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Film / The Congress

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The Congress is a 2013 French-Israeli Science Fiction film loosely based on the Stanisław Lem novel The Futurological Congress. It is directed by Ari Folman and stars Robin Wright, who also co-produced. The film also stars Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm, and Kodi Smit-McPhee in supporting roles.

Robin Wright plays herself as an actress whose fickleness and unpredictability ruined a very promising career and who is slowly aging out of her beauty. She is offered one last chance by Miramount Studios: they will buy the digital image rights from her in exchange for a large sum of money and a promise never to act again. Miramount will scan her body and expressions and be able to create a perfect digital version of Robin they can use on screen. With an ailing son to take care of and her career prospects vanishing, Robin agrees. Twenty years later the 'real' Robin attends the Futurological Congress as a guest, a Miramount presentation over their new drug that allows people to transform themselves into animated avatars, including Robin herself who has signed away the rights so that people can become her. The Congress takes place in an illusionary, animated universe that initially charms but quickly repels Robin. The film is half live action and half animated, representing the 'real' and 'chemical party' universes.

This Film contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: The film character most associated with the Robin Wright avatar.
  • Adam Westing: A very unusual case as it is played for pathos rather than comedy. The film version of Robin Wright is someone whose career declined much more steeply than her real life counterpart and whose poor choices and unreliability as an actress are invoked for devastating effect. The fictional Robin also has a son named Aaron who has a degenerative condition destined to leave him blind and deaf.
  • All There in the Manual: Subverted. Despite being based on The Futurological Congress by Lem, knowing the novel doesn't make the movie any less of a Mind Screw nor explains all that much beyond knowing the basic twist of most of the events being just a drug-induced hallucination with little to no translation to real events beforehand.
  • Ambiguous Ending: In the final scene, is not clear if Robin actually reunited with Aaron, or if that encounter is only part of a drug-induced dream.
  • Arc Words: "Are you Robin Wright?" during the second act.
  • Art Imitates Art: The animated world presents the boney, plantlike structures straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting (Robin and Dylan also fly to a place that looks like his depiction of Heaven), and there's Botticelli's Venus and René Magritte's apple-headed man among many other art Shout-Outs.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • Reeve Bobs is shot in the head by a sniper during the Congress. It doesn't take, apparently, since he's seen alive again later on — or at least, his avatar is.
    • Robin when she hallucinates Jeff Green in a fascist attire executing her after the rebel attack on the hotel.
  • Brainless Beauty: Averted. The digital movie version of Robin from twenty years into the future, gives a completely vapid 'interview' about her latest movie, which depresses the actual Robin.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Sarah, Robin's (in universe) daughter is very snarky and rude.
  • Clockwork Creature: The Miramount Abrahama Hotel has a personnel of small wind-up toy looking bellhops.
  • Crapsaccharine World: In the ending Robin wakes up from the animated realm into reality, finding out that it has become a Children of Men-like dystopia where most people prefer to keep themselves in a drugged state.
  • Defector from Decadence: Robin during her speech at the congress excoriates the entire premise of pharmacological utopia, predicting that guilt would eventually haunt them all. Oddly, she was wrong. It is utopic, in the time skip after the congress and her waking up the ability to be whoever you want makes division and discrimination obsolete... but this utopia is not going to last. See Terminally Dependent Society.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Aaron, Robin's son whose Usher syndrome is getting worse.
  • Deranged Animation: The illusionary drug-induced world, bringing to mind some of the crazier animation of the 1930s mixed with Rick and Morty.
  • Determinator: Robin will stop at nothing to reunite with her son, even crossing realities for him. Twice.
  • The '80s: Robin awakens from the hibernation in a bedroom with an early '80s decor, and Grace Jones explains that it's to help her remember things from her childhood, the beginning, as a way to restart.
  • Empathic Environment: When Robin has sex with Dylan, they get surrounded by colorful plants that grow from the ground they're laying on.
  • Exactly Exty Years Ago: The movie starts in more or less the present (presumably in 2010, given that the license tags on future-Robin's vehicle say 2030 when she goes to the Congress after her twenty-year contract with Miramount expires), then leaps twenty years ahead about a third of the way through, then leaps ahead a further twenty years later in the film.
  • False Utopia: In the drug-induced world you can be anyone or anything you want while the civilization of the "real" world falls apart.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Miramount Studios, whose name is a blend of Miramax and Paramount.
  • Freakiness Shame: Implied to the be case with Dylan, who begs Robin to not look for him when she'll wake up to reality.
  • Human Popsicle: Robin. After the rebel attack she got hit with so much hallucinogen she could no longer distinguish reality, so she was frozen until she could be healed.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Part of the premise; you can be anyone you want to be thanks to Miramount. Robin plays the trope straight though.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Dylan is willing to give Robin his own capsule to wake up and search for Aaron in the real world, even if it means never seeing each other again. Robin takes the capsule while giving him a goodbye Big Damn Kiss.
