10 Years Ago, a Forgotten Sci-Fi Movie Predicted A Modern Crisis
A 2013 art-house movie expertly explores what's now our reality — and it's streaming for free.
It’s weird to be living in the future. A hundred years ago, space travel was the stuff of Jules Verne novels, and now it’s something billionaires do for fun. Fifty years ago, the concept of being able to chat with someone and see their face was an interesting speculation, and now FaceTimes are part of everyday life.
Ten years ago, the concept of actors giving up their likenesses to be used by movie studios was the subject of a genius sci-fi movie. And now, amidst the SAG-AFTRA strike, we learned that studios proposed to pay background actors a one-time fee to use their image in perpetuity without consent.
As Hollywood comes to a halt over the highly divisive topic of using peoples’ AI likeness, The Congress has never been more relevant.
The Congress is a 2013 film written and directed by Ari Folman, the director of 2008 Oscar-nominated animated documentary Waltz with Bashir. Though it’s partially based on Stanislaw Lem’s book The Futurological Congress, it takes a much more Hollywood-based angle.
The movie follows Robin Wright playing a fictionalized version of herself. Now she’s aging and established a reputation for being difficult to work with, her career is waning, and the declining health of her son (a young Kodi Smit-McPhee) makes her reconsider if pursuing an acting career is something she actually wants.
Her agent set up a meeting with an executive from movie studio Miramount, who suggests a new innovative deal: for a huge amount of money, she can sell her digital likeness to the studio to use in any capacity they want. In exchange, she would just have to promise to not act ever again.
Twenty years in the future, Robin is now the star of a sci-fi movie franchise called Rebel Robot Robin, and is invited to speak at a Futurological Congress. The Congress is held in a utopian world that can only be accessed through a hallucinogenic drug, and Miramount has further expanded its use of Robin’s image to allow anybody to take on her form.
Anyone familiar with Ari Folman knows he’s best known for his animation, and in this second part of the movie, he really stretches his muscles. Once Robin takes the drug, she is morphed into an animated version of herself existing in a collective animated hallucination. The rest of the movie plays out as a vast and epic journey examining just what we consider a commodity in our world, and nowadays that’s even more important than ever.
Prescient sci-fi stories are bittersweet. It’s great that a past story has been so accurate in speculating, but our world catching up with what is clearly a dystopian “utopia” isn’t exactly a comforting thought. But just as Contagion became a hugely popular movie at the start of the pandemic, The Congress may offer some catharsis in a world where actors and writers are fighting for what they deserve.