Beyond Fright Review: THE CONGRESS


*Editor’s note: Friend of Icons of Fright, Derek Smith, tackled this review of Drafthouse Films’ THE CONGRESS for us. Be sure to check out his site (linked at the bottom) for his experiences taking on classic films for the first time!-Jerry

Mankind by default is a selfish breed. We do our best to survive, with our fight or flight approach. Few things change that, however becoming a parent flips all of that upside down. Once we have children of our own, our life’s priorities change, as we have someone now dependent on us, that needs care, protection, and nurturing. While there are parents out there that continue along the same as before, the majority of parents will do whatever it takes to ensure their children are safe
and healthy, even if it means a huge sacrifice.

In THE CONGRESS, a trippy combination of live action drama with science fiction animation, actress Robin Wright (playing herself) is faced a pretty big decision. It is time for her to sign her contract with the studio, and despite having some huge films in the past, they are looking towards the future, and her limited options of film choices aren’t making her an attractive candidate for a multi-million dollar, multi-film contract. Robin is juggling her acting career with being a mom to two younger teens, Sarah (Sami Gayle) and Aaron (THE ROAD and LET ME IN‘s Kodi Smit-McPhee). Sarah is a typical smart ass teenager with the beginning of a rebellious streak to her, while Aaron is a sweet kid obsessed with flight. His obsession leads him to trouble often as he flies large glider kites too close to the airport next to their home, causing issues with airport security. Aaron is also suffering from a disease that is causing the deterioration of both his sight and hearing.

The studio, ran by Jeff Green (Danny Huston), offers Robin a way to take care of her family by being there as well as financially. The only catch, that she never act again. They propose a new process where they scan Robin, both physically and emotionally, so they have a version of her that they can cast in films however they wish. Robin, torn by the thought of not being able to perform again, agrees after protecting her interests and ensuring that her likeness won’t be used in pornography or films about the Holocaust (this last one a request from Sarah), signing her likeness away for a 20 year period. The scanning process is an interesting one, as it leads to one of the most compelling monologues by her manager, played beautifully by Harvey Keitel. Keitel pulls out all the stops during the telling of a story that takes you throughout every emotion for yourself, just as Robin is feeling them as well.

Jump forward to 20 years later, as it becomes time for her to re-new her contract. Robin is off to the studio run Abrahama City, to speak at the Futurological Congress. The Congress is a giant conference to announce the future of the studio as they are about to take media to a level outside of what we have today. Entering Abrahama City isn’t just a physical journey, but also a mental one, as the city is purely animated. Robin partakes in a substance that takes her off onto the biggest hallucination this side of Hunter S. Thompson’s grave. What follows is hallucination upon hallucination as things progress through The Congress, with Robin basically turning her back on the studio, and an attack from a rebel group. All of this happening while Wright is doing her best to getting back to reality so she can get back to her son, now grown, but still needing her care as his condition worsens.

Once used to the change in medium midway through, THE CONGRESS is a unique look at both sacrificing for those that we love, but also an interesting take on how we may experience entertainment in the future. While the possibility suggested seems far fetched, given how things such as wireless computers that could fit in our pocket were once just works of fiction, it may not be. This plays out like a Charlie Kaufman written version of HEAVY METAL. And while some of Wright’s dialogue in the animated form seems a little off in tone, her performance in the live action sequences are truly convincing and worth checking out.

*Derek Smith writes for Film Classics