“Most people say ignorance is bliss, but I say, you have to experience the good to appreciate the bad,” explains Salma Hayek’s Isabel in Mike Cahill’s trippy new sci-fi drama Bliss.
Owen Wilson stars alongside Hayek as everyman office worker Greg, a man seemingly disinterested and detached from reality, day-dreaming and doodling when he should be working (a familiar, yet more depressing evolution of the slacker stereotypes we’ve seen Wilson play before).
However, when Greg finds himself suddenly out of a job, living in a hotel and estranged from his family, he quickly falls into a spiralling new co-dependent relationship with the enigmatic Isabel. She convinces him that the misery of his life is only because they are living in a fake world and that the real world is actually a land of perpetual bliss which they can only return to by ingesting some elusive crystals.
Sci-fi has always been a great vehicle to tell difficult stories and Cahill’s latest feature uses the genre to explore the impact of addiction and its ability to destroy the lives of everyone it touches. Although Bliss does an affecting job of showing how precarious and slippery the slope into addiction can be, the fundamental premise struggles to stand up to any real scrutiny. Indeed, Hayek tells Wilson to “let it be bigger than your comprehension,” and the same can also be asked of Bliss’ audience.
Despite being shot through washed-out filters and packed full of lingering shots of human desperation, Bliss’ surface-level analogies and social commentaries feel weightless, only serving to lessen the impact of the personal drama. Sharing more of an affinity with 2017’s The Florida Project than it does more recent ‘magic-drug’ movies like Synchronic or Project Power, Bliss plays like a bitter-sweet indie romance instead of the provocative and insightful sci-fi it might have been.
Bliss is out on Amazon Prime Video on 5 February.