Congress, The

Tagged: Film

French-Israeli live action/animated film (2013). Bridgit Folman Film Gang, Pandora Film. Directed and written by Ari Folman, based on Stanisław Lem's "Kongres Futurologiczny" (in Bezsenność, coll 1971; trans as The Futurological Congress 1974). Cast includes Danny Huston and Robin Wright. 122 minutes. Colour.

Miramount Studios has developed the Technology to scan bodies and emotions, resulting in digitized actors. Two decades later, at the Futurist Congress, the President of Miramount Nagasaki announces their scientists have "cracked the chemical formula of free choice", enabling people to wholly immerse themselves in a solipsistic world – The Chemical Party (see Virtual Reality), depicted as animation. Some years on we see the Dystopian outcome: people shambling amongst ruins with distant expressions whilst experiencing life through their Avatars (see Perception). They are monitored by a few people in hazmat suits, whilst Airships containing Miramount Nagasaki employees float above the hallucinogens (see Drugs) that cover the surface.

We see these events from the perspective of Robin Wright (Wright), star of The Princess Bride (1987) and Forrest Gump (1994): after some contract negotiations – her attempt to insert a "no Sci Fi" clause fails – she is one of the first actors scanned. Attending the Futurist Congress as an avatar, she watches an interview with her scanned self about their new film "Rebel Robot Robin – Streetfighter". After the President's announcement the Congress is attacked by armed protesters: injuries from a chemical leak mean Robin has to be Cryogenically frozen. Awakening years later in The Chemical Party, she seeks her son, who has Usher Syndrome. Obtaining a pill that cancels the hallucinogens' effect, she visits an airship and meets her son's doctor; he observes, "Once, we just masked the truth with antidepressants ... the drugs have just gotten much better." – adding, a tad nihilistically, that we choose either to await death in "this filth of truth", or whilst hallucinating in The Chemical Party. Her son recently chose the latter, and will be impossible to find. Robin's present experiences will effect her own return: the subjective world created will be different from the one she left – that past is dead. But she does return, and appears to meet her son.

This is a film of excellent parts rather than an excellent whole: the economic and political underpinnings are vague and Robin's character is usually too passive to engage with. The Chemical Party's relationship to the real world (called The Other Side) cannot entirely be explained as deluded sensory data. Nonetheless, it has considerable merit: a Satire concerned with free will, the lure of escapism and a Hollywood whose management regards creative types as liabilities rather than necessities (Huston giving a fine performance as Robin's studio boss). The Chemical Party is often fascinating, both in its depiction and its metaphorical intent: when the lights go out at the Congress, Robin asks a servant, "Is it dark in here, or is it just in my mind?" "Everything is in our mind; if you see the dark, then you chose the dark." After the chemical leak, which of Robin's experiences are genuine interactions and which are only her fantasies is obscured.

The film is inspired by Lem's work rather than being a retelling, and has a strong Philip K Dick feel; Stanley Kubrick is also an influence, with nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963). It won many Awards, including Best Animated Feature Film at the 26th European Film Awards; Best Picture, Screenplay and Actress awards (Fantastic Features category) at Austin's 2013 Fantastic Fest and the Open Entry Competition (Featured Film Category) at the 2014 Tokyo Anime Awards Festival. [SP]

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