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Content Caution

Dream Scenario 2023


In Theaters


Home Release Date




Paul Asay

Movie Review

Few people would look at Paul Matthews and say, “Now, there’s the man of my dreams.”

But lately, people—perhaps millions of people—have been saying just that.

Why are people literally dreaming about him? No one knows. It’s not like he’s famous. Or at least he didn’t used to be: He has the social media imprint of your average prairie dog. The only people he regularly interacts with are his wife, two daughters and the handful of hardy college students who brave his evolutionary biology lectures.

He’s neither handsome nor particularly ugly. He’s a bit awkward, but not in a “post this thing he did on YouTube” sort of way. He is, some would say, utterly forgettable.

But for some reason, Paul Matthews is showing up in people’s dreams. The dreamers might be taking algebra tests in their underwear, or running away from bears, or riding dolphins off a Caribbean beach. Then they’ll look around and see … Paul. Just hanging out.

Granted, most folks didn’t know it was Paul. Remember, only a handful of people even know the guy. Rather, they’d see a balding, bearded man and wonder what he was doing in algebra class. Or why he wasn’t scared of the bears.

And the whole phenomenon would’ve never gone public had it not been for the fact that an ex-girlfriend of Paul’s and a total stranger had been both dreaming about him. The ex-girlfriend wrote a story for a little-read blog, and boom! Sleepers everywhere were pelting social media with their stories of Paul dream-bombing them.

“Why me?” Paul asks rhetorically in a television interview. “I’m special, I guess.”

Most of Paul’s associates would argue with that self-assessment, but no matter. Paul kinda likes the attention (even if he’d be loath to admit it). For years, he’s felt slighted by his friends and ignored by his academic peers. His charisma (as he saw it) was ignored. His talents and insights (as he saw them) were swept aside.

But now that he’s a celebrity, that all changes. Students are lining up to take selfies with him. Marketing firms want to work with him. And all this fame might open the doors of academia a little bit wider, too. Why, he just might be able to publish a book on evolutionary biology! Well, as soon as he writes one, anyway.

But celebrity is a little like a dream itself. One minute, you’re riding a dolphin in the Caribbean. The next, that dolphin turns into a bear brandishing an algebra test.

And you’ve got to swim for your life.

Positive Elements

We’ve already learned that Paul’s not particularly memorable. He’s also—at least not by movie-protagonist standards—not particularly likable. Oh, he’s not a bad chap, really. Just a little insecure and confused and even a wee bit arrogant—an everyman, really, not so different than the rest of us.

But Dream Scenario uses this everyman to talk about the perks and perils of fame. It examines at the ways we wrangle it and sometimes worship it. It pokes fun at “cancel culture” and self-serving spin control. It reminds us that as much as celebrity can look like a blessing from the outside, it can be brutal, too. The film rightly points out that the rose of fame comes with thorns—and they can sprout right out of the flower itself.

Spiritual Elements

As mentioned, Paul is an evolutionary biologist, and we hear quite a bit about how species adapt depending on their environment.

While there’s nothing inherently religious or faith-based about Paul’s appearance in other people’s dreams, the phenomenon—if it exists—carries the pungent aroma of quasi-spirituality. If he does appear in people’s dreams (and some speculate that it might be more akin to mass hysteria), it would appear to be evidence of either a powerful force outside our understanding or, at the very least, a shared consciousness.

As such, perhaps it’s no surprise that a company hoping to leverage dreams to sell products takes on (at least in its advertising) a sort of hip, New Age-like vibe. We also hear a reference to astral projection.

Sexual Content

The opening act of Dream Scenario is light, even silly. But the mood turns on an act of infidelity.

When Paul is courted by a PR firm interested in his unique brand of celebrity, he encounters Molly. She’s a young assistant who says her own dreams of Paul are far different from the “passive Paul” most dreamers have. Hers are threatening and erotic: She dreams of him as an aggressive, lusty intruder. (We see the beginning stages of the dream played out on screen, where Paul licks the ear of a terrified-but-aroused Molly.)

Molly confesses her dreams to Paul, and Paul—clearly flattered—goes out with Molly for a couple of drinks. They wind up back at her apartment, where Molly encourages Paul to re-enact at least the first stages of the dream. An awkward Paul tries to comply, but Molly eventually takes the lead. They kiss, and as she unbuckles Paul’s pants, he apparently climaxes and flees the apartment, mortified.

This encounter illustrates the corruptive power of celebrity (and serves as a curious, winking inversion of the #MeToo movement): Before Paul becomes famous, such an encounter would’ve been unthinkable—even in Paul’s fantasies.

