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The International Writers Magazine

Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce
(2003 released July '04 USA September '04 UK)

Starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton

'In the future the worst crime is genetic'

It’s 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. It’s 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 day’s 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 Dick’s work, is to suss out the criminal.
William is a happily married man with a beautiful wife and child back in Seattle.

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 movie?
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 isn’t 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

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