Ten years ago writer/director Mike Cahill and his collaborator writer/actor Britt Marling announced themselves with the excellent Another Earth, a film about a duplicate version of our planet that suddenly appears in the solar system and brings with it all kinds of possibilities and promises for an alternative life.
It soon seemed though that Marling was the real exceptional talent. Cahill’s follow up movie I Origins was smart but felt lacking compared to his debut, whearas Britt Marling authored the superb Sound of My Voice which challenged audiences to pick whether it was psychological drama or a science fiction and leaving them a sublime answer to that question at the end, and The East which was a straighter film about an intelligence officer infiltrating a group of anarchists but still gripped with its nice character beats and unpredictable plot. Both then turned to TV, her as creator of the fascination Netflix series The OA and him as a jobbing director on various other shows.
Now Cahill is back making features with Bliss and sure enough he has some nice ideas but needs a writer working with him with a better discipline and grasp of how to play with narrative conventions. Bliss has an intriguing set up but promises a twist that never comes and is ultimately a little unsatisfyingly with an ending that grasps for an ambiguity that is out of its reach.
There are a series of Star Wars short stories put together in a couple of anthologies titled From a Certain Point of View. These tell of events surrounding minor characters who live on the periphery of the main adventure, almost like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Bliss initially feels as though it is doing something similar centring around a guy who begins to get an indication that his reality is a simulation as if he exists in the same world as Neo and Trinity in The Matrix. He even begins to push away from the utopia he is living in at one stage echoing what the Architect said about how humans rejected an early incarnation of the Matrix because it was too perfect.
In the end Bliss goes off in a different direction and along the way there are parts that work and parts that don’t. It is interesting to see the protagonist Greg begin to live a life with no consequences before facing the struggle that this also means that his kids aren’t real either. He does seem to take all of the incredible things that are happening to him in his stride though and his limited reactions do rob the film of any great drama. Owen Wilson feels somehow wrong in the part. His confused every man schtick worked in Midnight in Paris but here it jars with a story that needs more weight.
I did like the suggestion at the end that having sought bliss in fantasy worlds, all he needed to do to find it was hug his daughter. That I can relate to. I have to say though, that this is a pearl of wisdom I already possessed and this is the problem with Bliss. It isn’t quite derivative but neither did it feel very original and unfortunately it only really gave me other stuff I had already got from somewhere else.
Bliss is on Amazon Prime