Dream Scenario is a film about modern celebrity culture and the terror of losing yourself to the internet’s virtual mob. It’s the story of evolutionary biology professor Paul Matthews, a balding, befuddled, bespectacled everyman who is the walking embodiment of anonymity – played by Nicholas Cage, the face that launched a thousand memes. At the start of the film, he gives a lecture on how zebras have adapted to avoid the mortal danger of standing out from the herd. Suddenly, in a supernatural, psychopathological epidemic, anorak-clad Paul finds himself appearing in everyone’s dreams. At first, he is just a benign bystander; in one dream, he stands there admiring a mushroom while his student is stabbed by a serial killer.
Paul wholeheartedly welcomes the newfound attention and adoration that comes with being an overnight sensation and there are some agonising scenes where he meets with millennial marketers who want him to do deals with Sprite and Obama. However, dream Paul soon turns violent; he starts torturing, raping and murdering people in their nightmares, and real Paul in turn loses his job, his home and his family.
The film, which is less of a comedy and more of a slowly curdling cringefest, satirises everything from cognitive behavioural therapy to apology videos to targeted advertising – what if dreams could be used as the perfect product placements? Ultimately though, Paul’s arc of phenomenon turned pariah is a parable about cancel culture: Paul hasn’t really done anything to anyone personally, but he is nonetheless held accountable for his actions in people’s dreams.
There are obvious parallels with the real-life case of Bret Weinstein, an evolutionary biology professor who resigned in 2017 after allegations of racism were made against him.