The origin of Kristoffer Borgli’s “Dream Scenario” dates back to when the filmmaker was a teenager working at a video store in Norway. “Every movie that I saw felt so exciting visually and looked nothing like my surroundings,” he explains. “And I remember thinking that the one place that is exciting no matter where you live is inside your head.”
The thought of using the world of dreams as a story setting just “stuck” with him. “The idea [that] not only could you go into one person’s head, but potentially thousands—that felt very thrilling,” he says.
However, it wasn’t until late 2019 that Borgli put pen to paper after finding new inspiration for his original concept. “There were suddenly articles about how people were having very similar dreams, and the idea of the collective unconscious suddenly felt realer than ever,” he recalls.
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To flesh out what would become his surrealist satire “Dream Scenario,” which opened Nov. 10, he read Carl Jung’s writings on the interplay between the conscious and unconscious mind. But the writer-director says that most of his research consisted of “deep dives on the internet.” He combed Reddit posts about astral projections gone wrong and followed a community of people on YouTube who claim to have successfully entered others’ dreams.
The movie follows Paul Matthews, a hapless professor played by a magnetic Nicolas Cage, who starts to appear in people’s dreams (and, later, nightmares) across the world. But the Oscar winner wasn’t always slated to play Paul. “There was a brief moment when Adam Sandler was in the discussions,” Borgli says.
“Dream Scenario” features an accomplished supporting cast that includes Julianne Nicholson, Tim Meadows, Noah Centineo, and Dylan Gelula. Luckily, Borgli was able to bring on many of the actors he initially had in mind for particular characters: Michael Cera as Trent, a hotshot agency exec; Kate Berlant as Mary, Trent’s business partner; and Dylan Baker as Paul’s prestigious colleague Richard. “They all liked the script and wanted to be a part of it,” the filmmaker says.
“Dream Scenario” is the story of an unremarkable man who longs for validation; it’s also an incisive commentary on the dangers of viral fame in the age of capitalism.
“There [are] so many of these 24-hour viral sensations—unlikely celebrities—and some capitalize on it and even create a career around this accidental fame,” Borgli says. “Some, of course, get completely humiliated and shamed and wish they could delete themselves from the internet. It just feels like more of a scary time to engage with the public, because the public is the world now.”
The writer-director found inspiration in Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s 2016 political thriller “Shin Godzilla,” which looks beyond the legendary monster tearing Tokyo apart to how “the government and bureaucracy fail to respond to it in all of the very banal and satirical ways that the government would fail.”
Borgli felt like the movie’s story was straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel; but he was most fascinated by the “very real response pattern” it showcased—“how advertising will try to get a bite out of it, or how some sort of fancy tech company will try to commodify it,” he explains. “Anything that’s special about it gets hollowed out by capitalism, which I found was a funny way to look at a kind of surreal movie premise.”
The filmmaker knew he wanted “Dream Scenario” to focus on the contrast between Paul’s very average, nuclear-family existence in the suburbs and the inner workings of people’s minds. “This just felt like a very exciting idea that only could work in cinema,” he says.
Paul’s appearances in other people’s dreams range from sauntering through the background to having sex on a couch to sporting David Byrne’s oversized suit from “Stop Making Sense.” “They didn’t have, like, a beginning, middle, or end,” Borgli says of these scenes. “You just go into them [at] a random moment and you get out at a random moment. So it’s very easy and fun.”
However, a dream sequence featuring alligators was challenging to film. “It took a lot of safety protocols, [between] the handlers, the union rules, and everything that went into orchestrating that scene,” the filmmaker recalls. But it’s those types of moments, he says, that give “Dream Scenario” its colorful chaos and imaginative perspective.
This story originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Backstage Magazine.