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Good gravy what a pretentious film. This film does what most films with big stars fail to do. That being coherent. Oof two hours lost. First half interesting as hell second half WTH. Premise very cool idea but I feel in its quest to create a certain feel it ran way off the tracks. And so slow moving only added to this train wreck. Sorry.
I'm halfway through the movie. This is kind of tedious. If I join forces to see the rest tomorrow, I'll give it more stars.
If given the choice to be young forever, would you jump at the opportunity? Actress Robin Wright(Princess Bride, House of Cards) is given that choice, albeit through contractual agreements, by the fictional Miramount Studios in Ari Folman's (Waltz with Bashir) The Congress. Studio executives propose her body and facial expressions should be scanned by advanced computers with motion capture technology so they can puppeteer her image into c-grade films and, as the greedy studio head Jeff (Danny Huston) would argue, "keep her young forever." The only stipulation: she can never act in films, television or stage again-and she will be given a lump sum of money in return for signing away her identity. Wright reluctantly agrees at the pressure of her agent (Harvey Keitel) who argues her poor life choices and burned bridges have left them with few other options to consider.
Twenty years follow and a grey-haired Robin Wright drives a sports car down a desolate desert road of a very different America; the rapid expansion of science and technology has created a culture of psychedelic pharmaceuticals that can change reality into an animated world that looks like the personal nightmares of Mickey Mouse. Penn arrives at the gate for Miramount Studios, taking the drug at the urging of a security guard, and descends into a psychedelic world of land-swimming whales, robot butlers and other fantastical characters and creations. Nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and the concept of reality and personal freedom is now a stale concept.
The first act of The Congress is live-action, filmed by Michal Englert, a Polish cameraman that won best cinematography at Sundance for Lasting, and every frame is absolute beauty; each scene a canvas to be explored, consisting of vibrant colors and moody set pieces that draw you in like a Van Gogh painting. Soon after, the film transitions entirely into colorful and surreal animation that has an underlying sense of dread in its imagery. The switch from live-action to animation can be jarring at first, but it differs from films like Cloud Atlas which make jerky tonal choices that create eye-rolls rather than dropped jaws-and that is due to an incredibly strong script that shelters the animated segment from treading on tacky, kitschy seas-instead creating a brainy science fiction film that surprises the audience often and explores the depths of the human heart.
That being said, The Congress isn't a perfect film. It can feel a bit uneven in its tone-sometimes teetering between a Spike Jonze and Wachowski Bros. film-and it expects the audience to willingly extend a hand to the lengthy, animated portion without struggle-but the flaws are embraceable since the script continuously remains clever. The dark, inventive aspects of the story not only prove interesting but often satirical, hoisting itself beyond extrasensory schlock with gorgeous imagery and sharp wit. It unapologetically jabs at big business and the film industry at large, all the while portraying tangible relationships between its characters amid the chaotic, psychedelic elements.
Robin Wright's performance really carries the film as she battles against a world voluntarily surrendering their freedom to become a figment of their own imaginations; she brings density to the self-deprecating role of herself, and although animated for most of the film she still exhibits her versatility as an actress. Harvey Keitel, Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm, and Kodi Smit-McPhee complement Wright's performance with compelling characters that exhibit the remaining humanity in a world of nightmarish delusion and rampant greed.
Loosely based on the satirical novel The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem, The Congress is an ambitious and flawed film that takes bold and imaginative leaps many films fear to attempt: it will satisfy as well as polarize and while I think a second viewing of The Congress is necessary to prove the fantastical elements hold water, it is undeniably an entertaining and trippy experience that will quell the thirstiest of art-house and science fiction fans. I highly recommend giving it a look and definitely go into it with an open mind. Arguably one of my favorite films at the Newport Beach Film Festival of 2014 and a real head-scratcher.
An overly ambitious idea that never comes to fruition and in the end, feels like the world's most boring acid trip.
The Congress is definitely a unique film that offers something different. It’s very creative and different. The movie starts off really well with an interesting story, good performances but then halfway through changes into a different film. When the movie turns animated it becomes hard to follow, a bit ridiculous, and unfocused. The first half is amazing. The second half is so so.
This movie seems to want to make sense but it doesn't. The plot (such as it is) is such a mess that I lost interest. I watched it through to the end anyway.
