The largest problem of discussing Mike Cahill’s “Bliss” lies in describing its premise with out making it sound significantly wilder and extra fascinating than it really is. In brief, the movie stars Owen Wilson as a tragic-sack workplace drone who, after by chance killing his boss, is rescued by an intense, shamanistic homeless lady performed by Salma Hayek, who not solely informs him that they’re soulmates, but additionally that they’re among the many few flesh-and-blood people inhabiting a posh laptop simulation, and by imbibing the fitting mixtures of colourful crystals they’ll bend the legal guidelines of physics, and in addition journey to a paradisiacal alternate actuality the place their days include lounging on yachts and hobnobbing at events with Invoice Nye and a holographic Slavoj Žižek. See? Sounds intriguing sufficient, doesn’t it?
Now think about a unusually uninteresting, lead-footed therapy of that premise, and also you’ve acquired some concept of what you’ve acquired in retailer with “Bliss.” Which is unlucky, as a result of Cahill is often an admirably bold, considerate filmmaker, and in his earlier decrease-finances options he displayed an actual nostril for teasing out relatable human hooks within the midst of daring sci-fi ideas. However allowed to color with a lusher, extra elaborate canvass right here, he as a substitute loses himself within the minutia, fumbling one promising concept after one other till we’re left with little greater than a listless “Matrix” retread, minus the spectacle and the suspense.
“Bliss” begins brightly sufficient, with Greg (Wilson) trudging his means via a dreary weekday at what seems to be an IT name heart designed by Jean-Paul Sartre. Ignoring the flashing crimson lights on his phone switchboard, he occupies himself by drawing footage of an imagined dream residence in a seaside village, in addition to dipping right into a bottle of tablets to deal with a presumably nonexistent ailment. He’s lately divorced, he’s changing into alienated from his teenage daughter (Nesta Cooper), and he’s hardly been current at work these days, so we all know earlier than he does what’s coming when his boss calls him into his workplace. As Greg is being fired, he by chance knocks his boss backwards right into a desk, killing him.
Fleeing the scene for a close-by bar – an indication behind the liquor cabinets reads: “Plato’s Dive” – Greg is greeted by the fierce stare of Isabel (Hayek), who appears to have been ready for him. “You’re actual,” she tells him, and gives to assist him evade his homicide rap, utilizing what initially seem like telekinetic powers. In reality, as she explains to the confused Greg, she and he are each actual folks trapped in an elaborate simulation, and after convincing him to ditch his telephone and his pockets, they shack up collectively at Isabel’s makeshift camp on the banks of the L.A. River. For causes which are by no means completely clear, they should devour particular yellow crystals in an effort to manipulate the simulation, and as soon as they procure a number of, they go on a little bit of a bender — utilizing their godlike skills to inflict slapstick violence on a number of unfortunate passers-by.
About these crystals: The parallels between these vials of tremendous-highly effective treasured gems and Greg’s bottle of hoarded painkillers appear apparent sufficient, and at worst they would appear to operate merely as handy plot units. But the movie treats these crystals with puzzling literalness, following Isabel as she scours flophouses and deserted buildings to search out them, and delving into element concerning the completely different properties of yellow crystals versus blue ones, the quantity of every wanted to provide sure results, the distinction between swallowing them and injecting them via the nostril with a cool metal contraption… With each new wrinkle and head-scratching revelation, the movie drifts additional and additional away from the extra fascinating philosophical questions raised by its premise.
In his wonderful breakthrough characteristic, “One other Earth,” Cahill spun a story with an analogous parallel-worlds conceit, during which a second planet Earth, containing mirror reflections of everybody on this planet, abruptly seems on the horizon. Reasonably than dwell on the mechanics of how such a planet may exist, or what this second earth really seems like, as a substitute he centered completely on how the information of such a planet would have an effect on our personal notions of mortality, identification, guilt. Whereas in “Bliss,” Cahill will get so slowed down in hair-splitting guidelines and exposition that he loses observe of the larger themes.
Specifically, how is Greg imagined to take the revelation that his beloved daughter is merely an NPC in an intricate online game? The movie appears conscious that this should be the dramatic coronary heart of the narrative, however it may possibly’t cease getting in its personal means by piling on additional issues, every much less participating than the final. With out spoiling something that isn’t revealed within the trailer, Greg and Isabel escape the simulation into the “actual world” earlier than too lengthy, and from right here the movie loses its bearings completely.
Wilson and Hayek make for an odd pairing, with the previous hewing near his hangdog default mode even within the strangest of circumstances, and the latter going for broke as a unstable, wild-eyed form of road prophet. Hayek’s willingness to go up to now excessive is jarring at first, however because the movie nears its climax and finds her nonetheless delivering reams of stilted explanatory dialogue, one begins to really feel grateful for her power — if solely the remainder of the movie had the identical form of crazy spark.