A dreamy confusion or an awakening from the nightmare society? SPOILER ALERTS
The movie Dream Scenario is about the ego and the collective unconscious, two things awakened individuals should probably try to avoid. Put differently, it’s a masterpiece about destroying the ego and awakening from the nightmare dream state that is society. There are layers and layers of brilliance. . . and Easter eggs throughout.
Huge, hearty bravos go to Kristoffer Borgli, the writer/director, Nicolas Cage, Ari Aster, Tyler Campellone, Lars Knudsen, Louisa Carey and everybody else who allowed this movie to happen. I’m guessing it will be one of those timeless mind-benders, like After Hours (Martin Scorsese, Griffin Dunne, Joseph Minion), The Matrix (Keanu Reeves, Wachowski), Out of Breath (A Bout De Souffle or Breathless to Americans – Jean-Luc Goddard, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg – Q: “What is your grand ambition?” A: “To become immortal, and then to die.”), Palm Springs (Max Barbakow, Andy Siara), and The Menu (Mark Mylod, Seth Reiss, Will Tracy). Just a few that came to mind.
The ego has to be eliminated, then one can wake up either within the dream state or from the dream entirely. Paul, the protagonist, is forced into a nightmare because of what others think of him.
So, for starters, what does Paul think of himself? His ego thinks he should be a respected, published academic. That’s his starting character. His colleague strips that away. He’s powerless and full of lies about his identity. His fantasy is that he has a famous or important academic theory that’s original to him. But it’s empty hope, because it doesn’t seem he’s written any of it down. The ideas were his, but he didn’t claim it or publish it. Who knows if they were even his? It’s all derivative academics, anyway. Ants, bees, zebras – all kinds of biologists study all kinds of animal behaviors. His colleague published before he could or would.
Next, Paul appears in the dreams of others. What does that mean? He exists in some important way. He’s validated because he exists in the minds of others. To the others, that amounts to fame and an opportunity to make money. To Paul, it’s an opportunity to be validated for the things he’s dedicated his ego to.
He can be the published, respected author and be a dinner guest at the right parties if he achieves something like that. No matter what the method for achieving it is. That’s what his ego rationalizes. He will become himself by being some role or character associated with his role in the eyes of the other characters. He’s allowing the perceptions of others, the collective others, the minds of the unknowns, to define who he is. He gives them the power to define him.
And who is he in those original dreams? He’s someone who stands by and does nothing while the others have pressing issues in their dreams. He is not a participant in their dramas or dream activities, the imaginations of their minds.
As his emotions and feelings kick in, his dreamscapes are similarly colored. His anger and frustration turn him into a villain character. He has envy, pride, greed, wrath, lust, sloth and gluttony. He doesn’t want to be associated with the Sprite consumer brand – pride. He envies the woman who he thinks stole his idea. Wrath ensues during the midway point.
As he follows the temptation of the young siren Molly of the PR agency, he displays lust. His fame can become a sexual realization, but he blows his wad and farts. He becomes despicable and incapable. He can’t even please the fantasy woman character. His body betrays him in real life. He tries to explain that away like some academic scientist-biologist. He’s a grotesque human within a dream within a dream. It’s like Inception (Christopher Nolan).
The bar in New York City has people in costume there. We can assume Molly is in costume as a phony fronting for the agency. She maintains that the agency is like a cult and that a thinker academic could see through the bullshit. She appeals to his ego. The advertising PR marketing world is definitely a cult.
Aside: Paul is manipulated by women. The colleague woman steals his idea or so he perceives. The siren Molly in the bar tries to convince him to go with the good idea of Sprite sponsorship.
When Molly tells him about her sexual fantasy in her dream, Paul replies “we don’t get to decide what happens in dreams do we?” She orders her martini dirty.
It’s Halloween and a guy is dressed as Paul. A skeleton-dressed couple record him with their phones. They look like day of the dead characters. This is about ego death.
