TIFF 2023 | Dream Scenario (Kristoffer Borgli, US) — Platform

By Saffron Maeve

In his follow-up to the delightfully odious Sick of Myself (2022), Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli—alongside executive producer Ari Aster—conceives a cyclonic psychodrama in which evolutionary biologist and university professor Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage, hiding in his beard) attains overnight fame after appearing in everyone’s dreams. In these dreams, he is comically apathetic—buildings burn, slashers slash, folks bleed out—as he limply strolls on scene, observing the havoc. As in life, his passivity seems to characterize him: Paul is introduced to us as a man begging a former peer for academic credit on research he never developed; he took his wife’s last name, but can’t gesture as to why; his students couldn’t be bothered by his lectures on adaptive reasoning.

Paul laps up the recognition, hoping to monopolize on the phenomenon, but he soon becomes the antagonist of people’s nightmares: torture, sexual assault, sadism (one tabloid reads “Paultergeist”). His career is suddenly in peril, as is his only social currency, and his wife (Julianne Nicholson) and children will barely meet his eye. The Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman comparisons are inevitable, though only in the empirical absurdism which follows this wilting professor, and less so their sharp accentuations of death and loneliness. The final act—which reeks of stage 4 Black Mirror—is mostly a treatise on virality, cancel culture, and atonement (in fairness, all precarious objects to capture onscreen). It’s Being John Malkovich for folks who whoop at the A24 logo before a film.

sford@cinema-scope.com Maeve Saffron