Unpredictable, ambitious, and artsy as hell, The Congress is a sci-fi drama by Drafthouse Films with lot to say about the movie industry, as well as the boundaries of reality and self. In two hours, this film will confuse you, enrage you, delight you, and bring you to tears – ultimately leaving you a bit bewildered as you ponder some of the strange and mystifying themes and scenes.
More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator (Jon Hamm), Wright’s digital double rises to immortal stardom. With her contract expiring, she is invited to take part in “The Congress” convention as she makes her comeback straight into the world of future fantasy cinema. (C) Drafthouse
The flow of the film is quite interesting, starting with a close up on a tearful and torn Robin, being told that her career is over and she must sign the “scanning” contract. From this moment on, the momentum of the film slowly accelerates and expands, building up to The Congress Convention, and then careens around roller coaster curves of depression, paranoia, hallucinatory drugs, and wild imagery. Twenty years into the future, Miramount invites her to come to The Congress to renegotiate her contract. They have been experimenting with hallucinogens that causes people to see the world as animation, allowing them to be whomever they want to, and feel and do anything their imagination can come up with – all within Miramount’s parameters, of course. Miramount has a new idea about the future of cinema that goes beyond simply scanning an actor, and spawns a future where the lines of reality become so blurred it’s terrifying. You begin to wonder along with Robin if everything she’s seeing is possibly just in her head.
The first 35 or so minutes of The Congress is unfortunately slow. The script is a bit on the Jabberwocky side, and it tends to be long winded. Once Robin makes it to the scanner though, things begin changing for the better. Wright and the cast make the most out of the script, but a combination of poor writing and odd directorial influence by writer/director Ari Folman makes many of the lines fall flat and early scenes feel awkward. However, once the movie shifts into animation, the voice acting is spot on, and the pace really begins to pick up. The animation is eerie, beautiful, and totally trippy, and the few CG moments are handled quite nicely.
The Congress is one of those movies that people will either love or hate. It wasn’t until the last 25 minutes of the movie that I was able to decide how I felt about the whole thing. There are elements from The Matrix and Simone, but still stands completely on its own, tackling reality/virtual reality, escapism, and consumer denial. While The Congress is fascinating, addictive and ambitious, greatness is just out of its reach.
3.5 out of 5
by Rachael Edwards-Hite
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