he was in their dreams, so that once he becomes more active, shall we say, people are even less impressed.
Just to reiterate, the shadow self as Jung thought of it is not like what people regard as one’s “dark side”, or as just a generic ‘evil’ version of oneself: it is more the unexpressed or repressed self, the parts of a person that don’t align with the persona that people represent or construct for other people’s consumption, so to speak.
Is Paul blameless for what people are seeing in their dreams? I guess. But the version that people see of Paul, who are attacked or tortured by Paul in their dreams, is that a version of Paul expressing his frustrations, his rage at his own lack of control over his own life? Is this other Paul completely disconnected from Paul?
Maybe, maybe not. Although he only rarely does awful things in ‘reality’, we don’t really have a sense that he’s a good person, at any stage. He’s so needy, so whiny, so entitled to a view of himself that no-one else shares well before the strange happenings start happening. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the “evil” Paul starts turning up in people’s dreams only after a man breaks into Paul’s house and threatens everyone with a knife. That violation of the sanctity of the hearth and home I think sets him down a crooked path because of how nakedly vulnerable it has made him feel. And when a cop goes through all the things Paul and family could do to improve their safety and security, Paul is like, politely, “fuck that”, and elects to do nothing whatsoever.
I think it’s the doing nothing part that also is another clue to perhaps the strange architecture of the world the filmmaker has created for this character: he is passive for so long in his own story that by the time he starts trying to Do Something, and Change the Narrative, it is not only far too late, but his actions make things immensely worse.
One of the women from the PR / social media empire / crap factory somewhat fixates on ‘real’ Paul because she was immensely turned on by whatever nasty things he did in her dream, and, against her and everyone else’s better judgement, she tries to make ‘real’ Paul replicate the event back at her apartment. To say that what happens is excruciatingly cringeworthy barely scratches the surface. I mean, I wanted to throw myself out of a window after watching it.
But I guess that part was funny. I think that, at most, there are two-thirds of an interesting movie here. I think the last part completely falls apart, and doesn’t really serve the best interests of telling this story at all. I think the positives it has going for it include a novel premise and a fairly decent Nicolas Cage performance, which is as always rarely guaranteed these days, as it has been for the last twenty or so years. But it’s a solid performance, he’s believable as a mundane and misguided human being, and he probably looks closer to what Nicolas Cage would actually look like if he never became a movie star and became some accountant in Lincoln, Nebraska instead.
I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of a waste of a dream premise, a golden opportunity, spent making cracks at useless influencers and the too online at the film and therefore the audience’s expense.
6 times I see Nicolas Cage in my dreams, but usually he’s singing Elvis tunes like in Wild at Heart out of 10
“Trauma is a trend these days. It is a joke. Everything is trauma. Arguing with a friend is trauma. Getting bad grades is drama. They need to grow up.” – keep yelling at those clouds, old man - Dream Scenario