Film Micrœview #152: The Congress (2013)

10.14.2014 § Leave a comment

The Congress

Rating: Bad.

I understand that the Stanislav Lem book this was based on was black humor, satire. This is far from that.

But the connection to the source material is overall loose. The most effective part of the movie, in my opinion (though this is perhaps colored by my excitement over seeing technology which I have a professional relationship to getting big screen service!) was wholly original: the opening act, about converting live actors into perfect simulacra. And this idea was done well; it was a smart move to add this reflexive element of Wright playing herself, tapping into our relationship with the star system, our (what little we have) empathy for the life of high-profile actors and what it would mean to them to give up control of their choices. Though some of the reflexive jokes about sci-fi and Hollywood (this being a non- and anti-Hollywood flick) fell flat, my main complaint was that this act was too slow, burdened with a ton of fat.

This could have and almost was made to tie in with the themes in Lem’s book. But the film didn’t follow through on the potential of this idea. We only glimpse the results of this choice of Wright’s, in only one example film, which is apparently a huge classic (could have been more powerful if it had really distorted her legacy — I mean, this film isn’t shy about unnecessarily bad outcomes!) Instead the film suddenly plunges into a completely different visual style, and effects one too many total paradigm shifts in characters’ reality and narrative direction. I mean, come on, it seems like a total joke that this film contains not one but TWO 20-years-later jumps!!

The only capacity in which I feel this second paradigm shift the film portrays — from virtual reality to “mainlining” as I’ve heard it called, which is rather than merely hacking our senses externally, hacking the brain directly — is indicated to tie in with anything from the first act is the idea presented w/r/t her son’s hearing and vision loss: that he is compensating by developing the ability to flesh out the vague cues he is able to receive from his environment with his own remembered psycho-phenomenal material. In the second wave of the future, this power is achieved by all people and used primarily for entertainment purposes. Unfortunately it is addled by over-faithfulness to the pharmaceutical basis of this effect in the source material — I might have been less befuddled if the film had stuck to the Matrix-y electronics approach. In general, this film made slightly too little sense to embrace, and while the son’s condition was tied in with the societal changes stuff at the very very end, it was far from taught, more just tacked on.

What sends this movie from Shrug territory into Bad is the technical execution. The animation was just awful. The art design was apt (I like the whole classic-Hollywood-Mobius strip style), but the animators lacked sufficient talent to communicate emotion. With this low a frame rate, you have to be good to be expressive, and these guys aren’t. Hell, the villain’s face was just downright SCRAMBLED the whole fucking time, I felt like BARFING while watching him, trying to figure out what the fuck he was feeling or expressing. At least we got to see the live-action actor version of him beforehand so I could kind of mentally superimpose him instead, but had no such luxury for the crappy/creepy animator character. Keitel’s in-person presence was so preferable to this, I wish we could have just had more of that.

I am personally interested in exploring ideas surrounding collective virtual experience, the societal consequences of ubiquitous ability for people to change appearance or create simulations of others perfectly. So I’m sad that this film didn’t succeed. A couple reviews I read suggested that Jonze + Kaufman could have better handled this material. No doubt, no doubt. Speaking of Kaufman + animation, where is Anomalisa already??


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