Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Code 46

"It's not living - just existing."
-Taxi driver on the difference between living poor, but free, on the outside versus the controlled existence of the inside in the sci-fi world of Code 46-

Human DNA has 46 chromosomes - twenty-three pairs.

CODE 46. ARTICLE 1. Any human being who shares the same nuclear gene set with another human being is deemed to be genetically identical.  The relations of one are the relations of all.  Due to IVF, DI embryo splitting and cloning techniques it is necessary to prevent any accidental or deliberate genetically incestuous reproduction.


I. All prospective parents should be genetically screened before conception. If they have 100%, 50% or 25% genetic identity, they are not permitted to conceive.

II. If the pregnancy is unplanned, the fetus must be screened.  Any pregnancy resulting from 100%, 50%, or 25% genetically related parents must be terminated immediately.

III. If the parents were ignorant of their genetic relationship then medical intervention is authorized to prevent any further breach of code 46.

IV. If the parents knew they were genetically related prior to conception it is a criminal breach of code 46.

It's frightening to imagine such a world. The worlds of 1984 (1984), Gattaca (1997), Code 46 (2003) and Never Let Me Go (2010) seem eerily real and only slightly out of reach.  It's the kind of haunting science fiction that reminds us, in many respects, as people, we are in control of those destinies and how we allow our governments and laws to be shaped.

History always repeats. And the future, like those presented in the aforementioned films, doesn't quite seem an impossibility. China has its own population controls. Don't think there aren't people in power here and elsewhere that wouldn't want to shape society in their own ideal - whatever that may be. Laws are ever changing. The rules are always changing. We have a voice and we should be watching.

Hypnotic, seductive, swirling in atmosphere, Code 46 (2003) is a deceptively simple story about the complexity of love and human behavior and the influence of the powers that be on that behavior and how we figure into that world.

Director Michael Winterbottom clearly directs with a unique aesthetic and demonstrates a real eye for color, lighting and style.  But beyond appearances he delivers substance in the form of the very real, indefinable, chemical reaction between two people - desire, affection, love.

The two principals are portrayed by Timothy Robbins and the unconventionally sexy Samantha Morton.  Morton has a very simple, pure beauty reminiscent of Sinead O'Connor (circa Nothing Compares 2 U) with her close-cropped hair and waifish sexuality.  Morton never had a chance to truly shine in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002), but really captures our attention here in Code 46.  The camera truly adores Samantha Morton and in turn we adore her too (look no further than the images provided).  She's hardly the kind of drop dead beauty often scored for films as equally dumb as Transformers (2007), but there is something sensual and mysterious in those big, gorgeous eyes.

Like Gattaca, Code 46 comes to us in the vain of the best of the genetic nightmare films. Likewise, it also creates its own striking look and visuals using location shooting that made Gattaca seems so sterile, pure and slightly futuristic.

Code 46 isn't quite as cold. Behind all of the government-imposed science is a gritty underbelly that people are still drawn to as suggested by Morton's character, Maria Gonzalez.  Robbins' William Geld is sent to investigate a crime whereby he meets and is drawn to the playfully sexy Maria. Any adherence to law and rules flies out the window when the two are immediately drawn to one another.

As that opening quote from the taxi driver suggests, these are two people, like many, that are tired of simply going through the motions and existing. They yearn to live. There is a sexuality about Maria and a quality that lures William to her bosom. To hell with genetics. Science can't stop love. John Kenneth Muir actually wrote about this film as well at his own Reflections On Cult Movies And Classic TV and as he points out "the heart wants what the heart wants." In other words, science and government no matter how hard it tries to impose its will, of which the beloved Obama administration is not exempt, it truly cannot legislate the behavior out of human beings born, by their very nature, of free will.

Matching genetic code through unenforceable laws won't stop desire or passion or love. Code 46 is another example of a future where big brother has certain plans for us, but they won't work.  Minority Report made every effort with its pre-crime unit to stop a crime moments before it would happen. But you'll never be able to stop human behavior everywhere. There are surely consequences and the rule of law is there to help guide behavior, but the human heart indubitably yearns and requires free association. It's a bit like trying to control your girlfriend in middle school from seeing other guys. It's not going to happen. Science is a wonderful tool for many things, but dictating how specific groups love will never work.

In many respects Geld's life represents the overarching message of the film. The cerebral thought-provoking nature of the picture is captured in Geld's desire to escape merely existing within the inside of the privileged life of his wife and child and escaping to the uncertainties of the outside as embodied by Maria and rolling the dice for chance and to thrill the heart. Code 46 at once challenges us to somehow appreciate that which we have but wake us up, invigorate us to living it.

