Bliss, a sci-fi romance now streaming on Amazon Prime, will do as much to delight you as it will to confound you. There is much to do about crystals, alternate realities, simulations, and a mysterious device called the Brain Box, but at the heart of this story is an unlikely romance between a seemingly homeless woman named Isabel (Salma Hayek) and the recently fired Greg (Owen Wilson). How they come together and what they experience is often surreal and mesmerizing.
Greg works in a company and has a corner office. It is made obvious that Greg has been slacking for some time based on the comments of his fellow workers. When he is called in to see the boss and face the music, Greg continues to work on sketches of a fantasy house and a beautiful woman standing in a portico of that building. A phone call from his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper) barely registers in his mind as he keeps working on the drawings.
Eventually, Greg gets his act together and gathers his things and goes in to see his boss Bjorn (Steve Zissus). Bjorn wastes little time talking and goes right to the firing part of their conversation. Greg makes an aggressive motion and Bjorn falls backwards, hits his head on his desk, and kills himself. Greg is flustered but thinks clearly enough to hide Bjorn’s body behind curtains and leans him against the window.
Greg quickly leaves telling people that he doesn’t know where Bjorn is, and he rushes outside and across the street to a bar to drown his fears in drink. Here he meets the lovely Isabel (Hayek plays the part perfectly), who seems to know everything about him – including that he was just fired and that his boss is dead. She points to the window in the building across the street, where Greg can see Bjorn’s body against the window.
How did Isabel know about this? There is not much time to think as the weight of Bjorn’s body against the window suddenly opens it, and he falls a few stories down to the sidewalk. Greg’s co-workers who were outside for a cigarette break witness this, and they immediately assume that Bjorn has committed suicide.
Isabel convinces Greg to get out of there to avoid being questioned by the police. Isabel says that he must lay low and not contact his family, selling his phone in a pawn shop and some of Greg’s other possessions to get some money.
She takes him to a tent area under a highway where she lives, which has many amenities despite being a homeless camp, and they get to talk and learn about each other’s lives. She shares a yellow crystal with him, and it has powerful hallucinogenic powers and makes Greg think that he can move objects and people with his hand.
Isabel says they need to get more crystals, and when they go to buy them from her dealer Kendo (Ronny Chieng), Emily sees her father and goes up to him. Emily gives a graduation photo to Greg – reminding him that he missed that day – and puts her telephone number on the back. She begs him to call her.
When Greg wakes up the next day, he sees that Isabel has put up all his drawings under the tent. Greg then looks at Emily’s photo and decides to call her from a phone booth. When he gets her answering machine, Greg returns to the tent and Isabel explodes when she learns that he tried to call Emily. She says that Emily is not real and that they are living in a simulation.
Using a nasal device and some blue crystals, Isabel says that they are going to be transported back to reality. Greg reluctantly goes through with it, and when he wakes up, he finds himself hooked up to a giant computer called the Brain Box. In this reality, Greg learns that he and Isabel are respected researchers and scientists, and Isabel is responsible for creating the Brain Box. It is used to explore various simulations, including the one Greg thought was his life.
In this world they are a couple, and Isabel takes him home to a place that is the fantasy house from his drawings. When she stands in the doorway for a moment, Greg realizes that she is the woman in the picture that he drew. Here they are wealthy, live in a lavish estate, and are well respected scientists.
Greg still vividly remembers the simulation and his daughter Emily, and this reality is vague to him, and he recalls very little of his life as a famous scientist. When they attend a gala to celebrate Isabel’s work, Greg encounters a ghost-like Emily, who begs him to come back to her. Greg must make a choice – stay with Isabel in this idyllic place – or go back to what Isabel says is a simulation and see his daughter again.
The rest is spoiler territory, but it is worth noting that director Mike Cahill – who also wrote the screenplay – takes us through the alternate realities in a compelling way, making either life Greg lives seem rather credible. The cast is terrific, and this is no doubt Wilson’s most impressive film role to date. He and Hayek have real chemistry, so much that when she says that they are a couple in the alternate reality, I had no trouble believing that.
Big questions are being asked here. Do our dreams reflect another life we once lived? What things matter in our daily lives? Are we who we think we are or who some other force wants us to be? Can love keep us happy or does it tear us apart? And, most importantly, is the life you live one that seems real or is it the reality we want to live?
Yes, all enormous thoughts to rattle around in our heads while watching the film, but Cahill doesn’t leave us guessing in the end. We get to see the story play out and conclude in a way that makes narrative sense for what we have seen taking place, but we also may still have a lingering doubt in our minds – a question or two that will never be answered.
Bliss is highly recommended, but it is not for kids under 13. The implications of some of the story are way too complex and could upset younger viewers.
As you watch Bliss you can’t help but think about your own life and relationships, and you will start thinking about what matters most to you. In the end, that’s the place where you will want to be, and isn’t that what bliss is all about?