Robin Wright (as herself) used to be a major star in the movies, but after two kids and what her agent insists on calling poor choices, it seems her career is on the slide. So what's a washed up actress in her mid-forties supposed to do now? She still believes she has years of work left in her, but nobody else appears to agree, and she is having trouble in the converted aircraft hangar she calls home as her young son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) suffers from an increasingly debilitating condition which is shutting down his senses of sight and hearing, so she must provide for him if nothing else. Therefore when a new contract from the head of Miramount Pictures, Jeff Green (Danny Huston) is proposed, she has to consider it...
The trouble with that being it would mean she was paid a handsome fee for essentially giving up her life as an actress and being replaced by a computer simulation, in director Ari Folman's adaptation of a Stanislaw Lew novel, though those seeking a Solaris style experience were let down as he was more interested in the relationships than pushing back mindbending barriers of how we saw the world, though the style was curiously reminiscent of Ralph Bakshi in its mix of outlandish visuals and rawer concerns. Indeed, how we saw this world was very much the same as all those science fiction efforts of the nineteen-nineties where virtual reality was the big catchphrase, a bold new direction which would allow viewers to enter an entire other set of dimensions and behave much as they pleased.
Of course, by the time the twenty-first century dawned we had the internet for that, a cyberspace where you could act out your whims via an avatar, whether in gaming or social media, and Folman certainly was aware of this method of viewing yourself when he set about scripting this. The trouble with keeping up with the freshest technology in your movies is that by the time you have released them, things move so fast your audience could be thinking, yeah, yeah, heard it all before, and much of what took up the latter half of The Congress was slavishly emulating any number of science fiction tropes that had been seen in other, more memorable books, television shows and films, and even they were in danger of looking old hat, so imagine how this came across.
Folman had received huge acclaim for his previous work Waltz with Bashir, but that was apparently something he was not entirely comfortable with, hence he sought out a more prickly proposition for the follow-up, claiming he was more content with reviews and reactions that were less enamoured with his efforts, presumably because those who really did like this felt more valid than a simple blanket endorsement. Although in this case, it was more down to his biggest success was a better film than this one being more difficult and therefore more worthy: with Bashir, he was taking a real life situation and rendering it more real through animation, on the other hand here he was taking an artificial situation and doing nothing more than keeping it artificial, which was far less satisfying.
The director's commentaries on the power of celebrity did not say much that a quick scan of the internet could not have told us, and his satires on the entertainment industry fell flat as it was no great revelation to inform us escapism was one of the main reasons audiences liked to consume media, and even less of a revelation that many are unhappy with the way the world is going so would prefer to try and make sense of it online, or at least exist in a sphere that made sense to them without having to sit down and mull it over at great length. As Robin Wright (both herself, but actually not, which was fitting) sells her soul, or her image anyway, so she may become a computer generated avatar of herself in mindless action flicks, we jump twenty years and now she is entering a cartoon world full of caricatures and references where the Congress who have created this escape are taking over, all very dystopian cliché, and no matter how imaginative Folman's imagery was the fact remained that this was old wine in new bottles, though the wine wasn't that old in the great scheme of things.