Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) is just a regular middle-aged biology professor who you probably wouldn’t take a second glance at if you walked by him in a supermarket. Paul knows this too, with his snazzy sweaters and two daughters who think he’s highly uncool. Well, at least his wife Janet (Julianne Nicholson) loves him. What if this average person unexpectedly started strolling into your dreams? Not to rearrange anything or reconstruct a deep dark memory you might have, but to pass by? It’s creepy.
Kristoffer Borgli’s surrealist dark comedy Dream Scenario takes on that simple premise and builds upon it to examine celebrity, boundaries, influencer culture, and how society distills social phenomena. Paul hasn’t done a hugely remarkable thing in his life. If anything, he keeps low to the surface, wanting to write a book he can’t bring himself to do. But now he has all this attention trusted upon him. At first, he rejects it. However, it slowly starts to call to him in a way where the mass populous is subject to all his insecurities and frustrations.
Borgli’s techniques might feel like fantasy and even draw inspiration from a famous burned slasher villain, but the themes are real. Whenever a new phenomenon occurs, someone will be around to gain from it monetarily and strip the wholesomeness out of it. At that point, we have to check if we’re willing to go for the ride, and Paul isn’t as equipped to move in a mile-a-minute world. Dream Scenario throws this character at the pool's deep end and examines the consequences (unintentional or not) that would follow.
In speaking to Borgli, he knows this film might uncover some uncomfortable truths we all share, but perhaps we can laugh them off or even scream in embarrassment together about them.
DraftKings Network: Dreams are an extremely personal space in our bedrooms. They are where we picture our greatest triumphs and worst nightmares. In using how intrusive it might feel with a regular professor strolling through those spaces,
Kristoffer Borgli: I was reading Carl Jung and his theory around the collective unconscious. He recognizes that the same type of characters, stories, and symbols pop into people’s dreams across the globe without cross-contamination. The idea of the collective unconscious being written, like 100 years ago, feels more relevant now because we’ve connected everyone on the planet almost to a global conversation.
The idea of dream intrusiveness led me to think about the movie Nightmare on Elm Street and think that if this happened today in our culture, it would look very different. It wouldn’t be so localized within a tiny town. It would quickly be a huge phenomenon that would be debated, dissected, loved, and hated. We would probably treat it the way we do with most big topics. We have this one-size-fits-all conversation style on anything living in the public consciousness on a big scale.
You draw from your carnival of horrors working in the marketing sphere. Dream Scenario's marketing firm, Thoughts, wants to exploit what’s happening to the fullest extent. Paul wants to write the book he’s procrastinated on, and they throw a myriad of sponsorships at him. It then becomes a full-on industry by the narratives end with the dream-influencers. It felt like you were formulating a concept within a concept there.
Yes, the concept itself lends itself to speaking about many things in our culture. There are all of these microcosms that Paul bounces around in. It’s from academia to marketing to the reactionary industrial complex with talking about culture wars as a sellable point to making dreams sort of a product that you can interject with advertising.
I feel like the culture at large was the co-writer of the movie. The concept itself was a way to explore many sides of the current culture. I followed natural intuition on what I thought would realistically happen but elevated it for a comedic sense or effect. It’s funny to take a high concept out of the horror genre, place it into our world, and see what it would look like.
In a way, it’s similar to the movie Shin Godzilla, where it takes on the Godzilla destroying the city of Tokyo. But the film focuses on the bureaucracy of Japan and how crippled the system to handle the big advent of Godzilla. My interest lay in not so much the science behind this dream phenomenon, but more in how it feels to be the person at the center of it. How does it impact his family? How does it affect his life? Outside e of that, how does it impact his work life? And then, ultimately, how does it impact culture?
In Sick of Myself, a couple competed for attention on social media. In Dream Scenario, Paul has a good life. He has two children, a wife who loves him, and a good job as a professor. When the dream things happen, his wife warns him about celebrity. Even if it seems he’s too uncool to indulge in it, it’s like a drug that captures him at the end.
I think it’s pretty irresistible because it feels good when someone says, “I had a dream about you.” To imagine that coming from people all around the globe is just like too enticing of an idea that it would be easy to reject or resist to engage with it. But also, we’re dealing with a somewhat antiquated man. He’s not well-versed in our current culture and is naive about the cost of engagement. I think that is his biggest flaw. His sort of naive optimism in engaging with this whole phenomenon.
I also found that interesting because you have this balding man who wears a kind of Mr. Rogers sweater and has his wife trying to entice him to be intimate. He allows himself to do it with this woman from the ad agency. It’s the view of how dreams and celebrity can cloud it even for her.
Yeah, exactly. Also, just imagining how long, or if ever, it’s been since he got that type of attention and how extremely conflicted he is about it. It’s just, like, fascinating to watch a man who’s so principled gradually lose all of his principles.
You filmed most of Dream Scenario on location, and the practicality of it all helps as the movie gets darker. With how crazy things get as Paul’s dreams become an amalgamation of all his anger and frustration, there’s still a restraint in not going too far off the dreamscape.
I wanted to convey the actual lived experience of a dream. The phenomenology of being inside a dream is very different from the remembered dream or when discussing a dream in our waking life. When you’re dreaming, you don’t have any skepticism. Nothing is illogical. The feeling of a dream where even the strangest things happen, and you take it at face value. You don’t question it.
When you recount a dream, if it is very different from our logic, it becomes ridiculous, and we have to laugh at it. Making the dreams feel like they do for the dreamer was vital. There was a limit to how ridiculous I could make them. I wanted them to stay as close to actual logic as possible so that the audience would understand the feeling that the dreamer is supposed to have.
Even the gory scenes at the end have a little practicality to them where you’re like, okay, that could happen. He’s not morphing people into a pizza like Freddy does – even if he dawns his glove at the end.
It would then feel ridiculous to claim that you’re traumatized by those dreams because they just seem ridiculous again with not knowing where the sympathy lies if he’s purely a victim or not. I wanted the student’s perspective of living through nightmares that feel hyper-realistic every night.
That would be highly problematic as a student if that were your professor. I didn’t want to shoot fish in a barrel and make their claims ridiculous. This wasn’t about making fun of the younger generation's lack of capability to deal with difficult things.
I wanted to be a debate: where would you be able to come and see that person every day if your dreams were this horrific? This one scene with the hammer is a scene that changed the movie's rating and might even impact the economic viability of this movie in the world. But we needed to go there to understand the students' arguments.