The recent controversy about what Andy Serkis said about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Scarlett Johansson’s performance in Her are both indications of the rise of the “Virtual Actor.”
After seeing the fascinating trailer, I am looking forward to seeing this film. Please note the Fleischer and Kubrick comments in the interview selections below.
From the website for The Congress, a film by Ari Folman.
Robin Wright, a Hollywood actress who once held great promise (“The Princess Bride”, “Forest Gump”), receives an unexpected offer in mid-life: Mirramount Studios want to scan her entire being into their computers and purchase ownership of her image for an astronomical fee. After she is scanned, the studio will be allowed to make whatever films it wishes with the 3-D Robin, including all the blockbusters she chose not to make during her career. As if that were not inducement enough, the studio promises to keep the new 3D Robin forever young in the movies. She will always be thirty-something, a stunning beauty who never grows old. In return, Robin will receive tons of money but shell be forbidden to appear on any kind of stage for all eternity. Despite her deep internal resistance, Robin eventually signs the contract , since she understand that in the economy of scanned actors, its her only way to stay in the business, but even more crucial, Robin can give her son Aaron, who suffers from a rare disorder, the best treatment money can buy. The contract is valid for 20 years.
Twenty years later, Robin arrives at Abrahama, the animated city composed by Miramount Nagasaki, once a Hollywood studio that signed Robin, and now the exclusive creator of the cinematic dream-world that controls all our emotions, from love and longings to ego and deathly anxieties. Miramount Nagasaki’s chemistry is everywhere, from the air-conditioning to the water sources. During the intervening two decades, the corporation has turned Robin Wright from a Hollywood actress with unfulfilled potential into an international superstar and fantasy. On-screen, she has remained forever young. In the animated world of the future, Miraramount Nagasaki is celebrating a huge gathering in the heart of the desert, “The Futurist Congress.” At the event, Miramount Nagasaki’s genius scientists — once creators of movies, now computer programmers who have evolved into chemists and pharmacists—will declare the next stage in the chemical evolution: free choice! From now on, every viewer can create movies in his own imagination, thanks to chemical selection. Robin Wright is now a mere chemical formula that every person can consume by taking the correct prescription, then staging whatever story they desire: Snow White, personal family dramas, or porn. It’s all in the brain, all through chemicals.
The animated Robin Wright is an “elderly” woman of 66. When she arrives at the congress as the guest of honor, no one recognizes her as the stunning beauty admired by all, a star whose image is broadcast on screens in every corner of the congress. She is lonely, about to become a chemical formula, when out of nowhere, Paramount Nagasaki’s utopian plan is suddenly derailed: the thinking man, the resister, the rebels who have been fighting the deceptive regime of the pharmaceutical world, unite and turn the Futurist Congress into a fatally violent arena. The struggle for clarity of thought becomes a war of independence for the right to imagine. Out of the forgetting and the loss, Robin suddenly regains the ability to choose. Will she go back to living in the world of truth, a gray world devoid of chemistry, where she is an aging, anonymous actress caring for her sick 30-year-old son? Or will she surrender to the captivating lie of the chemical world and remain forever young?
The Congress by Ari Folman
In his novel The Futurological Congress, the great science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem foresaw a worldwide chemical dictatorship run by the leading pharmaceutical companies. Written in the late nineteen-sixties, the book depicted drug manufacturers’ complete control of our entire range of emotions, from love and longings, to jealousy and deadly fear. Lem, considered sci-fi’s greatest prophet and philosopher (alongside Philip K. Dick), could not have realized how prescient he was in predicting the start of the third millennium. Into the psychochemical whirlwind foreseen by Lem, the film adaptation of his novel introduces the current cinematic technologies of 3-D and motion capture, which threaten to eradicate the cinema we grew up on. In the post-“Avatar” era, every filmmaker must ponder whether the flesh and blood actors who have rocked our imagination since childhood can be replaced by computer-generated 3-D images. Can these computerized characters create in us the same excitement and enthusiasm, and does it truly matter? The film, entitled The Congress, takes 3-D computer images one step further, developing them into a chemical formula that every customer may consume through prescription pills, thereby compiling in their minds the movies they have always wanted to see, staging their fantasies, and casting the actors they adore. In this world, these beloved creatures of stage and cinema become futile relics, lacking in content, remembered by no one. Where, then, do these actors go after selling their souls and identities to the studio devil? The Congress comprises quasi-documentary live-action sequences that follow one such actress, Robin Wright, as she accepts an offer to be scanned and signs a contract selling her identity to the studio, then transitions into an animated world that depicts her tribulations after selling her image, up until the moment when the studio turns her into a chemical formula. Only the mesmerizing combination of animation – with the beautiful freedom it bestows on cinematic interpretation – and quasidocumentary live-action, can illustrate the transition made by the human mind between psychochemical influence and deceptive reality. The Congress is primarily a futuristic fantasy, but it is also a cry for help and a profound cry of nostalgia for the old-time cinema we know and love.
INTERVIEW WITH ARI FOLMAN
THE CONGRESS presents a strongly dystopic vision of Hollywood and big studio movies – is that also how you view that part of the industry? Does your film reflect a fear for the future of cinema?
While searching for a suitable location in LA to shoot the scanning room scene, I was shocked to learn that such a room already exists. Actors have been scanned for a number of years now – this technology is already here. Flesh and blood actors are not really needed in this ”post Avatar era“. I guess its economics now that dictate whether the next generation of films will be with scanned actors, or with a completely new generation of actors ”built from scratch“. As an optimist, I think the choice for a human actor will win out and I hope The Congress is our small contribution toward that goal.
So many details in THE CONGRESS are ”futuristic“ yet still very current – do you see any positive aspects of living in another reality, behind an online avatar for example? Do you think it approaches the film‘s idea of choosing your own reality?
I think the chemical world outlined in Lem‘s novel and in the film is a fantasy, but at the same time its still a major fear for those of us who travel in our imagination and our dreams. I have always had the feeling that everybody, everywhere lives in parallel universes, one, were we function in real time and the other, the universe where our mind takes us – with or without our control. Combining the two worlds into a one, is for me the biggest goal of being a filmmaker.
The film is unique but features what seems like an encyclopedia of significant references in terms of cinema and otherwise. Were there key films or other influences that served as guides or inspirations as you made this movie?
The animated part is a tribute to the great Fleischer Brothers‘ work from the 30‘s. It‘s hand drawn, made in 8 different countries and took two and a half years to create 55 minutes of animation. It was by far the toughest mission of my life as a director. The team back home, led by the director of animation, Yoni Goodman were working 24/7 to ensure the animation from a number of different studios had a consistency in the characters from scene to scene. During the process we discovered that sleep is for mortals and animation for the insane! Elsewhere in the movie I try to pay tribute to my idol Stanley Kubrick twice; once with a reference to Dr. Strangelove and another to 2001: A Space Odyssey, still my favorite sci-fi movie ever.
For more behind the scenes go here.