Thursday, January 24, 2013

Another Late Night Surprise From Netflix

Have you noticed that all futuristic utopias are dystopias?

Code 46 is set in a sun-bleached future where citizens have exchanged daylight for nightlife, travel is carefully restricted, and a global authority has an intimate knowledge of every citizen’s genetic heritage and uses the information to decide who may love whom.

This 2003 Michael Winterbottom film left some critics non-plussed.  No harm in that.  Many of my favorite films fail to resonate with those who require spoon-feeding and insist on tidy endings.

On the surface Code 46 is a story of doomed lovers, but that is only the first of its many layers.  The very talented Samantha Morton (she who offered the only credible performance in the over-rated Minority Report) is excellent - sad, odd, and quirky - as a young woman who forges travel documents, a special sort of contraband.  The reliable if staid Tim Robbins is put to fine use as a straight-laced fraud investigator whose professionalism is compromised by his empathy.

Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the script expresses itself in an clever mashup of many languages and the story evokes emotions I felt watching Bladerunner and Brazil.  It's warmer and more accessible than Gattaca or 1984, which makes it more effective.  As its relaxed pacing draws us in Code 46 begins to play with concepts of alienation and happiness, temptation and longing.  Like a fascinating room featured in the movie, the plot and the characters can't help but see from one end of things to the other, but will not get there by taking a straight path.  At its most exquisite Code 46 examines memory haunted by its alternatives.

In the end Code 46 reminded me of passing through a strange airport late at night.   All the small human stories you see unfolding around you make sense, but none of them are yours. Everything is foreign and uncanny, and all you want to do is get home.

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