Further, Geld and Gonzalez embody the haves and the have nots, the insiders and the outsiders and Code 46 does this without the heavy handed-ness of sometimes preachy, message films like Elysium (2013) or the literally patronizing Avatar (2009). The characters are also representations of our differences as both are physically unique and separate and images of incongruous imperfect perfection. Yet, the film underscores and argues regardless of economic status as well as physical desirability we prefer our differenced over predetermination. We can remain incomplete without fulfillment of free will.

Code 46 offers us a glimpse of one possible future that isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility. And for that it is truly frightening. How perfect it should end with Coldplay's Warning Sign and even the penetrating "I miss you."

For those interested in simple, powerful stories of love, Code 46 delivers and does so beautifully and high on visuals and atmosphere. The narrative is simple, but the visual power and the power of ideas in Code 46 is what elevates Winterbottom's film working from a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People about the Manchester music scene and Factory Records). The wholly British-based film by both writer, director and the BBC delivers a quieter, high quality Hollywood-looking film with ideas outside of the establishment. Just like the unusual look and approach to the film's ideas, Code 46 benefits from its foreign credentials.

Shot on location in London, Dubai, Shanghai and Kuala Lampur, Code 46 feels like the future.  Two significant components that add to the futurist, almost Blade Runner-esque vibe. I know it's clich√©, but gosh that picture has had an impact.

First - the use of dialogue. Communications between people often mix languages including Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish, English colloquialisms, Farsi, Arabic and more. It's seamless throughout the film and never forced. It's similar in fashion to the application used by TV series Firefly (2002) a year earlier.  In fact, the very character of Maria Gonzalez, played by an English woman, "suggests ethnic distinctions have been lost in generations of government-supervised DNA matchups" noted the late Roger Ebert. This speaks to the heart of a language that is clearly an amalgamation of languages with words from the various nations integrated and fused together and spoken in a way that is banal, or better normal.

Second - the score composed by David Holmes under the moniker Free Association (a terrific allusion to the film), is positively moving and, as a character, generates the kind of mood and sadness that seems to permeate this future existence. It's a strong score and suits the film only enhancing the subject matter and what the filmmaker is trying to achieve here. It serves the film as only the best of soundtracks should. In fact, the ambiance created for the film reminded me, as did the interviews, as did the character of investigator Geld, of the spirit of that highly regarded Ridley Scott classic and composer Vangelis.

Surrounded by this well-conceived and believable reality is Maria and William.  Their consensual connection isn't mere sex but is sensual and beautiful. Their intercourse is as much an affair of the heart as it is physical.

The mood and tone of the film is one that lingers and resonates emotionally with the viewer in the manner that made Lost In Translation (2003), the same release year, such a relatable, special film. There was a mood, a tone and a generally ethereal quality to the relationship between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson there. Murray was 34 years her senior in real life. I suppose there is something often forbidding about the age differential the greater it is in any relationship.

With Code 46 there is a real nineteen year difference between the two actors and yet, like Lost In Translation, there is a chemistry there, one that works and can be felt. Code 46 is entirely more intimate on a physical level, but the forbidding nature of that differential works rather eloquently within the genetically coded world of Code 46.

Code 46 is a beautifully rendered film and message befitting of English born Michael Winterbottom. His affection for music as an integral artistic component to his vision of film serves him affectingly well here too. Additionally, not unlike her warm, inviting smile, Morton's voice over narration is lovely throughout the film (perhaps in a nod to the narration by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner). It is incredibly silky much like this film. Like life on the outside (rather than the privileged insiders) for the genetically imperfect world, Code 46 was made outside of Hollywood's tampering yet is beautifully constructed like that which is created from the building blocks of life itself. Code 46 is a near perfect specimen and with all of its slight imperfections mirrors the beauty of our imperfect lives. And like life, you have to move outside your comfort zone to live a little. For me, Code 46 was positively hypnotic experience amplified by that score. I was under its spell.

Code 46 dresses its tale of human love, frailty and susceptibility within science fiction clothing and presents a stunning dreamscape. Beyond the poetic eroticism of this gorgeous little film, this is a tale about both love and living. When you get right down to brass tacks it's also the story of an unfaithful man who betrays his family for another woman. Like life, this is an affair that leads to broken hearts and that's a sticky story that's as real as the day is long.

Code 46: B+.
Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Director: Michael Winterbottom.


El Vox said...

Good review, although I haven't seen the film, sounded a bit like The Handmaid's Tale in some regards. Have no idea of what you meant about Obama's will upon the people--sounded a bit hyperbolic. You have to realize we are still a two party system, so checks and balances. Not meaning to get political.

SFF said...

I did see the Handmaid's Tale long ago. I didn't care for that film much. I might appreciate it more now. But just based on memory, Code 46 is a good film and not that similar to Handmaid's Tale.

Well, I wish I saw a little more in the way of checks and balances. Hyperbole? Is it? I'm not sure. Not pleased with how things are going. I'm okay with political discussion though. Cheers El Vox!