10 years ago, this movie perfectly predicted the future of cinema
It is actually quite shocking how much this movie got right.
Cinema is always on the verge of changing forever, in huge ways, completely altering how we perceive the medium... but it never quite happens. In the last decade or so alone, we had the reemergence of 3D, the streaming wars and the pandemic, each of the assigned the role of game-changer for cinema, and so far... nope, cinema is still doing just fine.
Even the recent concern that multiplexes would only be able to house hugely mega-budgeted blockbusters, and that smaller releases would have to "make do" with short runs in arthouse cinemas or go direct-to-streaming has been pushed to one side, as very recent, smaller budget projects like Everything Everywhere All At Once, Smile, The Lost City, Where The Crawdads Sing, The Woman King, M3GAN, The Black Phone, Evil Dead Rise and The Pope's Exorcist have all proved to be massively commercially successful.
However, one event on the horizon does have the capacity to potentially change cinemas as we know it forever. And when we say on the horizon, yes, the peak of the wave is still in the distance, but our collective feet are already getting wet from its imminent arrival.
The introduction of Artificial Intelligence to movie making in Hollywood is a big part of the current writer's strike, while some of the biggest stars in the world are openly embracing their future with it. And it is something that teeny tiny release The Congress predicted almost entirely when it was released a decade ago.
Debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2013, but not receiving a proper cinematic release until August 2014, The Congress cost just $8 million to produce, but made less than $360,000 worldwide at the box office, making it something of a major box office flop.
Coming from the Oscar-nominated director of Waltz With Bashir, the movie stars Robin Wright as, well, Robin Wright. Except not exactly. Here the actress is portrayed as being difficult to work with, her career having stalled pretty much immediately after early CV entry The Princess Bride.
Her agent (Harvey Keitel) sets up a meeting with the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), who offers her a once-in-a-lifetime deal: they will use technology to map and record every movement, word, expression and emotional reaction and digitally create an AI version of Robin Wright to use in perpetuity. They will give her A LOT of money for this, but in exchange, the real Robin Wright must never act again.
She agrees, and pretty soon the AI version has become a huge superstar in its own right, but over time, Robin discovers that the contract expands beyond any boundaries that she could have possibly imagined.
With a cast that also features Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm and Kodi Smit-McPhee, the predictions that The Congress makes are eerily prescient, including a scene in which "Tom Cruise" (Is it really him? Or an AI avatar of him?) has managed to regain and retain his popularity thanks to Top Gun - which, y'know, recently really happened - to the general public using the internet to present a negative-free version of themselves, and to escape their own daily lives.
There is A LOT to digest here, not all of it good or pleasant, but most of it was so shockingly ahead of its time that it is only now beginning to feel modern.
The Congress is available to rent on Google Play, Rakuten TV and Apple TV right now.
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