In a near future, in a world ruled by a totalitarian government, checking of the genetic code is mandatory for any type of possible relationship between man and woman. The investigator from Seattle William travels to Shanghai to investigate the faking and stealing of special Visas (called using the Spanish word "papeles"). The main suspect is Maria Gonzales, who works in the company Sphinx, but William falls in love for her and protects her. They have a passionate one night stand, and sooner they find that they are genetically incompatible to each other and they have violated the Code 46.
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
. Starring: Tim Robbins
, Togo Igawa
, Nabil Elouahabi
, Samantha Morton
, Sarah Backhouse
, Jonathan Ibbotson
, Natalie Mendoza
, Om Puri
, Emil Marwa
, Nina Fog
, Bruno Lastra
, Christopher Simpson
, Lien Nguyin
. Music by: Stephen Hilton
, David Holmes
There should be a genre of film dedicated to watching Samantha Morton dance around in neon lights at nightclubs. A good chunk of "Morvern Callar" was dedicated to just that, and really it's the kind of "special effect" I could watch for hours on end. Roland Emmerich could do a "They Short Horses Don't They?" remake where she has to keep dancing or else the world explodes, and every time she takes a water break, another continent can sink into the ocean, he could even purchase the name from Richard Linklater's documentary about Speed Levitch, and call it "Shiva's Dance Floor". Such is the allure of the only S & M that interests me on screen today, which at one point does involves some bondage, but I swear it's the most purely romantic, almost metaphysical, bondage ever.
Aside from my obvious personal gushing, I have no problem calling Code 46 one the best science fiction of the films of the decade. Code 46 is about a relationship that defies laws, languages, and borders both genetic and national. Where "Babel" saw separation, Code 46 sees the potential for new tangential encounters, even in an over-regulated world where everything is kept in it's place and monitored (many times the camera becomes Big Brother POV of leering security cameras, creating true paranoia by not showing us Orwell's rat-men hunched over endless observation screens, just camera's recording indifferently anything and everything).
The planet seems to be sectioned into two kinds of area and two kinds of people; those who have health insurance and those who don't. This insurance is often just called, "Coverage" (don't leave home without it). The Code 46 itself, we are told in the opening credits, is a law which forbids genetically similar couples from reproducing. "Everyone is genetic family" the titles say, and the first rule of genetics after all is to spread the genes around to increase variation. Reproducing with more genetically similar people increases the chance of preserving the same "bad" genes, inherited diseases, deficiencies, etc. Apparently, these genetic quirks are enough not only to be deemed uninsurable, but to cause mandatory termination of any resultant pregnancy and for repeat offenders other more serious measures. Those without insurance cannot travel from one country or even city to another. There is an "Outside" largely in the Middle East, where these new laws are not applicable, and the corporations less sway. Language has now become a more pronounced multi-lingual affair than it is today, where all citizens speak a Pidgin dialect of mostly English but also Spanish, French, Arabic, Italian, Farsi and Mandarin.
This new language is an especially clever creation, in relation to the post-modern melancholy of films like Babel (which I liked) and Shijie (which I am not such a big fan of). In Code 46 the world becomes a global village, and like a village its regulations are tighter, stricter, and more interested in the collective than the individual. Many sci-fi films play this game of good individual vs. bad group-think, and there is nothing new about that, but Code 46 has no bad guys, outside of its main two characters, who betray each other in the most romantic of ways. Its essentially a tale of romance gone sour, told in a world less futuristic than it is "more modern", a soft sci-fi world cloned in a pitri dish from a fragment of this very decade and moment in history.
Perhaps this split between the quirky Wong Kar Wai-ish romance at the beginning and the Oedipal abstraction of the end, seems too distracting and unnatural after first viewing, and admittedly it is jarring, but even though the film expands its sci-fi universe and by default the stories internal logic with an almost reckless abruptness, it ends up capturing an emotional logic that's even more effective. Emotions are abstract things, and what to me feels right might to another smack of bullshit, which is why I try to refrain (sometimes) from talking about how movies "feel", but forgetting for a second the implication that Robbins is looking for a mothersavior surrogate to save him from his humdrum dystopian life (ala Terry Gilliam's "Brazil"), the movie is about a couple who have a one night stand, resulting in unexpected sexual consequences (something besides incest, a subject more ticklish in fact, and much closer to real life) who take a romantic risk to have one moment together in impossible and doomed-from-the start conditions. Why doesn't Robbin's stop her from using the phone, for example?
Memories are stored, erased, and reformed throughout the film with a shocking casualness (which lesser films would build an entire plot around), and I say shocking because if memories can be manipulated by governmentcorporate groups, it would be a dystopia more horrifying than anything in Orwell. You can't rebel if you can't remember what you were angry about. More interesting remembering is used as a form of punishment to those who would rather forget, which as we see in the film, is an even crueler fate.
Basically the small details of Code 46 could amount to entire film franchises, but thankfully that's not what Winterbottom is interested in. It's a simple story about a complex world, both strange and sincere, and strange again. As a modern rendition of an ancient Greek classic, updated with much of "Until The End Of The World's" romantic globe spanning cyberpunk ambitions, and what Duncan Jone's called the "I-pod chic" of Soderberg's "Solaris", Code 46 is full of the kind of surprises, ideas, sounds, styles, and images I go the movies for. Sad to think I ignored this when it was first released as it could have only been improved on the big screen. I never thought any film could end with a Coldplay song and evoke anything in me but utter contempt, but God help me I was moved, and Morton wasn't even dancing at the time.
Review by Joseph Sylvers from the Internet Movie Database.