Greg (Owen Wilson) is having a very bad day: he’s getting divorced, estranged from his kids, living in a motel, and now he’s getting fired. And now he’s accidentally killing his boss while getting fired! And how he’s hiding the body and fleeing the building! A very bad day indeed. In the bar across the street (note: not the wisest place to hide out), he meets Isabel (Salma Hayek), who tells him not to sweat it. Why? Good question. Because this whole world is fake, she tells him, a mere simulation of her own creation. She and Greg are real (in fact they’re “together”) but nearly everyone else is essentially an NPC, just a simulated person able to walk around and interact, but nothing more than a character in a very sleek video game. And there’s proof: Greg and Isabel have powers! They can make the fake characters do things with their minds. How about that?
Greg and Isabel go on a bit of a bender, Greg intoxicated by his newfound powers, happy to forget the woes of his other life and to reap the benefits of a new partner in crime. But there’s more. This world, remember, is a mere simulation. In the real world, Greg and Isabel are scientists, and this is Isabel’s research, and her creation. When they exit the simulation, Greg finds himself in a utopia, a world made perfect by science and technology. A little too perfect, actually; because you need bad in order to appreciate good, the utopia has become less and less satisfying, hence Isabel’s creation – a world in which you can live a rough life in order to better appreciate the perfection back home. Except Greg and Isabel have exited the simulation too abruptly and now both worlds are starting to bleed into each other and they’ll need to risk going back and getting stuck in order to correct it.
Or there’s another way to watch and interpret this movie. Perhaps Greg’s addiction to painkillers takes a turn for the worse when he loses his job and his home. Maybe Isabel is just a schizophrenic addict and they’re sharing a common hallucination in order to escape their life on the streets.
Bliss is purposely ambiguous and this movie is going to be very divisive because of it. Sean hated it because he made up his mind very early on and felt the whole exercise was pointless once he’d “figured it out.” I felt differently, having embraced the dichotomous possibilities. Writer-director Mike Cahill is careful to scrub the film of any telling language. No one says drugs. No one says addict. Yet there remains evidence for both sides of the coin. Greg has a grown daughter who never gives up looking for him. Isabel is adamant that Emily (Nesta Cooper) is just another fake character, but if that’s the case, why does the story sometimes get told from Emily’s point of view? That would seem to indicate that she’s real. Which goes double for Isabel, who might be just a figment of Greg’s imagination (or a side effect of his high), but she, too, is seen working independently in the movie. Sean insists that Greg is an addict, case closed, but this easy interpretation doesn’t account for the fact that we glitches in the matrix very early on. His wallet, for example, suffers a glitch, unobserved by Greg, seen only by us. Why would Cahill go out of his way to show us this if he wasn’t planting seeds of doubt? Of course there’s a third possibility here, that neither of these worlds is the “real” world and we haven’t seen the end of the simulations. Of course, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out where on the spectrum your belief lays. Some will see this in black and white and others will rejoice in the grays. But I believe there’s some hidden pink, and a very careful watch may uncover it still.
If you’re interested in taking on this puzzle, you can find it on Amazon Prime – but do promise to come back and let us know what you think, because Bliss is only 90% a movie. The other 10% depends on what you bring to the table.