MOVIES

Cage Memes Become Strange Dreams

Paul Matthews, a schlubby evolutionary biology professor who’s ignored or belittled by everyone around him and wants nothing more than to publish a book on ant intelligence (“antelligence,” as he calls it), is a profoundly boring man. Even when he first starts showing up in people’s dreams, he’s not actually doing anything in them, just appearing as a passive observer of whatever is happening. And yet the when same passive observer appears in enough different people’s dreams — and when one of those dreamers is a blogger who links to his personal Facebook page — it’s enough to turn this boring guy into “the most interesting person in the world.”

At first, I thought this story was going to be something in the vein of “Groundhog Day” or “Midnight in Paris,” wherein the high-concept unnatural phenomena serve as a means to help the main characters grow or learn a lesson. While he tries to avoid selling out to his new influencer crowd, Paul lets his newfound fame go to his head in other ways. In the film’s funniest scene, he comes awfully close to crossing a personal moral line and only stops for embarrassing reasons. Following this scene, the nature of Paul’s appearances in other people’s dreams shifts from comically passive to nightmarishly violent, and the timing of this shift would make it natural to assume this was some sort of cosmic punishment for nearly crossing that line.

But it turns out the film isn’t interested in making such connections or really dealing with Paul’s personal issues and instead becomes a story about “cancel culture.” Borgli flat-out stated in the post-premiere Q&A that his inspiration came from stories of fired college professors who maintain their innocence of whatever misdeeds they were accused of. It’s a questionable reduction of the richer “real self vs. imagined self” themes that made the premise initially intriguing.

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