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By Alex Saveliev | February 6, 2021

Mike Cahill, along with fellow visionaries Zal Matmanglij and Brit Marling, spearheaded a subgenre of low-budget, brainy sci-fi cinema that explores the human condition without resorting to bombast and special effects. Films like Another Earth and I, Origins boldly venture into the subconscious realms of the mind. Cahill’s films pose more questions than answers, but when they’re this tantalizing and thought-provoking, it’s perhaps better to leave some things unsaid. Sadly, his latest – and by far glossiest – feature, Bliss, blends science fiction, existential drama, and romance with little narrative or tonal coherence. It says too much. Consider yourself forewarned: you’re highly unlikely to experience the titular emotion while watching this spastic, overwrought, and dreary feature. That said, with Cahill at the helm, it’s not entirely devoid of merit either.

Greg (Owen Wilson) spends his days at his dull job sketching images of his dream woman, dream house, and his dream view of awe-inspiring vistas. Reality isn’t quite so dreamy. Greg is divorced, reluctant to attend his estranged daughter Emily’s (Nesta Cooper) graduation ceremony (“I have so many thoughts I wish you could see,” he tells her over the phone), and he’s addicted to prescription meds. Things take a turn for the worse when Greg gets fired and – minor spoiler alert – accidentally kills his boss. This leads to perhaps one of the most unusual “hiding a corpse” sequences in recent memory.

“Our reality is a simulation, and being immersed in it for so long has triggered amnesia of sorts in Greg.”

Soon after, Greg meets the Romani-like Isabel (Salma Hayek) while drowning his sorrows at the local bar. “You know you are real, right?” she says. “You deflected my powers.” She possesses telekinetic abilities, you see, that comes with the help of a crystal yellow pill called “Yellow.” She feels responsible for the murder because “it’s her fault this world exists.” After helping Greg out, Isabel brings him to her shabby abode – a bunch of junk covered by a tarp under a bridge. “I’m not homeless, just off the grid,” she states.

Thus begins their odd love affair. With a curious lack of remorse about the murder – or shock/ puzzlement at the things he witnesses, for that matter – Greg discovers that he, too, possesses powers. He can light candles with his mind or trip folks at the skating rink, or even “exit this stupid simulation” by taking ten blue pills (don’t ask). They leave this world – a world of prostitution, cold dumpster food, and dilapidated homes – into Greg’s vision of utopia, filled with holographic people and azure ocean waters and machines that do all the dirty work. At the same time, humans create art and receive a minimum of $500K a year. It’s a perfect recreation of his sketches – because, according to Isabel, this is reality, and he’s lived here before. Our reality is a simulation, and being immersed in it for so long has triggered amnesia of sorts in Greg. Heady enough for you?

Bliss (2021)

Directed and Written: Mike Cahill

Starring: Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper, etc.

Movie score: 5/10

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"…Cahill needs to reconnect with his indie roots to get his creative bliss back."

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