The Congress

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Congress Movie Poster Image
Haunting animation flawed but asks big questions on reality.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 122 minutes

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Kids say

age 17+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Reality is better than living in a fantasy world, even if the imaginary realm offers the chance to permanently avoid a bleak, grim life. That's a tough lesson to learn for many of the characters here, who spend a good deal of time enjoying the pleasures of an animated simulation of life before realizing that real life is a better choice. Still, there can be reasons why escaping back into the fantasy version has its appeal. The story also raises questions related to ownership of your own body and feelings that are relevant in the digital age.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The character at the center of the film refuses to accept the notion that living in an animated fantasy land is a suitable alternative to reality, even though so many of the people around her are happy to do so.

Violence

Several extended animated scenes feature invading armies engaged in close combat. People are shot at point-blank range, there are plenty of explosions, and there's a good deal of blood and gore that's still intense even though it's animated. Many of the soldiers wear gas masks and other gear that looks especially intimidating.

Sex

One animated scene features a couple having sex. It's relatively long and somewhat graphic, showing plenty of intertwined limbs, vigorous motions, and the woman's breasts.

Language

Fairly frequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and more.

Consumerism

The villain of the film is the movie studio Miramax, which is often mentioned by name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some characters drink during meals and at social occasions. Much of the film is based on the concept of people using chemical substances to permanently escape into a fantasy land. The animated characters also drink and consume other substances, which often have very unusual effects.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Congress is an offbeat, partly animated film that examines the cost of allowing all-powerful business interests to take over every aspect of life. Robin Wright plays an actress with the same name who's offered the chance to let a big movie studio "scan" her body and emotions for use in other projects. Some of the animated sequences include graphic violence (with some blood) and sex (including bare breasts), and there's a good deal of swearing ("f--k," "s--t," etc.). Characters also drink and use substances. Just because it's animated, don't assume this complex tale is for kids.

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What's the story?

Robin Wright, the actress, stars in THE CONGRESS as Robin Wright, an actress who's also known for the cult classic The Princess Bride but has made some poor career choices of late. Frustrated with her elusiveness and scattered decision-making, she's offered one last big contract by a powerful movie exec. His studio will digitally "scan" her body, her emotions, and her thoughts and will mine the data to create new films with her likeness -- at their behest, not hers -- while she slips off to a luxurious retirement. When she arrives at a remote resort, she's transported into an animated alternative reality, and the ride makes a turn for the fantastical. This new world is filled with others who've opted to be scanned, leaving the studio in charge of the physical world.

Is it any good?

The Congress is visionary and ambitious, and it boldly attempts to address big ideas, including the metastasizing power of mega-corporations, which are gaining more influence over everyday life. Director Ari Folman's animated sequences are a beautiful trippy dream, ephemeral and potent at the same time, with mind-blowing ideas about individualism, commercialism, and capitalism.

But it's also a bit of a jumble. While the images are bar-none beautiful, the script is preachy and heavy-handed. Over-arching epiphanies are lofted above basic filmmaking tenets like pacing and dialogue. The movie's messages about ruthless big business are important, but when they're dished out the way they are here -- which is to say with blunt force -- it feels exhausting despite being interesting. Thank goodness for Wright, with her nuanced expressiveness and admirable authenticity. If not for her, The Congress wouldn't be as watchable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Congress depicts both real life and the animated fantasy life. Does the latter seem preferable to a grim reality? Would you chose to escape the real world into a cartoon if you could?

  • Do the movie's graphic violence and sex scenes have less impact than they would if they were live action, rather than animated?

  • Did Robin make the right choice letting the studio "scan" her? Did she really have a choice? 

Movie details

For kids who love offbeat movies

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