2014 has seen a slew of post-apocalyptic/futuristic-themed movies, but out of all of them, Ari Folman’s half live-action, half 2-D animation seems the most likely. That doesn’t mean it is great or a particularly good movie, but its prediction seems less like science fiction and more like an eventual reality.
The set-up is thus: Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, the actress who was once Princess Buttercup and Forrest Gump’s Jenny. Now, Wright is a single mother of two who is pretty much done with acting. Her son, Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), is suffering from a disease that will rob him both of sight and sound. Wright tries to care for Aaron as best she can, but all those visits to the doctor cost a great deal of money.
Wright’s agent, Al (Harvey Keitel), and the studio boss at Miramount, Jeff (Danny Huston), have a proposal, Wright will scan her face and body into a computer, and Miramount will own and direct her image in whatever movie they like for the next 20 years. There are some exceptions (no pornography) to their use, but Wright will be able to sit at home and collect a paycheck without having to lift a finger. She resists the offer—because the freedom of choice and selection is eliminated—but when it becomes clear that is where the movie industry is headed, she too becomes another image in Miramount’s hard drive. To update the old MGM slogan, “More stars in this computer than there are in heaven.”
Twenty years pass, the contract lapses, and Jeff wants to sign an extension, but the world has changed a great deal, punctuated by a transition from live-action to throwback animation reminiscent of the 1920s Fleischer Studios. Here, The Congress suddenly takes off, leaving behind the stilted and somewhat dry live-action to something fluid and constantly changing.
Wright attends The Futurist Congress to unveil a new product from the studios, the ability to consume celebrity. They will be able to literally drink John Wayne and eat Marilyn Monroe. It doesn’t just stop with celebrities, Greek deities, historical figures; even Christ is available for consumption. Wright resists and goes on the run with a little help from Dylan (voiced by Jon Hamm), a former Miramount animator who fell in love with her.
Much like Robin William’s trip through Paradise, Purgatorio, and the Inferno in What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998), Robin’s trip through the “cross-over” world doesn’t quite connect with the rest of the story, but it provides for very interesting images, at times even lending itself to a game of “Who can guess all the icons in this shot?”
Based on the novel The Futurist Congress by Stanislaw Lem, Folman updates and adapts the novel into two parts, one that works (animation) and one that doesn’t (live-action). Lem and Folman share a bleak view of utopian societies, but both seem to be pointing to inevitability. The Futurist Congress is indeed a terrifying idea for those that will be consumed, but for those consuming, it will finally give them exactly what they want. Their dreams and desires will finally be in their grasp. A terrifying thought that people would line up out the door if the powers that be can market it with the latest iPhone release.
The Congress (2013)
Adapted and Directed by: Ari Folman
Based on the novel The Futurist Congress by Stanislaw Lem
Produced by: Reinhard Brundig, Sébastien Delloye, Piotr Dzieciol, Ari Folman, David Grumbach, Eitan Mansuri, Ewa Puszczynska, Robin Wright
Starring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle, Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm
Drafthouse Films, Not Rated, Running time 122 minutes, Released August 29, 2014