Overview: Robin Wright, playing herself, agrees to have her entire being copied into a computer for movie studios to manipulate as they wish. Drafthouse Films; 2014; Rated R; 123 Minutes
Filibustering: I loved The Congress. I loved that even when I was hating it, I was hating something I’d never hated before. I loved its ideas, not its narrative concepts but its ideas, its ideas about media and movies and the way we experience the world. And I loved that those ideas were old, because the movie made them seem new. It rewrote an entire set of sci-fi themes for an imagined, extrapolated future. At a certain point, this film stops being about our tomorrow and becomes about tomorrow’s tomorrow, a futuristic vision within a futuristic vision. And after a certain point it becomes totally disinterested in that as well, because the only thing this film is committed to is being noncommittal. Is it good? Is it bad? It doesn’t matter. It works. Somehow, despite everything, it works.
Clarifying Remarks: At the risk of devolving into manic gibberish, let me say this: Don’t go into The Congress expecting to like it. It’s a fair complaint that the film expects too much of its audience in its stringent refusal to explain its increasingly bizarre twists, but I think it’s actually the opposite. The Congress expects almost nothing of its audience, so it gives very little in return. In fact, the film’s greatest flaw is that it explains far too much near the end, sacrificing thematic resonance for plot coherency. It’s unfortunate, but far from ruinous, and it doesn’t reflect the majority of the film’s runtime.
Yielding Time: The Congress is a hard film to review. The idea that the plot is “confusing” indicates an intellectual film, but that’s not really an accurate description. The first half of the film (which contains no animation) is much quieter, blander, and talkier than the second half, which mutates into symbolistic chaos. For the first 45 minutes, The Congress is all about Hollywood. It depicts a film industry that, in its struggle to stay relevant, is reverting back to its oldest constructs in the guise of futuristic technology. Studios did used to “own” stars in the sense that they had exclusive contracts with them, and that’s essentially what the head honchos depicted in the film are pitching. But once the film ventures into animated territory, its scope begins to broaden dramatically, and it introduces ideas about humanity’s relationship with media that are completely unrelated to its initial focus and yet feel like a natural extension from it.
Wrap-Up: The Congress is a wildly fun head-trip of a movie, and more importantly it feels like something new.