Dream Scenario Plot Explained: The True Meaning of the Nicolas Cage Movie

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Dream Scnerio, Nicolas Cage

Here’s the true meaning behind Nicolas Cage’s recent A24 film Dream Scenario.

What Happens in Dream Scenario

Nicolas Cage plays Paul Matthews in Dream Scenario, a middle-aged man with a PhD in evolutionary biology who teaches at a college—even though he’d much rather be publishing an educational book about ants. At home, he has a wife and two children.

On the surface, he lives a decidedly normal, average life.

Things take a strange turn when he starts showing up in people’s dreams, collectively around the world. No one knows why this is happening, but it quickly turns Arthur into an overnight celebrity.

Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario
Dream Scenario

While the attention is a strange change of pace for Arthur, he clearly enjoys it. However, he gets frustrated by learning he is generally a passive, useless player in all these dreams—doing absolutely nothing of note.

That pattern is broken when Molly, an employee of the marketing firm hoping to help him break big, admits he’s not passive in her dreams. Instead, he’s the driving force in her reoccurring and intense sexual fantasies.

Arthur can't help but feel allured by those desires and possibilities—validation in a way he’s yearned for. So, unsurprisingly, he ends up at Molly’s apartment, recreating her fantasy, leading him to cheat on his wife (though he fails to do that fully).

To make matters worse, his former colleague officially publishes her research paper on his area of expertise not long after. These two events cause a shift in Arthur, drastically affecting the world’s collective obsession with him.

Instead of being this passive man in people’s dreams, Arthur becomes a thing of nightmares—literally. Now, people are being violently killed or assaulted by him in their dreams, leading him to become shunned by society.

Needless to say, Arthur doesn't handle this well. Every attempt to try and get past the issue makes things worse, up until he accidentally actually hurts a teacher at his daughter’s school.

After that, the world stops having nightmares—but the damage is done. Audiences catch up with Arthur sometime later, now divorced from his ex-wife.

While Arthur may have been able to go on to publish that book he wanted to write so badly, he’s now burdened by regrets of the life he lost, particularly regarding the loss of his wife.

The Heavy Cost of Fame in Dream Scenario

Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario
Dream Scenario

One of the more surface-level explorations of the movie is about what it means to be famous, which has its ups and downs, especially in a world where something could go viral in a heartbeat

While the fame can be exciting for Arthur, offering up the validation he desires, it's also a unique situation for him to be in. Clearly, he has some trouble navigating those stormy waters.

For every look of admiration and time of day given, there’s some mentally unstable man sneaking into his house or unexpected social challenge—for either himself or those close to him.

The public spotlight on him also illuminates the wrong parts of himself.

Arthur wants to be known for his work, which he hopes his newfound fame can help with. Instead, he’s only ever known for being that random guy in people’s dreams, none of which he can control.

After his dream persona becomes violent, the darker side of fame is unleashed onto him—from publicly shamed behavior to poorly thought-out apology videos and even getting canceled by society.

It's worth noting that while cancel culture has a place in the story, it isn't what the film is about, as it doesn't necessarily have anything to say about the topic. Instead, it's simply one aspect of Arthur’s journey.

There’s also something to be said about the interesting parallel to Arthur’s story of Zebra’s stripes.

Once he starts to appear in everyone’s dream, he no longer blends in with the herd—instead sticking out like a sore thumb. He loses his ability to be normal and live a mundane existence; he becomes easy prey for the misfortunes that befall him.

Arthur Was Yearning for More But Lost Everything

Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario
Dream Scenario

Looking closer at Arthur’s motivations and how his rise and fall of fame turned out, there’s another key message the film hopes to impart to its viewers.

Throughout the entire film, Nicolas Cage’s character is consistently reaching for more validation outside of his own quaint life. At times, he’s practically begging for it.

He wants his former colleague to admit that his work was the foundation of her current study, he’s disappointed his ex wasn't harboring hidden feelings of him, he wants to be worthy of attending those fancy dinner parties—the list goes on and on.

Those tendencies all cause various hiccups in his life throughout the film, the most notable being his premature cheating, leading to his dream counterpart going nightmare. From there, things get even worse—such as becoming ostracized from society and losing his wife.

However, after he loses everything, it becomes clear that despite his desire for further validation, he already has everything he needed.

He was a respected professor at a university and had a loving wife and children. Now, he’s divorced, and his dream book may not have turned out exactly as he hoped—at least, certainly not in France.

Turns out, all the validation he needed was with him the whole time.

The final scene reinforces this idea even more, as he seemingly enters his ex-wife’s dream (thanks to new dream technology made possible due to his recent phenomenon) to recreate a sexual fantasy she described to him earlier in the film. In the movie's final moments, Arthur admits how he wishes the scenario was all real, as he floats up off the screen.

While Arthur's previous existence may have been normal, this new one is filled to the brim with regrets.

As of writing, Dream Scenario is now streaming on Max.

Read up on the deeper meaning behind some other films:

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- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.