Bliss Review – An Inception Matrix Love Story

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Bliss Review – Mike Cahill’s Bliss is the beautifully confusing love story of The Matrix meets Inception in the romance genre

“I have a picture in my head of a place. I don’t know if it’s real. But it has a feeling and the feeling is real.” – Greg (Owen Wilson)

The best and easiest way to summarize and set up Mike Cahill’s Bliss is that it’s a cross of The Matrix and Inception in the romance genre. It’s a beautifully complex romance and sci-fi that makes you question everything. The film opens with Greg (Owen Wilson), who appears to be an unsatisfied corporate employee who gets lost in his dreams. He is divorced and is supposed to attend his daughter’s graduation until he meets Isabel Clemens (Salma Hayek). Isabel claims that Greg is a real person and seeks to open his eyes to help him realize that real people can do whatever they want in this fake world. Greg follows Isabel and goes on a thrilling journey of figuring out what is real and what isn’t.

Bliss is a great feature that truly felt like a serious cinematic release. The film is a perfect balance of popcorn flick appeal and serious thought-provoking drama that I feel a lot of movies have been lacking lately. Personally, I’m definitely more of a popcorn flick type person, but I do regularly like a heartfelt dramatic piece in between. Bliss is that perfect middle ground that we seem to usually get after award season movies and right before the summer blockbusters.

The film gave great dramatic roles to Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek. Wilson’s Greg was a great encapsulation of a worn-down corporate stooge who has been so beaten down by his job that the rest of his life seemed to fall with him. The loss of life’s zest because of a drab career leading to blindly following a source of excitement is perfectly captured and made relatable by Wilson. The opening, which is essentially like the opening of the trailer, lands immediately. Wilson makes it painfully apparent where Greg is mentally and keeps you with him throughout the entire film.

Salma Hayek’s Isabel Clemens is a shape-shifting agent of chaos that you recognize immediately. From her first frame, Hayek imposes a commanding presence that you can’t help but be frightened and seduced by. Greg was definitely in a bad spot, but even if he was the most adjusted person in the world, Hayek’s commanding presence as Isabel would ensure anyone would at least hear her out. Where Hayek gets to really shine is playing two sides of the same coin of Isabel. In the “not real world” the film begins in, Isabel appears to be a confident and knowing homeless drug addict. While from a distance she definitely looks, sounds, and -assuming from the incredible costume and make-up- smells crazy, she seems to know and get something that everyone else doesn’t. Then in the “real world” that confidence is translated into high-society and status. It is undeniably the same energy that exposes a real paradox in society. A great example that highlights this is Isabel’s clinginess and neediness of Greg. The “not real world” version feels very clingy and needy to the point that it registers as a humongous red flag that I know from ignoring numerous times. However, in the “real world” that same cling and need appear to be looking for support from a partner. Until it warps into a red flag again as the worlds begin to blur.

Mike Cahill did a fantastic job of using Greg as the vehicle to take audiences through a wild environment embodied by Isabel. Cahill’s script and final product is one I feel is better appreciated the more you think about it. As you can likely tell through the trailer, the film is visually mesmerizing. There are obviously two different worlds, but you also realize they are also perfectly parallel. Like Isabel, you realize a simple shift in perspective is all it takes to see glowing perfection or a rundown dirty plot. The visual parallels is something I feel truly capture the film’s brilliance. In the “not real world” it’s a camp under a freeway with surprising wide views, while in the “real world” it’s a coastal city with ocean views. However, if you pay attention, the shapes of the background, the spacing of objects, the lengths of paths, it’s very much identical.

Cahill ensures Bliss keeps audiences guessing and asking what is real. The worlds appear to be very different, but if you take off the set dressings, they have the same structure and have the same focus points. The focus points being the visual cues but also Greg and Isabel. It’s intriguing and forces the viewer to constantly question the reality of the film while not getting them to question what’s going on. Cahill allows audiences to keep track of where they are on the X-axis while they are continuously trying to figure out where they are on Y-axis. Which is a difficult task, but an absolutely essential one to the enjoyment of the film.

The one thing I have to critique in my Bliss review is the film’s pacing. The film starts off running. It immediately poses the question, and in my opinion, moral of the story in the beginning. Then it slows down to romanticize the love story, then ramps up again, and slows down, and ramps up and ends. The tempo is jarring, but mainly because the tempo shifts are induced by large narrative leaps. There are numerous seeds planted throughout the film that sprout at different times that provide answers to a lot of these jarring tempo shifts. But many are just unpleasantly jarring and feel out of context. There is rampant drug use throughout the film and could be a unifying underlying thread, it would definitely explain a lot. But also, I feel it’s kind of a cop-out. In terms of pacing, I don’t want to feel like I’m making sense of something after blacking out; I thoroughly enjoy watching movies about drug uses, I don’t want to feel like I’m the one using drugs. But also the entire film can be chalked up to a drug trip, which I feel cheapens the brilliant Allegory of the Cave and Simulation Theory concepts brought up. I went from thinking thoughtful philosophical questions to questioning if the film is just glorifying drug use. But maybe that’s the point, and who are we to judge?

Bliss is a thrilling psychological journey that will have viewers questioning what is real. Mike Cahill does a spectacular job of taking audiences on a mental journey that thoughtfully begs deep questions and never forces an answer. Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek deliver masterful performances that perfectly capture the chaotic psychology of love, The Matrix, Inception, and potentially drug use. The pacing and tempo can at times be jarring, but it is also reflective of the subject matter. Which, in the film’s defense, might be brilliant, but also might not be for everyone. While I personally was taken out of the experience by some of the narrative jumps during the film, I found the intriguing questions and appreciation of the performances to be the strongest takeaways from the film. My Bliss review gets a 3.5/5

Bliss releases Friday, February 5, 2021, on Amazon Prime Video

 

Bliss Review
3.5

TLDR

Bliss is a thrilling psychological journey that will have viewers questioning what is real. Mike Cahill does a spectacular job of taking audiences on a mental journey that thoughtfully begs deep questions and never forces an answer. Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek deliver masterful performances that perfectly capture the chaotic psychology of love, The Matrix, Inception, and potentially drug use. The pacing and tempo can at times be jarring, but it is also reflective of the subject matter. Which might be brilliant, but also might not be for everyone. While I personally was taken out of the experience by some of the narrative jumps during the film, I found the intriguing questions and appreciation of the performances to be the strongest takeaways from the film.

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