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Film / Bliss (2021)

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Bliss is a 2021 Sci-Fi Thriller film written and directed by Mike Cahill, and produced by AmazonStudios.

Greg (Owen Wilson) is a divorcee with a boring job in tech support and an Ambiguous Disorder that he's on medication for. One day his crappy life gets even worse when he accidentally kills his boss while in the process of being fired. In a panic, he hides the body and flees to a bar across the street. There he's accosted by Isabel (Salma Hayek), a homeless woman who claims that she and Greg are some of the very few people who are "real," and that she feels responsible for the situation since she's the reason why this world exists in the first place. She then seems to lend some credence to the claim by using some form of telekinetic powers to make it seem like Greg's boss jumped from a window, clearing Greg of any potential suspicion.

Soon, Greg is pulled into Isabel's strange reality, and half-convinced that she's in fact his wife from another, more real life that he can't remember. Meanwhile, though, Greg's daughter Emily is concerned that her father seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth and is searching for him.

This movie contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Changeling Fantasy: Inside the Brain Box, Greg is an office drone with a divorce behind him and a son who won't talk to him. His possibly-real life outside of it is a respected scientist in a future utopia with a beautiful, accomplished wife.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Isabel behaves very much like the character in a Changeling Fantasy whose job it is to drag the protagonist off to adventure, all while spouting cryptic hints and acting impatient that he doesn't already know this stuff. However, in her case it seems likely that she's contradicting his notions of reality because she's actually out of touch with reality, that the reason why her exposition is so spotty and mysterious is that she's actually making it up as she goes along, and that the impatience serves to bully Greg along and keep him from questioning things too much.
  • First World Problems: The future is so idyllic that people have no concept of what a real problem is. Before entering the Brain Box, Greg considered it a serious hardship that his pool wasn't warm enough.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: At the end, though whether it's Greg or Isabel who sacrifices themself for the other depends on which version of the story you believe. If the present-day world is the illusion, then Greg chooses to stay in it so that Isabel can return home. If it is the future world, then Isabel draws the attention of the police before killing herself, giving Greg the chance to escape.
  • I Choose to Stay: Greg ultimately decides that he prefers the Brain Box world to reality, since it's more exciting and unpredictable. Or possibly that is him deciding that he wants to live.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Greg commits accidental manslaughter by getting up from his chair too suddenly, causing his boss to recoil in surprise and fall and hit his head against his desk. Since the boss later shows up alive, this may be an early hint that what we're seeing isn't necessarily real.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Inverted. The Brain Box is meant to create a fictional life that's less appealing than reality, to make people appreciate what they have more.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Isabel is a dark example. She makes it her mission to save Greg from his soul-destroying life, but the life she offers to replace it might be just a drug-fuelled delusion. Or not.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Leaning heavily towards "mundane" with the sci-fi elements heavily implied to be the product of mental illness and hallucinogenic drugs. On the other hand, there are some details that aren't so easily explained, such as the wallet on Greg's desk that starts "glitching" after he's left the room.
  • The Mentally Ill: Isabel clearly has some mental problems, though if she's to be believed they are the result of the Brain Box confusing her.
  • Mind over Matter: When using the yellow crystals, Greg and Isabel can fling "non-real" people around with a gesture. At one point, Greg even lifts a car and crushes it with his mind.
  • Non-Player Character: Most people in the mundane world are this, according to Isabel.
  • Organic Technology: The Brain Box is... a box with a bunch of brains floating in it, with wires going out of it that ends in some sort of organic-looking strings that go up the users' noses.
  • Phlebotinum Pills: Two kinds: the yellow pills grant supernatural powers within the Brain Box, while the blue ones disconnects you from it and returns you to the real world. Or so it seems. They are probably just two different strengths of hallucinogens.
  • Spotting the Thread: Towards the end, Greg starts doubting Isabel and telling her that it sounds a lot like she's making the "truth" up as she goes along.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: It's implied that much of what we see takes place only in Greg's mind.
  • Unreliable Exposition: Isabel claims to have all the answers, but her answers may be entirely imaginary. Towards the end, she admits that she isn't sure herself how things work and that she can't quite keep track of what's real and what's not.
  • Utopia: In the future, Earth has become a paradise where all work is done by robots and humans occupy themselves with art, science and anything that takes their fancy.