In Review


3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars – ‘Intriguing’
Directed and written by Mike Cahill
Starring Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper
Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi | 2021 (USA)
Watch: Amazon Prime Video

Review by Jeanne Powell

Amazon Prime Video is streaming the latest film directed by Mike Cahill. A mixture of science fiction and romance, the film Bliss explores simulation theory, which is in vogue at the moment — the idea that what we know as reality could be an artificial simulation, perhaps created by super-computers.

Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson have genuine chemistry, as they weave back and forth between his rather dreary world and the glamorous one she projects, suggesting parallel realities which occasionally overlap. How that would work no one really knows, but things might get chaotic, one suspects.

Owen Wilson as newly divorced Greg Whittle is worn down and out of touch with what we would call normal reality. He sits in his coveted corner office and draws pictures of an ideal community and an ideal woman. Outside his office door chaos reigns, because he has not been doing the job he is well paid to do. As his supervisor Bjorn rasps at him near the start of the film, “our counterparts are crushing us and autobots are screwing us, and a lot of this is because of you. Where’s your head been?”

The sudden termination floors Greg, whose dependence on painkillers has altered his ability to reason. Rushing out of the office to a bar across the street, Greg orders a double whiskey with no ice. Enter Salma Hayek as the mysterious Isabel, awash in careless curls and blue eye shadow, dressed like a genie from an ancient lamp.

Their chemistry works. Greg is downcast and confused. Isabel is sure of herself and insistent that she knows what’s real and what isn’t. You know you’re real, right? She says to him more than once.

Through a color-deprived landscape Greg and Isabel walk along freeway underpasses and chain-link fences, past street sculpture made from broken mannequins, to her surprisingly elegant abode in a homeless encampment. So begins his education as to what’s real and what isn’t as she shows him how to light a candle by pointing a finger, and talks to him about a parallel universe.

Isabel carries yellow crystals, and shares her magic nuggets with Greg. She takes him to a roller rink where they skate in lace-ups sporting four wheels, and use their crystal-infused magic in impish ways. Torrid moments in the restroom illustrate how versatile people can be when wearing roller skates.

However, Greg has ties to this world which Isabel has difficulty persuading him to abandon. His daughter Emily, beautifully played by Nesta Cooper, keeps searching for her troubled father, now two weeks missing from his office and his home. And she persuades her reluctant brother Arthur (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) to join her.

WATCH: Bliss – Official Trailer

At some point Isabel exchanges the yellow crystals for blue ones, and takes Greg to a beautiful world not unlike the one he created in his drawings two weeks earlier. Sunny and opulent, this full-color parallel community features a university with an observatory, laboratories and holograms alongside faculty and students who are “real.” In this world Isabel is a respected scientist doing cutting-edge research on the brain.

The gray grimy world under the freeway is a metaphor for the way we live now…

Which world is real? Why is it so hard to acquire crystals from Kendo (Ronny Chieng) when Isabel’s supply runs low? The gray grimy world under the freeway is a metaphor for the way we live now, but it is the only world Greg knows. What of the children he leaves behind, and who are searching for him? They do not know Isabel, but she tries to keep Greg away from them. Greg’s daughter will not give up trying to save her father from whatever is crushing his sense of reality.

RELATED: The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are In a Video Game

Director Mike Cahill takes us on an intriguing quest as he explores the deep attraction between Greg and Isabel. Very effective cinematography by Marcus Forderer, with characters moving from a gray/black/white world into full color. Definitely worth a look.

Watch Bliss on Amazon Prime Video.

Jeanne is a published poet and essayist. She holds degrees from Wayne State University and the University of San Francisco. Jeanne has taught in the CS, UB and OLLI programs at universities in the City. Her books in print include MY OWN SILENCE and WORD DANCING from Taurean Horn Press.