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Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, Zoolander) plays a man who finds himself flitting between two worlds, one of which is supposedly a simulation, in Bliss, a new science fiction film coming to Amazon Prime next month that co-stars Salma Hayek (Desperado, Frida). Sure, the basic concept sounds a bit like a ripoff of The Matrix with a dash of Solaris, but Mike Cahill is the director, which bodes well for Bliss being a fresher take on a familiar premise.
Cahill, you see, also directed the 2011 indie sci-fi film, Another Earth—his first feature—which received a standing ovation at its premiere and won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It was also among the top 10 indie films of the year selected by the National Board of Review Awards. Cahill's 2014 followup feature, I Origins, also snagged the Sloan Prize; Cahill is the only director to have twice won the award. In short, he's got some serious indie sci-fi film street cred.
The plot of Another Earth centered on the discovery of a mirror Earth planet, where everyone has a doppelgänger. Clearly, Cahill is interested in exploring themes of duality, because he's returned to that rich vein for Bliss (not to be confused with the 2019 Fantastic Fest selection of the same name.) Per the official premise: “An unfulfilled man (Wilson) and a mysterious woman (Hayek) believe they are living in a simulated reality, but when their newfound ‘Bliss' world begins to bleed into the ‘ugly' world, they must decide what's real and where they truly belong.”
“I have a picture in my head of a place,” Wilson's Greg says in a voiceover as the trailer opens and he sketches tranquil scenes on a notepad. “I don't know if it's real. But it has a feeling, and the feeling's real.” His daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper) calls about her upcoming graduation, and while he assures her he'll be there in the bleachers cheering her on, it's clear his job is both demanding of his time and possibly in jeopardy. (“Taking the day off in here? The big boss wants to see you,” a co-worker informs him.) To drown his sorrows, he goes to a local bar, where he meets Hayek's Isabel. “You're real,” she says, telling him that all the people he sees outside aren't real—the two of them are just in a simulation.
In what is admittedly a very Matrix move, Isabel pulls him out of the “simulation,” and he finds himself in her laboratory. She is Dr. Isabel Clemens, mastermind behind a technology called Brain Box, which plugs people into “ugly simulated worlds to generate appreciation for the real world.” Greg doesn't remember anything about this idyllic “real” world he's now experiencing—although his sketches hint that he might subconsciously remember—as romance blooms with Isabel.
The trailer cleverly flits back and forth between the “real” and “ugly” worlds, and Greg becomes increasingly disoriented. Time appears to pass differently in each world, too. Greg thinks he's only been away for a few days, but when he sees Emily, she tells him she graduated two weeks ago, and she insists that soon he'll have to choose between these two worlds. (Meanwhile, Isabel assures him Emily isn't real.) Then things start to go seriously haywire in the ugly simulation. Bonus: we get a Bill Nye sighting, whose character comes bearing a warning that serious questions have been raised about Isabel's research. All in all, Bliss looks like an intriguing film.
Bliss debuts on Amazon Prime on February 5, 2021.
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