Reviews Bliss The simulation theory of “Wandavision” Is anybody else seeing this? The simulation theory is in during these early weeks of 2021, a curiouser and curiouser trend that includes the TV hell of “Wandavision” and a documentary that theorizes about how we might be living in a simulation, “A Glitch in the Matrix” (which also comes out today, and which I also reviewed).
Maybe the universe is signaling something to us (or to me, at least) with third sim-film
“Bliss,” but I couldn’t tell you what it’s trying to say through writer/director Mike Cahill,
because this sci-fi movie is so schmaltzy and also pointlessly confusing. What is real and
what is not within the whimsy of “Bliss”? Who cares?
Owen Wilson is known for a sense of whimsy in his acting—it’s no coincidence that “wow!” became his unofficial catchphrase—but he plays something more cloudy and pained at the beginning of “Bliss,” sitting in an office.
He can only dream of such a feeling of awe, drawing pictures of a lakeside villa that he sees in his head,
all while sitting at his desk for a company called Technical Difficulties.
A ruthlessly desaturated color palette emphasizes how bad things are, and then Cahill’s script makes things worse for Greg—a shocking moment
in which he accidentally kills his boss by knocking his head into a table. Not one to just leave a body just
lying there, Greg props the body up to a window, behind a curtain, and escapes to a nearby bar.
Inside, Greg is forcefully interacted with by a woman named Isabel (Salma Hayek) who exclaims
“You’re real!” to him, and slowly plants this idea that she has powers. When she waves her hand,
she can knock a tray out of a waiter’s hand many feet away. The trick is in some inhaling some yellow
crystals, and the fact that, according to Isabel, many people at the bar are not “real.” But Greg is
only totally convinced of her abilities (stay with me here) when she engineers it so that the boss’ death
looks like a suicide, as the corpse suddenly pops out the window and crashes many stories below.
Isabel convinces Greg to hide out with her at her place—a makeshift apartment under the freeway—and uses the time to show Greg that he too can blow things over using his finger.
The two bound through the city with almost quirky indie comedy abandon, like a bunch of super-powered gutter-punks.
They go to a roller rink and blow people to the ground with their magical finger guns, while solemn
and sexy music plays, all the better for images of when they knock skates in the bathroom. But there’s
an emotional anchor to Greg’s newfound err, bliss—Greg’s daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper) is trying to
find him, deeply concerned that her father has gone missing. When she runs into him next, two weeks
have suddenly passed and he’s on a row that’s populated by drug dealers. “Bliss” treats this like a grand metaphor is in process, and instead of bringing the viewer closer, it does the opposite.
Cahill’s film ends up using homelessness and addiction as a hackneyed metaphor, rendering much of its ideas about “finding bliss” into gibberish.
A tedious 50 minutes into the movie (and as shown in the more exciting trailer), “Bliss” transports Isabel and Greg, via the inhalation of special blue crystals, to a different, more colorful, and sunnier existence. They wake up in a scientific space that’s like a resort lobby, and are hooked up to a giant box of floating brains called The Brain Box.
This is the real world, Isabel tells him, and this is a machine she invented to get cynical people to appreciate how bad things can be.
Greg doesn’t remember going into this simulation, so he doesn’t remember the history of this place, or that he’s actually married to Isabel, but he recognizes the location: it’s the beautiful lakeside paradise from his drawings. He almost doesn’t want to leave until he starts to see a silhouette of Emily, looking for her dad.