Monday, August 12, 2013

Redbox Diaries #5: Code 46

I picked up Michael Winterbottom's 2003 sci-fi love story Code 46 while looking for something to do during a rain delay and because its description bore some resemblance to the premise of Elysium. Both films take place in a world where people are arbitrarily separated, but in Code 46 the distinctions are to do with DNA and not social class. (In both films characters conflate English and Spanish in their everyday speech.) The rise in in-vitro births and cloning (which is briefly mentioned) has let to strict regulations regarding who can and can't conceive; the film's title refers to the laws that relate two people's DNA similarities with their freedom to have children. William (Tim Robbins) is in Shanghai to investigate the printing of fraudulent travel documents, and his investigative powers are aided by an "empathy virus" that gives him low-level psychic abilities. The culprit is Maria (Samantha Morton), but the smitten William overlooks her guilt and the two enjoy a night together before William returns to his family in Seattle. For the rest of the film we stumble through this world along with the lovers; there's a pregnancy, a reunion, and an escape with only a few narrative hiccups. (William has some sort of official status but seems to have a great deal of difficulty moving around.) The soul of the film is Morton, who can play romantic longing (and specific states of arousal) as well as any of her fellow Brits in a Jane Austen adaptation, but she's a vital presence because of her modernity. We've seen Morton do good period roles (her Oscar-nominated turn in Sweet & Lowdown) but she'd be more at home in a film based on a William Gibson book.There is really only one way Code 46 can end, but Winterbottom opts for humanism over political commentary. It is heartening to see Maria, "afuera" but still alive, striding through the world.

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