During the pandemic, I’ve embarked on a journey of wild abandon when it comes to movie-watching, seeing films that otherwise might not have attracted my interest.

Such is the case with Bliss (2021), written and directed by Mike Cahill (Another Earth, I Origins). Based on previews, it looked only mildly interesting—another in a long list of movies about altered realities. And it is that, in part. But it’s so much more.

It begins with a man named Greg (Owen Wilson), estranged from family and struggling with delusion and drug addiction, spending hours on end drawing an idyllic place he dreams of, who consequently becomes homeless. He encounters a woman named Isabel (Selma Hayek), who helps him, shelters him in her rather lovely outdoor abode—complete with a sunflower named Ophelia—and convinces him that this world is a simulation she has actually created, over which they can have amazing power with the help of a little yellow pill. Whenever they take the pill, they wreak havoc among those who are “not real” like they are.

The two worlds of Greg and Isabel (Bliss, 2021).

One of these fake simulation-bound beings, Isabel claims, is the person Greg knows as his daughter, Emily (Nesta Cooper, who steals every scene she’s in). She is searching for her father and wants to stay connected, unlike her brother, who chooses to no longer to deal with his father’s deep issues.

For Greg and Isabel, there’s also a little blue pill. Taking enough of these, by inhaling them through a special device, takes them back to “reality,” the paradise that Greg has been drawing. There, Greg and Isabel are married and are doctors who have created the not-so-pleasant simulated world to help people appreciate what they have in real life.

Greg, not remembering this life except for vague flashes, is torn between its perfection and the heartstrings drawing him back to his daughter, even though his life in that world is broken. The latter is fueled by Emily appearing in Greg’s “real life,” though she’s supposed to be only a figment in the simulated one, to tell him she understands he has two realities and hopes he’ll choose what’s best for him.

Ah, if only people could all be so understanding of one another.

Bliss has received poor critical reviews, apparently mainly based on that it’s confusing and disjointed. I rather felt like that was the point. It seems to be an inventive portrayal of mental illness and drug dependency. The never-heavy-handed observations that the film invites range from how people with such issues are treated by society, law enforcement, and even their own families (mind you, not without reasonable grounds), to the idea that bliss really is a state of mind and people choose whether to be happy where they are.

Watch for appearance by Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

This thought-provoking film inspires me to see Cahill’s other films soon.