sat 27/02/2021

Bliss review - simulation or real life? | reviews, news & interviews

Bliss review - simulation or real life?

Bliss review - simulation or real life?

Mike Cahill's sci-fi story of parallel worlds fails to engage

Is this the real life, is this just fantasy? Greg (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Salma Hayek)

Bliss gets off to a powerful start.

Bliss gets off to a powerful start. Stressed-out Greg Wittle (an endearing Owen Wilson) is in his office, trying to do several things at once: draw his dream seaside home in great detail; talk to his daughter; renew his painkiller prescription by entering long lists of numbers in response to maddening robotic prompts, and get himself out the door to see his boss, whose assistant keeps demanding his presence with increasing urgency. Something is slightly off with Greg’s affect. “I have so many thoughts I wish you could see,” he tells his daughter on the phone. “Dad, are you sure you’re OK?” she asks.

So far, so good. But after Greg is fired by his boss for doing nothing but doodle (the company, manned by people apologising to callers on an endless loop, is called Technical Difficulties), things deteriorate rapidly. From then on we’re never sure what’s real and what isn’t, and neither is Greg. And unfortunately, in this Mike Cahill-directed, sanitised sci-fi land, with its nods to The Matrix and Inception, as well as to his intriguing, low-budget 2011 film Another Earth, it’s hard to care.

Isabel (a manic Salma Hayek) is a mysterious woman from a parallel world who Greg meets in a bar after leaving the office, where a dramatically incriminating episode has occurred. He needs an alibi, which she can give him, but this hardly matters because, she tells him, none of this world is real, it's merely a simulation. In fact, she adds, it’s her fault it exists, which sounds annoying and mad and should surely be dismissed as such.

She has thick braids and equally thick eye-shadow, says he’s her soul mate and takes him to her homeless camp beside the LA river. Soon they’re swallowing yellow crystals together. These give them powers to manipulate this fake world. They try them out at a roller-skating rink (pictured below), causing people to trip and fall by pointing at them, and they can also light candles from way off. Fun? Quite tiresome, actually. You’d think they could manipulate a fast-food joint into giving them some food, but apparently not.

blissWhile an increasingly crumpled, unshaven Greg is waiting outside the restaurant, his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper) appears. Here logic is thrown to the winds. The unanswered question is, is she real or fake-generated and part of the supposed simulation? She’s worried about her father, who was supposed to come to her graduation but didn’t turn up, and it’s clear from conversations with her brother that Greg is an unreliable, possibly opioid-addicted, divorced dad.

Isabel loses patience with Greg’s affection for his daughter. “You’re getting seduced by the simulation,” she wails hysterically. “This isn’t supposed to happen!” “But I don’t believe in you,” says Greg, reasonably enough, which forces her to prove her point. Some snorting of blue crystals later, Greg’s waking up in a laboratory, attached by tubes to a brain box, looking refreshed and wearing a snazzy polo shirt.

bliss2Isabel’s hair is markedly smoother, as are her clothes, and she’s sporting red lipstick. And wow, it turns out she’s the director of the brain-box lab. And that this idyllic, clean, seaside world, shot in Croatia, is the spitting image of Greg’s doodles. Here they call him Dr Wittle and he’s widely revered for inventing a ridiculously cartoonish thought-visualisation machine, not that he can remember any of this former parallel life, where some people, including Andy Warhol, appear as holograms.

Experiencing the contrast between the two worlds, one blissful, one ugly, is the premise at the core of Isabel’s massively simplistic brain-box experiment. But scary bliss-world scientists are saying there may be a flaw in her data. Is it incomplete? Chaos ensues, worlds collide and in the end, Greg has to make a choice. But nothing is real, nothing to get hung about, and nothing matters much – certainly not Greg and Isabel's relationship, which remains unconvincing and substance-free throughout.

Fun? Quite tiresome, actually

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters