Episode 51: The Congress

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Sean and Cody exchange the gross creatures of the last episode for the dubious charms of an animated, drug-induced alternate universe as they dive into this visionary 2013 dystopian science fiction drama. In The Congress, aging Hollywood star Robin Wright, playing herself, lets a movie studio zap her into a digital clone that they can use to put her into any film for the next 20 years. When her contract is up and it’s time to renegotiate, though, she finds herself hyped on hallucinogenic drugs to join the raddest party in town, which is a freaky alternate reality that turns everyone into cartoon characters and makes them forget the real world and its problems. Environmental issues discussed include Facebook and the “metaverse,” plans by Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to either leave Earth behind or make it even worse for its inhabitants, and the ethics of abandoning the real world and allowing environmental problems, like climate change, to go unchecked because reality is just too much of a bummer to deal with.

What is Zuckerberg’s “Metaverse” and why, among its many terrifying implications, is it a total disaster for the environment? Did Zucky announce the whole “Meta” thing to divert attention away from Facebook scandals? What does the “Metaverse” have in common with the environmental history of Las Vegas? Do amoral libertarian billionaires really plan to evacuate Earth and just leave us stuck with all the problems? How did said billionaires totally misread the science fiction novels they obviously grew up on? How are cryptocurrencies, blockchain, NFTs and related scams making climate change worse in a big hurry? Can you really “scan” an actor and put them in any movie you want, as depicted in this film? Remember when they actually tried to do that and put Cary Grant in a Diet Coke commercial? Which movie was it where they turned Paul Giamatti blue? All these questions are assuming new cartoon avatars and heading for the party in this positively hallucinogenic episode of Green Screen.

Original 2013/14 trailer for The Congress.
Early in The Congress, Robin Wright (playing herself) subjects herself to the process of scanning into a digital avatar, while her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) provides the emotional impetus.
It gets bumpy from here! Robin enters the realm of the drug-induced hallucinogenic fantasy world, engineered for profit by Miramount-Nagasaki Corporation. This is the first animated sequence in the film.
Robin (voiced by Robin Wright) experiences some of the hallucinatory hijinx in the lobby of the posh resort of the hotel hosting the titular Congress. Here she meets Dylan, voiced by Jon Hamm.
Toward the end of The Congress, Robin emerges from the animated fantasy world to take a look around the blasted hellscape that the real world has become in her absence.

Additional Materials About This Episode:

The Futurological Congress (Source Novel of the Film):

Stanisław Lem, The Futurological Congress (Avon Books, 1976, English translation), the novel on which this film is based (Archive.org link, borrow with a free account):

The “Metaverse” and its Environmental Implications:

Rebecca Heilweil, “Facebook is now Meta, But It’s No Quite a Metamorphosis,” Recode (Vox.com), October 28, 2021:

Jason Koebler, “Zuckerberg Announces Fantasy World Where Facebook is Not a Horrible Company,” Vice.com, October 28, 2021:

Izabella Kaminska, “The Metaverse is Just the Latest Incarnation of Las Vegas,” Financial Times, November 27, 2021:

Darren Shou, “I Want My Daughter to Live in a Better Metaverse,” Wired, September 2, 2021:

Lee, Lik-Hang & Braud, Tristan & Zhou, Pengyuan & Wang, Lin & Xu, Dianlei & Lin, Zijun & Kumar, Abhishek & Bermejo, Carlos & Hui, Pan. (2021), “All One Needs to Know about Metaverse: A Complete Survey on Technological Singularity, Virtual Ecosystem, and Research Agenda,” 10.13140/RG.2.2.11200.05124/8:

Environmental Consequences of Cryptocurrency and NFTs

Max J. Kruse & Thabet Tolaymat, “Quantification of Energy and Carbon Costs for Mining Cryptocurrencies,” Nature Sustainability, Vol. 1 (2018):

“Let’s Talk About Cryptocurrency,” Part 1, Behind the Bastards, written/hosted by Robert Evans, December 7, 2021 (podcast episode):

“Scanning” Actors into New Media

“Ad Strategies Seeking to Raise the Dead,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1997 (Archive.org link):

The infamous Paula Abdul Diet Coke commercial from 1992, “featuring” Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. Their heirs were not happy.

Where you can find The Congress: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-congress

The Congress (2013) on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1821641/
The Congress (2013) on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/the-congress-2013/

Next Movie Up: Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

The image associated with The Congress is presumably copyright (C) 2013 by Drafthouse Films. Its inclusion here is believed permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube clips embedded here.

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