I Saw The Movie ‘Bliss’, and It’s Still Haunting Me Weeks Later
Get rid of everything you think you know about the movie: Bliss on Amazon Prime. My fiancé and I thought this would be a sci-fi thriller we could get excited about, as the preview promised an altered reality starring Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek. The movie by Mike Cahill, isn’t a sci-fi movie about a simulation at all, rather, a painful human experience seen through the lens of spiraling drug addicts, homelessness and mental illness.
It’s obviously not Owen Wilson or Salma Hayek’s fault. Their performances made this movie bearable, however, I watched this movie on false pretenses of what the preview promised: a romantic love story intertwined with alternate realities in modern day Los Angeles. Boy, did the description miss the mark. It is only when you reach the end does this story come together to articulate an accurate portrayal of the hopeless cycle of homeless drug addicts. And I watched the whole thing.
Salma Hayek plays a controlling and manipulating woman named, Isabel who has claimed to have met her soulmate when Greg(Owen Wilson) enters the bar she is in. Through the cycle of addiction, the one hour and 43 minute movie does not reveal an alternate reality at all, rather, a tense story of a drug addict sucking another drug addict into the horrible cycle of addiction.
Spoiler Alert: This is the whole premise of the movie.
Wilson works for a big company at the beginning of the movie who is on the verge of a mental breakdown. He is desperately trying to renew his prescription, unable to do so, he loses his job and his identity with it. We follow Wilson through the separation of reality and learn that his children are not a part of his life anymore. Yet, his daughter wants Wilson to be at her graduation and never gives up trying to change his mind. In fact, Wilson’s daughter becomes the only one who can drag him out of this vicious cycle.
The movie takes its time guiding us through two separate realties for Wilson and Hayek. Both meet at a bar shortly after Wilson is fired, and Hayek asks Wilson for a favor, Wilson is enamored by Hayek’s mysterious persona. As Wilson steps out to retrieve Hayek’s ‘lost wallet’, she sprinkles an elixir in Wilson’s drink and the web of lies commences along with the cycle of addiction.
Under the influence, after taking the drugs, unknowingly, Hayek convinces Wilson that they both have magic powers. The alternate reality paradigm starts to seep in when Hayek tells Wilson that they are in a simulation and that they are the only people who are real. This is when I thought the movie was going to go in the Sci-Fi genre direction, but it grimly paints a different picture.
Instead of jumping into simulated realities, or following a romantic storyline like the movie description promised, Hayek begs Wilson to score drugs with her in order to get back to the ‘real world.’ We see Wilson and Hayek for the next 45 minutes having sex, taking more drugs and walking around rough neighborhoods in which Hayek dwells in a barely functioning tent city. She convinces him that she finally found him, and that they can go back to their real lives, out of the simulation. Of course, to escape out of the reality they are currently in both need to take 10 blue pills.
Later in the film, Wilson and Hayek wake up attached to this brain simulator in which Hayek is no longer a homeless, drug addict, but a revered medical doctor. Everything seems perfect, and Wilson is confused about where he really is. At first it seems too good to be true, for Hayek and Wilson. At this point, I was just waiting for the beat to drop. The Amazon description of the movie, classified under ‘Sci-Fi’, had me believing along with Wilson that the perfect world with no poverty, problems and an endless amount of prosperity is the “real world.” But, maybe that was the whole point.
The “perfect real world” becomes questionable when Wilson’s daughter appears as a hologram. Hayek in this new reality tells Wilson that the holograms are people in the real world that couldn’t afford to pay for a real image of themselves, but his daughter is a speaking hologram as if he were back what he think is the simulation(tent city).
This interaction between Wilson and his daughter causes the “perfect real world” to taint everyone in it, and Hayek says the worlds are colliding and that they must leave and go back to the ‘simulation.’ Both wake up in tent city, frankly looking awful and unkept, a reality that hits close to home for city dwellers and the population you may walk or drive past everyday on your way to work.
Sirens end the movie tragically, as both Hayek and Wilson are found by police, and Hayek desperately tries to find more blue pills so that they can both escape away from the ‘terrible world they are in.’ It is clear that they weren’t able to score enough blue pills for them both to escape out of the world they reside in. Wilson and Hayek are forced to make a choice, who takes the drugs and gets the chance to escape?
While Wilson urges to take the drugs at first, he makes a bone-chilling decision to stay in the world he’s in without them, and he runs while Hayek takes them herself.
Most critics paint this movie as a sci-fi thriller gone horribly wrong, but what they aren’t paying attention to are the many layers that make up Wilson and Hayek’s complicated relationship with each other, with the drugs, and with mental illness that ultimately destroys their lives.
While the ending leaves the minds of the audience racing alongside Wilson, I left the movie heavy hearted, and haunted by the experience. It’s been a week since I’ve seen Bliss and I can’t stop thinking about it.
There are so many layers to unpack here. Is Hayek an actual person that lures Wilson into a life back into the cycle of addiction? Is Hayek and alter-ego of his schizophrenia taking over his life to where he is unrecognizable? Is Hayek an illusion form of Wilson’s drug of choice seducing him to continue the wretched cycle again and again?
With so many questions and no clear answer, all I can give you is this: if you want to see a film that truly depicts the tension that addicts encounter in facing their realities, this movie may change your perspective on drug addicts and their families or at least give you insight into the life of a drug addict and what goes on inside their mind. The true beauty of this movie is the repetitive metaphor, that beats like a heartbeat throughout the whole story: the relatability of facing the harsh realities of our struggles and leaving the fantasy behind. The choice to face the world you’re in or to escape to the one you’d rather be in.
This film illustrates what it is like to be tormented by addiction and how heartbreaking it is to love someone who has lost themselves and that is why it continues to haunt me a week after I’ve seen it.
It is a powerful story and it truly is up to you to make the choice to “get it.”