I was personally intrigued by what writer/director Mike Cahill had to say with his latest sci-fi picture Bliss. Especially when the trailer dropped it seemed to present a certain lure and would perhaps provide something different, in a time when I believe we so desperately need it. As the film started unraveling its high concept ideas however, that lure and keen sense of intrigue wondered into levels of bewilderment and boredom.
Bliss is ambitious, that much I can give it. It provides us with the thought of world simulation, something The Matrix had perfected many years ago. It even has some clear cut similarities to the series but at least takes a different route with its structure, and gives it a slight twist. Sadly though, the idea was far better than its execution.
We meet Owen Wilson’s Greg in an atmospherically dull world. Completely drab and uninspired. He also has the job and as it seems, bad luck to go along with it. Going through a divorce and where we kick off the movie, recently jobless. It appears Greg has hit his rock bottom. As fortune would have it though, he meets the free spirited and very quirky Isabel (Salma Hayek). Isabel introduces Greg to things he’d never thought would be possible and fills his mind with the prospect that everything around them isn’t real. This theory is brought to fruition when she showcases her unique abilities to alter and control the things around her. Is there truth to what this women is claiming, or is it completely bogus? That’s the reality Greg is faced with.
Mike Cahill presents some truly fascinating ideas, but fails to capitalise on any of them. We are shown two worlds and yet they both seem flat and beyond surface level aren’t explored even nearly enough to create any substantial amount of intrigue. The further we go into the rabbit hole (Matrix joke for you there) the more convoluted the entire concept becomes, and each act leaves us with more questions than it’s willing to answer.
As Greg comes to terms with the truth behind what’s really happened, he’s left with some tough choices to make. None of which I aim to go into at the risk of giving away too much of the plot. One of the many issues we’re faced with though, is a lack of any backstory or real depth in regards to what we do know about Greg. Side-lining important character development for an unhinged and increasingly frustrating sci-fi plot, that fails to keep the ball rolling.
We should really be praising and encouraging these levels of originality, but when the final product sits on its chances to develop into something far more than a generic, easily forgettable sci-fi romp, then you find you have to dig deep in order to find something worth raving about.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Owen Wilson take on a more dramatic role. 2011’s Midnight in Paris is possibly his career defining performance, and to be honest I’d even suggest 2015’s No Escape for a quick fire action flick starring the predominantly funny man. His chemistry with Hayek here also does little to stimulate what substance this sci-fi has. The pair feel completely out of place, and at times even seem like their in a whole other movie entirely.
The trailer offered up far more than what we received in the final product. I’d have been happy to sit through it a bit while longer, extending its runtime, if it had attempted to tie up loose ends, and competently displayed what ideas it had on reserve. They say that ignorance is bliss, but in this context I’d argue that Mike Cahill’s Bliss is just ignorant.