Earlier in the movie, Paul’s wife expresses some jealousy over the sudden arrival of his ex-girlfriend (and the uneasy discovery that said girlfriend is literally dreaming about her husband). And when Paul agrees to meet with his ex for coffee, his wife, Janet, is dead set against it. Paul insists nothing would—or even could—happen. “Do you think I have the emotional maturity to carry on an affair?” he asks, quite seriously.

Later, as that ex-girlfriend’s story pushes Paul into the spotlight, Janet finds herself more attracted to Paul because, it would seem, of the fact that he’s part of so many dreamers’ lives. He uses that fact in apparent foreplay. And they exchange some risqué banter at that point.

It’s suggested that a woman, technically still married, embarks on an affair with a coworker. We hear references to the mating habits of animals.

Violent Content

After Paul’s encounter with Molly, the character of people’s dreams about him change radically. He becomes, essentially, a nightmarish figure.

We see some of those nightmares play out, bloodily, on screen. Paul strikes one man repeatedly in the head with a pipe, with horrific results. He begins to garrote a woman before the scene ends. Even Paul’s own daughter has a nightmare about her father, fiendishly smiling as he stamps into her room.

Paul has a pretty terrible nightmare himself. He’s jogging through his neighborhood when a man with a crossbow shoots him in the arm. He tries to run away, but he’s shot again. The nightmare ends when Paul’s shot bloodily through the throat.

The dream perhaps reflects Paul’s growing real-world anxieties. The dreams are so real and so horrific that people don’t want to be around him—and that can lead to some real-world consequences.

When Paul eats lunch at a diner, for instance, he’s asked to leave—first by a waitress, then by a burly customer. Paul refuses (saying, quite correctly, that he hasn’t done anything to deserve such treatment), which leads to a confrontation. We don’t see the fight itself. But the next time we see Paul, his face is bloodied and bruised, and he wears a bandage or two throughout much of the rest of the film.

[Spoiler Warning] Paul’s literal “nightmare” status hits an apex when he tries to attend a play his younger daughter is in—even though the school has forbidden him to come. He confronts his daughter’s teacher, who’s trying to shut the auditorium door and lock Paul out. Somehow, that push/pull of the door leads to the teacher’s hand getting gashed. Blood pours from the wound, and the teacher wails that Paul “attacked” her. Paul insists it’s not true, but he’s wrestled to the ground by several parents.

Shortly after Paul becomes famous, a man breaks into Paul and Janet’s house and threatens to kill him. Under protest, Paul dons a bladed, Freddy Kreuger-like glove for a publicity photo. In a dream, someone flees what looks to be a flayed pursuer. Another dreamer hides in a burning room. Still another dreams of a woman tied to a pillar as flames leap around her. And yet another bloodily pulls teeth from his own mouth.

Someone quips about killing herself.

Crude or Profane Language

More than 20 f-words, three s-words and a few other profanities, including “a–” and “h—.” God’s name is misused four times, and Jesus’ name is abused three times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Paul and other characters drink wine. Paul and Molly admit to being a little drunk when they land in her apartment.

Other Negative Elements

Paul noisily passes gas in Molly’s apartment during a critical moment.

Someone apparently steals an idea from Paul (or so he believes). Paul secretly records a conversation with the thief, then lies about recording it.

Paul is treated pretty unfairly in the wake of the nightmares (even if that treatment’s also understandable).


When Paul goes to meet with a PR agency wanting to leverage his notoriety, he leaves the meeting a bit disappointed. He wanted the agency to help him market his (admittedly nonexistent) book. The agency wanted Paul to help them sell Sprite in people’s dreams. But when Paul calls Janet, he brags to her how interested they were in using his special … talents.

“You don’t have to impress me, Paul,” Janet tells him. “I love you.”

That sort of love—the love we feel for our spouses, our family members, our friends—runs smack-dab against another sort of love in Dream Scenario: The love of fame. The love of “likes.” The love, ultimately, of self. Not the healthy self-love that we should have, but rather the grasping, crawling desire to feel validated, important, popular.

This age we live in, saturated by social media and shellacked by celebrity, encourages us to chase after that hollow, self-absorbed desire. Paul—who so often feels overlooked and underappreciated—may be especially prone to those temptations, but I think most of us can feel the pull. We want to be noticed. We want to be applauded—even when we know we’ve done very little to deserve it. The distance between Paul Matthews and Paul Asay may be closer than I’d like to admit.

Dream Scenario deftly, and sometimes brilliantly, skewers our celebrity culture: its temptations, its excesses, its sometimes horrific backlashes. But it also brings some nightmarish content to the party.

While we don’t see a lot of skin here, sexual dalliances and infidelity are a critical part of the plot. Some of the dreams we see are bloody and grotesque. Language is unnecessarily foul.

Dream Scenario says something important about our curious age. But it can be a bad Dream, too. And moments could leave viewers pinching themselves to wake up.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.