I was totally on board with The Congress for the first act. The start of the story is about Robin Wright being tempted by a large studio to sell her likeness so that they can CGI her into any film role they’d like. This is a fascinating concept, and I liked the moral dilemma. Robin Wright is marvelous playing a version of herself, and these early scenes present her as someone so down-to-earth you have to love her. It also has a superb performance from Harvey Keitel as her agent, a role that culminates in one scene where he delivers a speech that almost feels Oscar worthy. I could almost suffer through this whole film again just for the sake of watching this scene one more time. I only wish the entire movie was in the style of the first act and about that same story, then this could have been truly great. Sadly, that wasn’t the movie Ari Folman wanted to make. Once they transition 20 years later, I wanted to rip my hair out. The movie shifts into this cartoon dreamscape world. Nothing in it makes any sense and the story that we were following from the beginning becomes irrelevant, it was just the groundwork to get us here. The most infuriating part about this whole section of the film is that it is all manufactured in the mind. As a result none of it really happens, none of it has consequences, and none of it matters at all. We’re just watching someone’s surrealist vision of cartoon dystopia/utopia. It is the film equivalent of modern art, some people can look at it and see something beautiful but I just see feces thrown on canvas. They even return to reality for a few minutes and yet everything is as absurd as the cartoon world. The Congress had potential, but instead of living up to that potential they decided to make “art,” so I hate it.
Very slow paced, very blend and very overrated by "official" critics as always. Not worth paying to watch.
- The Congress is a dystopia where all of our dreams come true. -
Since America's recent election, sales for George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984 have soared, becoming Amazon's number one bestseller. Many are hypersensitive at this time to what seems dystopian, to what looks like the birth pangs of socially acceptable tyranny. It'll be interesting to see if the desire to consume this other world genre continues to skyrocket in upcoming years in our current political climate.
A great place to start in satisfying the dystopian urge is Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir)'s The Congress. In my opinion, it's one of the most underrated films in the genre.
The Congress has had a long release across the world from 2013 to 2016, but chances are, you probably haven't heard about it. It was easy to miss. It wasn't widely released in cinemas, went straight to VOD and it was sadly ignored by the awards seasons. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that its main theme criticizes the entertainment industry. Drafthouse films claims that it chose to release on VOD because "Intelligent, star-driven science fiction does well in the VOD space." Whatever the reason, its neglect is most unfortunate.
In The Congress, Robin Wright, playing herself, is presented with an offer from the production company Miramount to sell the rights to...well, herself. Miramount would like to create a hologram of Robin Wright so that they can use her image in any number of movies. "We want to own this thing called Robin Wright," the exec says. The software Wright would never grow old and would not inconvenience the production company with all of the annoying qualities of the human actress such as her opinion, preference or personal problems.
They want to make an inhuman Robin Wright, who embodies everything Wright is. The hologram can act in whatever style or tone the production company would like her to. This Robin Wright is always ready, always the same, always exactly what the company wants.
Having real life Robyn Wright play the character Robyn Wright, provides an additional layer of dystopian critique. It places this not-so-distant future into a world that we know. The Robin Wright in the movie is famous for The Princess Bride just as she is in our world. The film thus lends itself to an immediate connection to our world. It is, as Wright said in an interview about The Congress, "an exaggerated version of a reality that is existing today."
The Wright in the film does not take the offer lightly. In fact, at first she does not take it at all. "It is the gift of choice that is being taken away," she says to her agent Al (Harvey Keitel). Al insists to the contrary that scanning (the process of creating a hologram of the actor) has the same self-robbing nature acting has always had. Except it is better, he adds, because it takes away the hardship of being an actor. "We are saved!" he declares.
This struggle comprises the first half of the film. The second half leads to a very different world. One where Wright takes a hallucinogenic drug to enter a virtual reality called Abrahama - a world of pure entertainment, pure illusion and where desires are converted into reality. It's at this point that The Congress begins resembling the novel it's based on and where the execution of the story really comes alive. Now as much as I'd love to tell you about this, I don't want to spoil the surprise. It's well worth it.
Abrahama is where The Congress takes on bigger themes than the entertainment industry and Robin Wright's acting career. It comes to concern every individual person as they embrace the virtual reality of this other world. "Abrahama is going to be our life!" says a speaker at an event celebrating the future of virtual reality. He claims they have cracked the chemical formula of free choice. Now, everyone can have everything they want.
What becomes of actual real life is a grim picture. Virtual reality is an escape from the pain and suffering that comprises real life, which only becomes more painful as it undergoes universal neglect. If "the price of apathy toward public affairs is to be ruled by evil men," as Plato said, what is the price of total neglect of reality altogether?
The Congress eerily portrays how the pursuit of pleasure and free choice are perfectly compatible with tyranny. If people understand themselves as free and can pursue pleasure as much as they want, they won't be led to question authority or challenge the powers that be.
Ultimately The Congress asks, what is true freedom? Is it simply the ability to gratify yourself and do whatever you want? Does it only concern you, or is it tied to the freedom of others? Maybe our unquestioned freedom to indulge ourselves in media and all of its forms is a pacifier. Maybe it's something that keeps us from resisting.
This review was first published on Narrative Muse, http://narrativemuse.co/movies/the-congress, and was written by Jack Holloway. Narrative Muse curates the best books and movies by and about women and non-binary folk on our website http://narrativemuse.co and our social media channels.
Work of art, there's no other film like this.