In 2004, German artist Wenzel Storch wrote, directed, filmed, and produced A Journey Into Bliss or Die Reise ins Glück. For some critics, this raises suspicion that the film was a “vanity project”, and it may well have been. However, there is an upside to such endeavors. A film made by a singular vision is uniquely able to explore all the idiosyncratic nooks and crannies of one author’s mind. It becomes a vehicle for a particularly personal expression.
A Journey into Bliss is most certainly idiosyncratic. It’s pathologically idiosyncratic. It’s an absurd, delusional fairytale costume drama set in what I would term a “steamjunk” universe. Steamjunk being the ragged and rusty stepchild of steampunk. The steamjunk aesthetic is mostly seen in the elaborate sets, which are the best part of the film. They are cramped constructions littered with decaying refuse and brightly colored cloth that jut out, wrap around, and tangle around everyone on screen. The whole film is shot through an extremely wide angle lens, adding to the nightmarish warp.
The plot is as jumbled as the sets. I think I may have sensed some references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and maybe Alice in Wonderland, but overall, Journey Into Bliss is just a loosely built chronology that provides a wobbly association between scenes. It is certainly influenced by Guy Madden, but Madden wouldn’t include Nazis and rape and giant bursts of semen into his films, whereas Storch does.
Due to the random nature of the film, it’s easier to simply describe a few scenes than summarize the plot or provide meaningful context.
Ordered by Gustav (the captain of the giant snail ship), a grizzly bear (played by a real grizzly bear) gets out of his bubble bath and defends the ship by shooting starfish shuriken at the king’s henchman, who is attacking the ship while dressed as a giraffe.
In another scene, a giant cyborg bunny rabbit with light-up eyes has sex with a birdcage, which turns the bunny into a time machine.
The “climax” of the film comes when the snail ship is brought to life by a stew of fermented strawberries. The concoction drives the ship mad with lust, causing it to rape a church. The building is flooded with semen, producing a second time machine which takes Captain Gustav back to the beginning of the movie, where the film ends.
That sounds like fun doesn’t it? To some degree it is, but there are also some troubling scenes that play around with things like blackface, swastikas, and urine, lots of urine. If you are going to juggle dangerous imagery, you need to know what you are doing. Such imagery can be a potent way to interrogate difficult issues, or it can be an unfortunately misguided attempt at throwing stuff around for simple shock value. A Journey Into Bliss does a little of both.
It is visually rich, and the production crew must have had a great time, unless that was all done by Storch too. There are some interesting clusters of absurdity and humor, but as a whole, the film is weak. There is a lot of vague satire that doesn’t hit any particular target, and so loses its purpose. It’s an aggressively transgressive film, but some of its defiance isn’t backed up with enough substance. It’s definitely creative and unpredictable, but in the end, it’s more strange than truly interesting.
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