“Harry, where exactly are you going to draw the line?”
I had never heard of the movie Bliss before watching it. Well, actually, that’s a lie. I must have heard of it, because I acquired a copy of it a year or so ago. But by the time I decided to actually watch it, I couldn’t remember why I acquired said copy in the first place. A quick google tells me that Bliss caused a bit of controversy here in its native Australia when it came out, and that it inspired mass walk outs when it played at Cannes. So based on that, I knew even if I wasn’t in for something good, I was at least in for something interesting.
Harry Joy (Barry Otto) is an ad man. He makes commercials for products with no regard for what good or harm they may be doing to the planet and its inhabitants. After a heart attack, Harry dies. Or does he? Is Harry alive and insane? Did he die and go to hell? The world Harry lives in after his heart attack is just normal enough that it could be reality viewed from a slightly off perspective, but just strange enough that it could be the afterlife.
In this version of hell, real or imagined, Harry’s wife openly cheats on him, his son is a Nazi and his daughter is trading sexual favours with her brother for drugs. Also, every major product his ad agency has ever worked on is causing cancer around the globe. Is Harry dead, answering for his sins? Did his heart attack simply make him face his mistakes head on and this distorted view is his way of dealing with the guilt? It’s an ambiguity that fuels Bliss and gives it room for some horrific flights of fancy.
Watching Bliss, I totally understand why it caused controversy on its release, and I totally understand it causing walk outs at Canners. But at the same time, I kind of liked it. Director Ray Lawrence obviously had a clear vision of what he wanted to do, and he had the balls to stick to his convictions. He must have known this movie was going to ruffle feathers and only appeal to very select audience, but he dived in head first anyway. There’s no way a movie this weird gets made by accident. It’s very deliberate, and very particular in its alienating weirdness, darkness and offensiveness.