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One free sci-fi movie you need to watch to understand Star Wars' biggest debate

“Everything is in our mind.”

Hollywood is always changing. As studios compete in a never-ending race for innovation, the line for what is “normal” keeps raising and raising. For Star Wars fans, “normal” now means Mark Hamill is de-aged decades in The Book of Boba Fett, including a voice made from an AI trained on his old work. It worked for the very specific instance of showing a young Luke in an earlier point of the Star Wars universe, but could it have greater effects?

In the future, could actors have their entire beings scanned and manipulated through deepfake technology to create eternal instruments? At first blush, it seems like a tempting prospect. We could have Tom Cruise action movies for centuries without any sign of aging or a need for the actual actor. However, it brings up some huge ethical dilemmas. Can a studio truly own a person’s likeness? That’s what one movie, now streaming on Tubi, explores through animation, psychedelic visuals, and classic science fiction.

The Congress is a 2013 dystopian film written and directed by Ari Folman, lightly adapted from Stanislav Lem’s 2017 novel The Futurological Congress. It stars Robin Wright as a fictionalized version of herself living in the near future. This Robin Wright is living with her two kids in a converted airplane hangar.

Aging and plagued with a string of bad projects, Robin’s agent offers her a strange new deal. She could sell her image to the studio Miramount, and her image will go on and act in new movies, never aging more than she did when she was in The Princess Bride.

The first 45 minutes of the movie feel like a Twilight Zone episode — a cautionary tale about ageism in show business. But after that, things get very weird. Twenty years later, Robin finds herself — or at least, an image of herself — to be one of the biggest digital movie stars on Earth. She’s invited to speak at Miramount’s big conference which takes place in an entirely animated zone.

The rest of The Congress is increasingly existential and psychedelic. Robin attends the Futurist Congress which is full of animated extras who would look more at home in a Betty Boop cartoon than a film that premiered at Cannes. What begins as a morality tale on how we dismiss older actresses morphs into a funhouse mirror version of Hollywood that satirizes how we consume media. In one telling scene, a media exec literally says to Robin she’s no longer an actress. She’s a substance.

In the animated world of The Congress, Robin Wright’s likeness becomes an avatar.Drafthouse Films

When it comes to nostalgic franchises like Star Wars, at what point do faces that belong to Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill stop being representations of living people and become substances? When do we separate what’s in the best interest of the actor and the character?

Hopefully, we’ll never get to the hallucinogen-induced ego destruction of the Miramount’s Futurological Congress. But the escalation of deepfake acting could easily make the first part of the movie eerily prescient — and change the way we look at TV and movies forever.

The Congress is now streaming for free on Tubi.