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Dream Scenario

“Do you think I have the emotional maturity to carry on an affair?” Paul Matthews (Nicholas Cage)

Few Nicholas Cage characters could be accused of having emotional maturity. Now he has gone about as far as an actor can go with the satire Dream Scenario, helmed by Norwegian, LA-based Kristoffer Borgli. Together with producer Ari Aster (Hereditary), Borgli has ventured into the rare arena of “surrealist horror-comedy.”

Paul Matthews is a tenured professor who suddenly finds he’s inhabiting others’ dreams, most often in strange silence and motionless. For the first instance, his daughter Sophie (Lily Bird) has a dream of objects falling from the sky as she begins to levitate and he dumbly watches.

For the obvious academic world, he’s expressing the nightmare frequently of impressing, especially younger students, with his hidden psycho-sexual urges and his longing to have students desire him. As he tries to migrate to branding with the help of a skctchy ad agency and a hot, young intern Molly( Dylan Gelu).

Yet, this is not just the mixed-up Freudian underworld of a professor, for anyone who has taught, performed, or played political, the psyches of those who see us do our thing are usually excluded from our knowing. In one particularly insightful sequence, he inhabits the dream scenario of Molly, with whom he has an uncomfortable sexual encounter in that dream world. In her dream, he expresses his reservations about the difference in their ages and eventually doesn’t perform well thanks to a comically-placed fart, even after the act was successful in a previous dream.

Beyond the sexual, Matthews suffers the ignominy of being universally known to inhabit violent dreams and therefore held in contempt as any public figure might be. Subsequently the cancel culture condemns him, calling for his academic head, he being protected by his tenure but not immune from his growing lust for fame.

Dream scenario takes several paths to display Matthews’ existential mix up, none of which is dull and all suggesting more about our fragile psyches longing to be accepted and revered. When his academic and public heads are being called for, Matthews is tapping our innermost anxieties about being cancelled and ignored. Cage continues to explore his and our place in the human zoo, and he’s darn good at it.


I suspect Cage, with his filmography of more than 120 entries, is searching for an identity in addition to loving his craft and paying sizeable alimonies. His recent Pig shows his considerable acting talent, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which he plays himself in an action-comedy, lets him comfortably inhabit multiple genres.

His Oscar was not a fluke—he is a consummate actor.

Dream Scenario

Director: Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself)

Screenplay: Borgli

Cast: Nicholas Cage (Pig), Lily Bird (The Northman)

Run Time: 1h 42m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.