Kristoffer Borgli Is in a Dream Scenario

Norwegian filmmaker discusses his new satire starring Nic Cage

Nicolas Cage and writer/director Kristoffer Borgli on the set of Dream Scenario, the new satire from A24. The film made its Austin debut at Fantastic Fest, and is in theatres now. (Image Courtesy of A24 Films)

When people think of you, who do they see? A parent? A teacher? A lover? A nightmare? A bald guy walking, unaffected, through a collapsing building? All these things and more happen to Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario, the new social satire from A24 written and directed by Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli.

Or rather, they don't happen to Cage, or even to his character, aging academic Paul Matthews. Instead, versions of him start popping up in the dreams of people around the world, and he must contend with suddenly being instantly and uncontrollably ubiquitous. As Borgli puts it, “The movie feels like a dying scream of an antiquated man who is confused about his place in the world.”

Austin Chronicle: Dream Scenario makes a fascinating pairing with your last film, Sick of Myself because they’re both films about how we are perceived and our relationship with the public idea of ourselves. Was that a conscious decision, to do two films in a row on that theme, or is it just something you found yourself writing about?

Kristoffer Borgli: I think that living in the more affluent Western society, where Maslow's Pyramid of Needs, all the base layers are spoken for. So most of our problems that I go through and most people go through are the more abstract ones of self-actualization, recognition, and there’s no easy solution to these existential dilemmas and desires. They make us do strange things, and I think that’s just something that I’m drawn to. These ideas are telling me that they want to come out and live in a movie, so it doesn’t feel like I’m objectively deciding what to write about. It’s just the stuff that keeps haunting me.

AC: An apt term, in this case. So was this always going to be an American project?

KB: Yes. I did Sick of Myself, which I thought was a way to invite people into a corner of my world with a very specific niche culture in Oslo, with the alternative art world. It was a long way to ask people to travel, so with this movie I wanted to meet people halfway, and I thought, ‘Let’s start a script in a suburban American home and go from there.’

AC: We’ve all been so loaded with American pop culture that it would be easier to do that than, say, a film set in Argentina, where getting your head around the cultural underpinnings …

KB: Yeah, it’s unavoidable. I grew up with The Simpsons and Seinfeld and felt I had a pretty good map of American culture just through those two shows. Then I moved to America six years ago and have been living there and observing ever since.

AC: And ‘American academic in a midlife crisis’ is a whole subgenre that you key into.

KB: Again, with the self-actualization, and the needs and desires in a life that aren’t met comes gnawing at you in middle age and becomes more existential. Every field has their version of success, and in the academic sphere being published, being a researcher, being well-renowned, being cited thousands of times, that’s their status game, and it’s one version of being a filmmaker who wants to have movies out, to be in festivals.

“We’re so hyperconnected to each other that you can stumble across fame.”
My father was an academic, and the culture changes so fast that it’s difficult to keep track of it and understand it. At the same time, we’re so hyperconnected to each other that you can stumble across fame. I was thinking about the comedic premise of an antiquated man who suddenly gets thrown into a hyper-mass culture phenomenon and has a hard time navigating it and conflates the recognition and status that you can get from an academic career with this empty calorie version of it.

AC: There’s the scene in the PR firm, where you really see him dealing with this homogenized form of fame, and it shows how he’s detached from society.

KB: A lot for me is finding scenes that could reveal the character, scenes with stakes and cultural collisions between this man and everything he is put through, that reveal a little about him and about ourselves.

AC: And there’s a version of this script that is just about when you become a meme in the contemporary, pop culture, social media meaning of the term. But you look at something more primal, in our powerlessness in the face of people’s perceptions of us, which is an eternal problem. Even before everything happens, his wife has an image of him, his daughters have an image of him, his class has an image of him, and it’s just that more people have an idea of him. He’s the wrong person to deal with it, but then there’s not really a right person.

KB: It’s almost a parable about the cost of engaging. The way that we collectively reduce everything to a bite-sized or a simplified understanding. That’s even what a movie goes through sometimes: there’s a reviewer who says, ‘This is about this or that,’ and maybe that was not intended. It happens to a lot of things, with news, and our personas, which take on a life of their own. We live in a less physical world and more in each other’s heads, so it becomes more powerful. The idea of you has become more powerful. It’s replaced physical representation. We’re all living in a simulacrum.

Dream Scenario from A24 is in theaters now. Read our review and find showtimes on our listings page.

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Kristoffer Borgli, Nicolas Cage, Dream Scenario, A24, Fantastic Fest 2023

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