  • La Résistance: The Miramount Hotel gets raided by one of these after Robin's statement at the congress. They manage to take over the management floor of Miramount Nagasaki and stop the chemical flow, but they ultimately fail to stop the ampules from being widely used, making it ultimately a failed rebellion. After the second timeskip it's indicated that Sarah and other rebellion members ultimately gave in and created new lives on the "other side."
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: A purposefully big one with Jeff Green stating that only 0,001% of people that went to see The Lord of the Rings actually read the books to make the point that audiences don't like reading.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The chemical drugs people in the collapsed society abuse to keep their minds in the animated realm.
  • Love Interest: Dylan, the toon avatar of a Miramount animator who has worked on the animation of Robin Wright's digitized copy in all the movies she appeared in for 20 years.
  • Medium Blending: A mix of live action and animation.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: A fellow has-been actor Robin runs into at the Futurological Congress looks and sounds suspiciously like that guy from Top Gun.
  • Older Than They Look: Dr. Barker. In the present day, he has to be at least in his 40s, if not early 50s. After the second time jump, which takes place at least 40 years into the future, he certainly doesn't look or act like someone who is at minimum in his 80s. Although futuristic tech might be the reason why, the film does go out of its way to point out that medical advancements have been pretty well put aside in favor of the chemicals used to create the fantasy world most people live in.
  • Privately Owned Society: The border officer pontificates that Abrahama City is a "restricted animated zone", presumably owned by Miramount given that the border post has their logo.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Robin has a Heroic BSoD because she feels uncomfortable with the cartoon world, then she smashes a mirror by headbutting it.
  • Reference Overdosed: The drug-induced animated world is filled with countless references to art, literature, history and pop culture given that it's an escapist abyss people willingly go to in order to become what they desire to be, essentially being a 2D animated version of OASIS from Ready Player One.
  • Senseless Violins: One character transports a disassembled sniper rifle in a violin case.
  • The Singularity: For all intents and purposes the illusionary world created by Miramount.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Being a meta story about Robin Wright, movies starring her such as The Princess Bride are brought up.
    • The Yellow Submarine can be seen when Robin enters the drug-induced animated realm.
    • The Nautilus from the Disney adaptation can also be seen in the same cluster.
    • Tom Cruise's appearance is based on the character he played in Top Gun.
    • At one point the digitized Robin Wright is seen inserted in the famous climax of Dr. Strangelove, riding the atomic bomb in Major Kong's place.
    • Reeve Bobs claims that with the latest chemical formula developed by their scientists, Abrahama will no longer be a "Looney Tunes playground".
    • Literary figures also appear in the animated realm, such as Moby-Dick, The Mad Hatter, Pinocchio, and religious ones such as Horus, Buddha, Jesus Christ as well as Classical Mythology characters.
  • So My Kids Can Watch: In-universe, as Robin demands her digitized copy to not be used in films that will involve her with child abuse, sex (unless it's part of a drama or a romantic comedy), being handicapped, porn, or holocaust and Nazism, which upsets Jeff Green since the latter two "bring awards".
  • Stepford Smiler: Tom Cruise.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Jeff Green defaults to this if his usual softspoken rhetoric fails to sway his audience.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: Since everyone is living inside a chemically induced utopia, hardly anyone is actually working. Those in the chemical utopia have no idea what's going on in the "other side of the truth" (aka the real world). Miramount is basically watching over large masses of homeless unemployed, and they aren't even being evil. Worse, hardly anyone is even breeding, so humanity may become extinct.
  • Time Skip: Two, actually. The first between when Robin gets digitally-photographed and first visits the chemical party, and the second when she is cryogenically-frozen. The latter, as Robin says, is rather ambiguous as to how large the time skip is, though Dylan later reveals that she was frozen for about twenty years before she returns to reality to search Aaron.
  • Toon Town: Everyone in Abrahama City looks animated due to hallucinogenic drugs.
  • Toon Transformation: A Through the Eyes of Madness variation. Taking the drugs to enter Abrahama makes everything look animated. Taking additional types of drug can also change your appearance depending on what you want to look like.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The second act of the film skips forward in 2030 and then two more decades further after Robin's hibernation.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Robin's agent Al is last seen just before the time skip, though given his age in the present and how many years pass he is quite possibly dead.
    • Jeff Green likewise vanishes from the narrative after apparently shooting Robin in the head, though as this and several other manifestations of him are implied to be dreams or hallucinations, the "real" Green more likely exits the narrative around the time the MC of the Congress is assassinated. His ultimate fate is not revealed, including whether he survived the attack or not.
  • Virtual Celebrity: Robin sells her likeness to be used by a virtual version of herself.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The titular congress is held in the fictitious region of Abrahama, which is presumably located somewhere among the Western United States given the desert environment.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The rebels might be fighting the good fight, but they still attack the animated hotel with missiles and other weaponry, after one of their agents assassinates the Congress' MC. The style of animation leaves it ambiguous if many innocents die in the attack, however.