Written by: Pat King, Special to CC2K
Special contributor Pat King reviews The Congress, starring Robin Wright.
In The Congress (2014), Robin Wright plays a woman (also named Robin Wright) who sells the digital rights to her likeness, emotions and personality to an evil but crafty studio boss (Jeff Green). She’s paid a fuckton of money for this, but there’s a catch: Robin can’t do any acting of any kind for the rest of her life. It’s in the contract, see. She goes through this crazy ordeal for one of the few good reasons one might use to justify the total abandonment of their life’s work: so that she can help her son, Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is suffering from a rare disease that will leave him blind and deaf by the time he’s an adult.
The above scenario raises a bunch of intriguing questions for most people. Questions about aging, cloning, the nature of the human soul (if there is such a thing), and the evolution of acting in the face of increasingly sophisticated digital technology. Not to mention what it would be like to have a version of yourself that never ages stored on a computer while you plummet to your biological doom. But don’t worry. This film isn’t about any of that. Not really. Although some of these questions are addressed in a minor way.
Instead, as the first forty minutes of live-action give way to the crazy Disney-on-acid animation that takes up most of the rest of the flick, we’re mostly treated to an exploration of mind-altering drugs and their increasingly powerful effect on consciousness and perception. All well and good, but what about the damn computer? Anything having to do with the computer reality now inhabited by Wright’s digital clone is almost entirely forgotten about. Well, that’s okay, I suppose, because the old school animation by way of Ralph Steadman and Jackson Pollock is visually striking and incredibly fun to watch. I enjoyed the movie most when I was able to just put the muddled philosophy behind the film to the side and dig the flow of the story as it stood. The movie is essentially a story about the powerful connection between a mother and her son. It’s very emotionally involving, so I can forgive all sorts of philosophical squishiness.
Still, the preachifyin’ does get a little heavy sometimes, but I don’t think it’s totally the fault of writer/director Ari Folman, the filmmaker behind the critically-acclaimed Waltzing with Bashir. The movie is based on a novel by cult science fiction author Stanislaw Lem called The Futurological Congress. The book was released in 1971, and can therefore be forgiven for not incorporating the all-encompassing, life-altering reality that computers would have in the 21st Century. I have a feeling that Folman’s adaptation was a little too faithful to the book in the second half of the movie, and he the computer stuff at the beginning was his own creation. I haven’t read the book, though, so I can’t say for sure, though the Wikipedia synopsis seems to suggest I’m correct. You get the feeling that you’re watching two separate movies that were pushed together without much to bind them together.
And the anti-drug stuff does get kind of tiresome after a while. For instance, there’s a scene where Aaron’s physician, one Dr. Baker (Paul Giamatti) goes on a tired and predictable rant about how this mess all started with antidepressants and such, leading, of course, to this reality of cartoon unreality that people drug themselves up to live in. I don’t really care what people think of antidepressants, but they’ve kept me and more than a few other people from becoming totally nihilistic and suicidal. For some of us wackos, they also make it possible to, you know, actually get out of the bed in the morning and get stuff done. Antidepressants have for decades been the whipping boy of a certain set who see mood-altering drugs as an “easy” fix. Well, it ain’t easy, and if it’s unreality, then I’ll take it, especially considering the alternative.
Plus, shit, the cartoon world that people escape to by drinking an ampule (and later on, taking a pill) looks fun as shit. If I have a choice between putting my pants on one leg at a time and trudging through a shitty job or taking an ampule that fulfills my every fantasy and makes me a basically a cartoon god, then I might just be tempted to take the goddamn ampule, you know what I mean?
Eh, so I didn’t buy the premise of the movie, but I can definitely say I enjoyed the film despite all that. The movie’s gorgeous and the acting is at least passable all around. Plus, there’s an animated sex scene, which is just as weird and awkward as you’d probably expect. So there’s that bonus, too.