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From: Silver Screen

‘Bliss’ promises profound discussion of reality, but fails to push established conventions

‘Bliss’ promises profound discussion of reality, but fails to push established conventions

Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek in Mike Cahill’s 'Bliss.'

Science fiction movies have the ability to distort a viewer’s sense of time, space and reality. We know and love the successful examples like “Interstellar,” “Blade Runner” and “Arrival.” Director and writer, Mike Cahill, unsuccessfully attempts to reach these cinematic heights with “Bliss,” a utopian love story satirically set in the present. The blend of sci-fi, romance and drama only adds to the unclear identity of what Cahill is trying to say. While there are certainly complex messages paired with strong visual effects, the film doesn’t communicate those messages with enough power and emotion.

Owen Wilson plays Greg Wittle, a man whose corporate job pales in comparison to the images stuck in his head: elegant riveras, blue skies and a beautiful woman. In this drab, muted world, the only thing he cherishes is his daughter (Nesta Cooper) from a previous marriage. After a few detrimental workplace incidents, Greg finds himself on the run, until he meets Isabel (Salma Hayek), the beautiful woman from his visions. Isabel recognizes Greg as her life partner, and that his existence is “real” in comparison to the gritty world that she claims is “unreal.” In this dystopian world that greatly represents the present-day United States, Greg and Isabel obtain magical powers through amulets that allow them to manipulate objects and people. When Isabel sees Greg’s strong attachment to his daughter, she suddenly brings him into a separate reality. This reality is the actual present, where the images from Greg’s mind exist and make up a utopian life. Once Greg’s life finally seems perfect, trouble arises when his utopian world suddenly clashes with his old dystopian existence. 

Wilson does the bare minimum in this film, playing a confused, desperate, yet positive man who barely clings on to his relationship with his estranged daughter. While it is refreshing to see Wilson in a non-comedic role, you almost wish that his usual charm translated into this performance. Hayek, on the other hand, really takes the spotlight as Isabel. Her charisma, gusto and confidence bring her mad scientist-esque character to life, but sometimes come off as overacting. 

Cahill’s script is a bit too palatable when tackling complex ideas like utopia, the joys of life and how contempt we are at our existence. The film leads up to a familiar “Black Mirror”-esque twist, which is predictable, yet confusing. While almost every frame contains either Greg or Isabel, these supposed lovers feel like strangers, even after the film ends. The plot also moves at a disconnected pace. Greg and Isabel run into nonsensical problems and the film lacks a driving force until the final act. 

That being said, the final act proves to be a cut above. This film makes a great distinction between the dystopian and utopian realities with its use of color. While the dystopian scenes are desaturated, dark and blurred, the utopian scenes are vibrant, colorful and full of light. There is glare in almost every shot when set in the utopian present day: reminiscent of J.J. Abrams’ style, but with rainbows. Once Greg’s reality starts to blur, the film captures this shift brilliantly with visual effects, juxtaposing elements of the dystopian world phasing in and out within the utopian reality. Elements, like riot police and angry crowds teleporting around Greg and Isabel, add kinetic energy and introduce stakes that are worth caring about. These visual effects sell the conflict of realities and propel the film to levels of genuine interest. Disappointingly, it is not enough to send this film into memorable heights. 

“Bliss” tackles the complex ideas about how we value life with less than complex methods. Cahill seems almost afraid to delve deeper into these intrinsically human ideas, and it results in a very safe film. “Bliss” lacks the power, depth and emotion to change someone’s worldview, but does at least scratch the surface. There are a handful of powerful scenes that, by utilizing the juxtaposition of either time or reality, amplify the film’s message. However, its intriguing premise, yet lackluster execution, leaves the audience wanting more. 

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“Bliss” will be available on Prime Video starting Feb. 5, 2021.

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