Code 46 Review
Cloning, genetic manipulation and viral experimentation have made travelling outside safe areas a dangerous business. Cities are closed off and travel is restricted to people authorised with approved papers - ‘papeles’. William (Tim Robbins) is called in to investigate unauthorised papeles that are being smuggled out of the Sphinx corporation’s unit in Shanghai. Using an empathy virus, William interrogates the employees and attempts to find the culprit. There he meets Sphinx employee Maria Gonzales (Samantha Morton). Maria has a recurring dream on her birthday – every year she moves one carriage further down a train towards an unknown man who is waiting for her. Today is her birthday and she is unwilling to fall asleep and submit herself to the destiny that awaits her in the last carriage. When she meets William during his investigation, they find they share an unusual bond.
The futuristic science-fiction thriller Code 46 confirms Michael Winterbottom’s growing reputation for being one of the most eclectic and talented English directors around at the moment. The plot, written by Winterbottom’s regular screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People), is not the most original, having much in common with Philip K Dick’s musings on the nature of memory and its alteration, while the film in its structure and presentation bears more than a passing resemblance to Blade Runner. When William starts his interrogation of Sphinx employees, you almost expect him to ask about the employee about his mother. The actual first question “Tell me something about yourself – anything” isn’t that far away from it. In place of the human/replicant conflict between Blade Runner’s forbidden lovers, in a world where cloning is widespread, we have Code 46, a law that prevents couples of similar gene patterns from reproducing. In contrast to the futuristic cityscapes of Blade Runner however, Code 46 effectively uses the real-world locations of Shanghai, Dubai and Jaipur to depict societies which are much closer to Dick’s dystopian vision of the future.
While the story is not terribly original, it is not the most important point of the film - Winterbottom is less concerned with plot than in exploring ideas of memory and human relationships, exploring mood, emotion and feelings. In this he is ably assisted with strong acting performances, a melancholic David Holmes’ Free Association soundtrack and some staggeringly beautiful widescreen cinematography, shot by Alwin Küchler (who has made a strong mark on the look of Morvern Callar and The Mother). Best use is perhaps not always made of the wider 2.35:1 ratio, but every inch of it absolutely adores Samantha Morton, who delivers another marvellous performance, often acting directly point-of-view into the camera lens – to rather unsettling effect during one particularly intense lovemaking scene. Tim Robbins’ performance however is rather harder to read and Jeanne Balibar (Va Savoir, Comédie de l’Innocence) is simply wasted as William’s wife. The dialogue is riddled with French and Spanish phrases – pourquoi (why), claro (of course), lo siento (I’m sorry), à bientôt (goodbye), afuera (outside), papeles (papers) which could occasionally be confusing for the viewer.
If you like Blade Runner or Minority Report more for their style and themes than their story and special effects, you’ll like Code 46. Although lacking in originality and not always convincing in characterisation there is style in the direction, drama and romance in the story and beautiful photography that give this film a mood and character all of its own. Somewhat appropriately, considering the subject of the film, Code 46 turns out to be a very memorable film.