A mind-bending love story following Greg who, after recently being divorced and then fired, meets the mysterious Isabel, a woman living on the streets and convinced that the polluted, broken world around them is a computer simulation.
Greg (Owen Wilson) is having one hell of a day. Not only has he gotten fired from his corporate job, but he’s also accidentally killed his boss. He knows how this is going to look, so he hightails it out of his corporate digs, takes refuge in a nearby dive bar and meets Isabel (Salma Hayak) who charms him into having a drink with him. Her questions are probing, leaving Greg back on his heels and then she drops a bomb. She claims that the world they’re living in isn’t real but rather a computer simulation they happen to be trapped in. Greg is confused but intrigued. Yeah, we’ve all been there.
Mike Cahill’s “Bliss” is a low-budget mindbender that asks big questions regarding the extent we will go to achieve happiness or delude ourselves into thinking that we’ve attained some sense of nirvana. Bursting with big ideas and ambitions, of which only some are achieved, the film is very much in keeping with the works of Charlie Kauffman (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) and Michael Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Science of Sleep”) as the landscape of the movie is the mind. Whether its Greg’s psyche we’re witnessing, Isabel’s or both is one of the intriguing narrative curveballs Cahill throws at us. And not only is the question of whose mind we’re in a factor, but the state of it as well, as the specter of mental illness hovers over them both.
Adding another layer of intrigue to the story is Emily (Nesta Cooper), Greg’s daughter who is desperately trying to find him. After having lost his job, her father went missing and she finds him living on the street some two weeks later. Greg’s unaware that so much time has passed and one can’t help wonder if the fact that he is no longer taking his depression medication may have something to do with this.
Questions of identity abound here, clues sprinkled throughout that not everything is as it may appear as we increasingly become aware that Greg may be seeing the world through a fractured prism. His inability to get a refill of his medicine early on, the fact that his place of employment is called “Technical Difficulties” and the businesses’ purpose never truly being defined are just a few of the clues that indicate we may be dealing with some sort of alternate reality. And while Greg does not have to ponder over whether to choose the blue pill or the red pill, yellow and blue crystals which Isabel hordes do play a key factor in uncovering just what’s going on…maybe.
The degree of ambiguity at place here is liberating as Cahill offers not so much answers to all that’s going on but rather possibilities. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to what is going on with Greg, Isabel’s true purpose and what reality is, in relation to this film. But in the end, we are left to draw our own conclusions as to what it all means, which is inexorably tied to how we approach life ourselves. Five different people could watch the movie, each walking away with a different interpretation of it based on their own experiences, wants and needs. In a sense, “Bliss” is a Rorschach Test of sorts that reveals who we are through our response to it and dissection of it. In that way, it proves to be an intriguing piece of cinema that, while it could have better with a more streamlined narrative, continues to intrigue long after the end credits have rolled.
This is a trippy film, pushing your cognitive boundaries of comprehension as we watch Greg (Owen Wilson) and Isabella’s (Salma Hayek) chance interaction and subsequent relationship unfold. Greg is down and out, appearing to have accidentally killed his boss, but Isabella, looking like a deranged homeless person and determining that he is “real,” helps Greg see the world, her world, in a different way.
Writer and director Mike Cahill leads us down many paths only to put up a detour sign forcing us to think in a different direction. We question what is real and what is not; are these people schizophrenic? Is there an alternate world? The questions race through your mind as you attempt to find your own reality, feeling like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole. The messages within the film are equally engaging, reminding us to cherish our immediate world and relationships.
3 1/2 Stars