The International Writers Magazine:
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce
(2003 released July '04 USA September '04 UK)
Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton
'In the future the
worst crime is genetic'
Its good to have a science fiction movie that is not about guns
or killing machines and vengeance, but shows an intellectual approach
to a possible future for mankind. There are no vast sets or weird costumes,
there are special effects, but essentially this is an unusual human
drama set in a time fast approaching.
The worlds largest economy is China and people of all nations flock
there to work in any capacity, but in a subtle allusion to apartheid,
in the future you cannot travel or work in the civilised
zones (the places with hospitals, running water and schools) without
insurance cover. Its a nice little twist. Movement is not assisted
by a government passport, all these are irrelevant in this future, which
is run by private corporations. No, the worse thing that can happen
to you is not having cover. Without it you are cast outside
into the wilderness with all the diseases and crimes and possible starvation
that would imply.
Enter Tim Robbins as William, arriving in Shanghai to do a days
work at an Indian run factory that prints the valuable insurance cover
(limited time embedded) insurance stamps. Someone is working a fraud
and Tim Robbins task (as an intuit) something borrowed
directly from Philip k Dicks work, is to suss out the criminal.
William is a happily married man with a beautiful wife and child back
He interviews the suspects, but for no reason that he can fathom, he
falls in love with Samantha Morton, a worker who is not only making
the stamps but also working the fraud. He names another and allows himself
to be seduced that night by Samantha (Maria Gonzales).
All well and dandy, but as one who cannot understand why Samantha Morton
is considered remotely attractive the drama breaks down right
there. Why call her Gonzales when she is plainly Irish throughout this
Of course, William goes home to his wife, but when one of the people
who gained illegal cover dies in India (something he could
have prevented by reporting her), he is summoned back to Shanghai to
get the job done right.
He discovers Maria is missing, tracks her down and discovers that she
has aborted his child because they are Code 46. In a nutshell, from
the same clone stem. They are virtually the same people. He is deeply
shocked by this.
This is taboo in the future, but sadly no attempt is made to discover
how or why these two people meet, how they made this genetic journey
towards each other half way across the globe. Is it fate? Her voice
over and dream would indicate it is so, but why?
There is a good film to be made right here at this point, but instead
it becomes a rather feeble escape and rather dubious sex crime when
he ties her to the bed. Incest was never as complex as this before.
So if the plot falls apart once this revelation occurs, what about the
look and feel of the film?
Considering this did not have a major budget, they have achieved a pretty
interesting and holistic texture to this film. Michael Winterbottom
has approached it with simplicity, rightly knowing that he cannot afford
to create and design a future al la Bladerunner, so he has taken the
Alphaville approach used by Goddard. He is saying this is the future,
although all the cars and everything you see around you is the present.
Take it or leave it but he does a good job of transporting you there.
By identifying Shanghai as the most exciting and highly developed city
on the new world, he is probably not wrong, but this Shanghai is surround
by a desert. Therefore, in this future the environment is severely degraded,
the sun blotted out and life, for those living outside the cities is
bleak. As a premise, it is not far off the vision created by Neal Stephenson
with Snow Crash more than a decade ago now.
Time Robbins is a tad robotic, but strangely appealing as he takes an
empathy virus to help with his job of reading peoples minds. Samantha
Morton, though miscast, is always watchable and yes, some people have
been upset by the site of a shaven pubic area, but hey, she has just
had an abortion, she isnt a lapdancer.
If you get the opportunity to see this film, go. It needs to be seen
on a big screen and for once this is an intelligent, flawed but constantly
absorbing vision of a dystopic future that is all too likely to occur.
© Sam North September 23rd 2004
all rights reserved