Think of how “antelligence” and beehives and zebras form herds. They communicate as a group story – group unconscious. They share behavior and dream like the professor and all of those in his life. His behavior affects that of the others. So when the nightmares ensue, he tries to explain the dream psychosis away to his daughter. He becomes increasingly isolated. The happenings in real life start affecting his relationships. For example, the siren Molly becomes an object of jealousy to his wife. Being called a loser provokes his meltdown wrath. “Loser” is written on his car. A car is an important extension of the ego in America.
In the climax, the self attempts to kill the ego. Paul takes the final killing arrow to his throat (his voice, his words). That’s no accident of directing choice. He’s on a stage with a huge audience watching.
His daughter’s play – which is another stage, another dream in real life – is imposing exiles him. He’s effectively thrown out of real life by a woman teacher who is a master of arts (M.A.) not a PhD. This continues the humiliation for his ego.
His wife says, “don’t make us all die on your hill.”
During Paul’s apology, he says he speaks from lived experience, but he’s talking about a man who looks like him . . . killing himself in a dream. How is that “lived experience?” He’s vilified because people imagine he’s done things. Imagination is what counts? Collective imagination? Does that matter to the man who studies zebras blending in? He must be the zebra that blends in if he wants to clear his ego or have his ego make good with the herd. His wife calls it insincere and self-serving. His daughter says she’s going to have to kill herself.
Paul sleeps in a basement at the dean’s house and there’s a gas smell propane tank. Is he being gaslit? Is gas a throwback to his earlier fart? He cannot be part of society. Earlier his wife turned out the light and he couldn’t see. He took off his glasses and couldn’t find the lamp. No visual clarity. In the basement of the dean’s house, he can’t find the light switch. He can’t go into dreamland or sleep. The light keeps him awake. He tries to block out the light with his hand – his self character. Fluorescent or artificial light also hits him in the head and cuts him at some point later.
He’s not Paul Matthews when he goes to his daughter’s play. He has shed his character name, his ego, with a simple denial at the front desk. He wants to see the play of his progeny.
The M.A. teacher cuts her hand as he tries to get through the door. “Respect our boundaries,” she says. The boundaries between the dream state and the dreamer? His daughter is a white rabbit in the play – a nod to Alice in Wonderland.
The dream state (PR companies, the nightmare) take the idea of collective-consciousness/dream-visitation and monetize it. The Hollywood people say Paul harnessed the power of his dreams to terrorize people.
He’s not dreamed of anymore. The house he gets has a smell of animals (gas?). The real estate agent acts out a scene of strangulation. Who was strangled earlier? Paul is worried that he’s been replaced by Chris. Why can’t the awakened man go back to his old life – his old house and wife? Is Paul trying to get into his wife’s life with the technology? Does he dream that he says something loving and funny to her?
The bookstore is called Rue Morgue or morgue Street. Paul embraces his role as Freddie Krueger and wears the hand-knife costume prop for the photo shoot. He still wants fame for his book. The book is released in the basement – a thin paperback with shortened length. It’s called I Am Your Nightmare. It was supposed to be Dream Scenario. The title works better for the horror film demographic. It works for the nightmare dreamers. For Paul, it’s just a matter of him crafting either a negative nightmare or a positive dream out of his experience. He’s ultimately the dreamer – I AM.
Paul accepts the book and is clubbed by the light of ultimate clarity. He gains a purpose or singular intent. He wants connection with his wife’s dream. For it to work the dreamer on the other end has to welcome Paul’s presence. He must be welcome in her dream (a technical point, I guess, but perhaps metaphorical as well).
Apparently his wife accepts his presence and he enters her dream. She is a damsel in distress in a ring of fire. He’s made larger by a shoulder-padded blazer – a bigger man character, but in a costume no less. Paul wishes the dream was real. He goes upwards and the screen fades to black. He wishes life was real. But merrily it’s just a dream.