The Hysterical ‘Bliss’ is Here to Warn Us That Reality Isn’t Real, and I Cannot Look Away

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Bliss (CREDIT: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Amazon Studios)

Starring: Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper, Bill Nye

Director: Mike Cahill

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Very Kooky Violence, Profanity, and Sexuality

Release Date: February 5, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

Man, how are we so lucky as to get a movie like Bliss? It stars a totally wigged-out Salma Hayek trying to convince Owen Wilson that they’re living in a simulation. And quite frankly, the evidence is immediately pretty convincing, as they seem to be the only people in the world with telekinetic powers, which manifests by them popping their hands out with authority, Bruce Almighty-style. Seriously, there’s an entire scene in which they go to a roller rink and make everyone fall on their asses just for the hell of it. And on top of all that, Bill Nye has a pretty significant part, not as himself, but as a very Bill Nye-type who keeps strong-arming Wilson with some important information. And for all you hardcore perverted philosophy geeks, Slavoj Žižek shows up just long enough for anyone who recognizes him to go, “Oh snap! Slavoj’s in this, too?!”

The only other film directed by Mike Cahill that I’ve seen besides Bliss was 2011’s similarly mindbendy-wendy Another Earth, which I found infuriatingly pretentious. Honestly, Bliss isn’t necessarily any less pretentious in its eagerness to dive into a trendy sci-fi premise in its own vaguely intellectual way. So what’s the difference? Has my cinematic tolerance level just increased significantly in the past ten years? Perhaps, but there’s also the fact that Hayek and Wilson are such inspired left-field casting choices. She is always indefatigably dynamic; give her something to rant about, and you’re not going to be able to keep your eyes off her. As for Wilson, I don’t think he ever utters his signature “Wow,” but that low-key sense of being perpetually stunned is indeed the vibe he gives off the whole time. This is a “two-very-different-tastes-that-go-great-together” situation that we never could have expected would work out as beautifully as it did.

Overall, though, I’m not sure if the ideas of Bliss really come together into anything substantial, and that’s partly because I’m not entirely sure what Cahill is trying to say.  But – and this is important – I don’t particularly care. This is an incorrigible movie, and I’m such a sucker for that sort of energy. While watching, I said to myself, “What is going on?!” a healthy number of times, and I must admit that is a feeling I enjoy experiencing. It’s too often in short supply, but it most certainly is not when Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson are questioning reality, creating their own realities, buying into fake realities, and just generally enjoying free rein to do whatever the hell they want to do.

Bliss is Recommended If You Like: The Matrix but wish it had less kung fu and more makeshift homes on the side of a highway, The “Downtime” episode of the recent Twilight Zone revival, The parts of the X-Men movies where they wave their hands around

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Blue Crystals

The Super-Female Postmodern Thing

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This essay was originally written as my final paper for my Film Theory & Analysis class, taught by Royal Brown, in Spring 2014 at The New School.

“Trust’s a tough thing to come by these days.”
“Nobody trusts anybody now.”

the-thing

A common maxim of what makes the best horror movies effective is that they show relatively little, leaving the most terrifying parts to the imagination. What is unique about the John Carpenter-directed The Thing (1982) is how well it works despite, or because of (or despite AND because of) showing so much of its monster. A novice viewer would be forgiven for not realizing how much it actually does not show. Partly, the lack of showing is obvious: the famously ambiguous ending in which it is heavily implied that either Keith David’s Childs or Kurt Russell’s MacReady is now a Thing (or both are). But most of the rest of the film does not highlight how much is being hidden. It is, as Slavoj Žižek would put it, a product “with a distinctive mass appeal” (1). Its primary attractions are its tense action, creative makeup and special effects, and well-rounded performances. It is therefore qualified to be a postmodern work, and it fulfills that possibility with a premise and a villain that essentially guarantees open-endedness and speculative interpretation that goes beyond the narrative.

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