The first hour of the film is compelling stuff indeed, fleshing out the idea that every performer’s time in the spotlight is limited and that these moments in the glare of public adoration are directed by not only age, but also by career choice. The Robin Wright represented here and her agent (Harvey Keitel) meet with the studio chief (Danny Huston) who tells her quite candidly that her choices in the past, after a glowing start to her acting career, have not done her any real favours. He concedes that she is still a star, but that it will not last. It is at this point, that he suggests digitally copying her, a new and developing process, allowing the studio to use her image in perpetuity for any acting job they choose. She would not even have to be there when they make the films as the difference between her and her copy would be indistinguishable. This would mean she could spend her valuable time looking after her son, who is slowly becoming both deaf and blind, yet still be a star, locked in time, never aging. All she needs to do is agree, for a one-off fee, to never actually perform again, anywhere.
With technological developments as they stand currently, this is still science-fiction, but we can see as an audience just how close this possible reality is to becoming realised, and Folman handles Lem’s story deftly, with beautiful flourishes of Wright’s home life spent with her son and daughter.
And then we go forward twenty years, without any satisfactory explanation and quite abruptly, we are thrust into an animated world where Wright has now found herself, travelling to the studio’s Futuristic Congress, as poster girl for the corporation. What follows is a baffling dystopian cartoon that you feel quite sure will start to make sense at some point, but then it flits away again, just when you think you almost have a handle on it.
Folman’s animation here is a little too Cool World for the subject matter that he is trying to impress you with. Existential and philosphical angst notwithstanding, this is just a incomprehensible mess for large portions of the second hour that will make you wonder how you ever thought the fiorst hour was so impressive.
Wright’s performance in the ‘real’ world is fantastic and she truly remains an icon of cinema and will for some time to come, regardless of the intimation here with regard to her career choices and she should be applauded for her honesty in this regard, even if the finished product is probably not worthy of her gift. Keitel is underused but steals the show in one scene as he recalls his blossoming relationship with Wright as a young starlet. Huston’s lascivious sudio executive is just how every writer would have you believe this profession behaves, with little thought for humanity lurking behind an avaricious gluttony for profit.
As I said, the live action hour in The Congress is definitely worth your attention and enjoys some very well delivered performances, but the garbled mess of musings without so much as a coherent plot or navigable narrative wears thin all too quickly in the second, hallucinatory hour that will truly test your patience. A game of two halves, indeed.