The Futurological Congress… Not Yet (or Not at All)

To many readers, Stanislaw Lem was one of, if not the most, inspiring author of Poland science fiction landscape. With an impressive vision of the future, science and mankind, Lem masterfully penned poignant stories filled with vivid emotions, thrills and sometimes, a sharp sense of humor that captured millions. Sadly for his admirers only a few of his dazzling novels have been adapted to film. The list of those available in North America is so small that one could say it is practically nonexistent. For a long time, all we had was the Russian and the American adaptation of Solaris.

Now, another title joining the two versions of Solaris is The Congress, hitting selected theaters and video on demand this month.


Ari Folman’s movie is loosely, loosely based upon Stanislaw Lem’s classic science fiction novel The Futurological Congress. Half real action, half animation, with a cast worthy of interest, what can go wrong?

Quite simply, this is not The Futurological Congress. In fact, this is no congress at all.

In Folman’s version, we fellow Robin Wright as she plays herself in a near feature. With the imminent death of her career, her manager is pushing for a second life with some new technologies: the studio will scan her, her emotion and her art, in order to build a digital version for a future flick. This is the first part, the live action one. It sounded interesting at first, at least to me… even if this part of the plot was nowhere to be found in the original book.

The second part, the animated one, is not really worth of describing. Questionably animated, Wright goes to a fancy hotel and has doubts about reality.

the congress

Two films

If the first part could have been something. The direction is so lifeless that it is hard to keep any interest in the plot. Beautifully filmed, the onscreen drama causes lingering suffering for anyone looking for any references to Lem’s novel, or even emotions. On top of that, is it sane for a movie to tell the audience:

“OK look, Robin Wright is playing herself, but Harvey Keitel plays a manager and Paul Giamatti plays a doctor! So believe in her because she plays the real her, and believe the others playing fictional characters?”

Personally, I do not think so. If Robin plays herself, ain’t it just natural to assume that in this reality, Keitel and Giamatti do exist and are themselves well-known actors? Anyhow, the result is still a lifeless drama based on a good premise that shares nothing with the book.

The second part shares a bit with the novel: it takes partly place in an hotel. If in the book, the protagonist checks in for a Futurological international meeting, this is nowhere to be found in the film. Is there even a congress? I could not say. It’s animated. But still, it is boring and will test the mental toughness of any of Lem’s fan looking for… Lem.

So, in conclusion no, this is not a new movie based on a Stanislaw Lem’s work. It pretends to be. Pretty convincingly. But it’s not. No. Before Spending any dime or time on The Congress, go buy yourself Soderbergh’s Solaris (still painfully missed on Blu-Ray) or even better, find yourself a copy of the German TV show Ijon Tichy: Raumpilot. Even with no subtitles, this is a fantastic treat.

The worst with The Congress is that it might deter potential readers of the book, who contains some mesmerizing ideas and mind-opening concepts that have lost nothing over the years. Please, read it. Read it to the end.

The Congress is opening in selected theaters and Video on Demand on August 29th.