The world director Michael Winterbottom creates is much more interesting then the story or the characters.
The story is set in a future when reproductive technology is so advanced and widespread that the odds are good the person who looks very attractive across a crowded room may be a clone of one of your parents or share more than half of your DNA through various test tube tricks. A law called Code 46 prohibits procreation unless the parents can establish that they are not genetically linked.
The culture has become as homogenized as the DNA. All cities have the same sort of pan-global sameness. Everyone speaks a hybrid English peppered with bits of other languages, including Spanish and Hindi. Travel is very restricted, requiring a post-modern version of Casablanca’s letters of transit called “papelles.”
William (Tim Robbins) has papelles because he is travelling on official business. He is an investigator who uses an “empathy virus” to enhance his natural intuition and talent for figuring out who is telling the truth. He knows which employee has stolen papelles, but he turns in someone else instead. Perhaps it is the extra helping of empathy that reveals Maria (Samantha Morton) as the culprit but also shows him qualities that draw him to her.
They have an affair, and she becomes pregnant. But it is a Code 46 violation, so she must be taken away for an abortion and memory erasure. He finds her again, but she has no recollection of him. Her memory has been reprogrammed so that she thinks she has been away for a finger replacement. William takes her away for what could be a moment of a kind of freedom for both of them, but there are so many obstacles, legal, practical, chemical, cultural, that it may not be possible.
It’s what goes on in the edges of the frame that matters here. The atmosphere of the film is rich and meaningful while the story is frustratingly simple and superficial, almost an afterthought. The connection between William and Maria that is supposed to be so powerful barely registers. There is no chemistry at all between Robbins and Morton, who both appear uncomfortable and awkward. The tantalizing glimpses of a fully-envisioned sense of the future prove to be disappointing indicators of what the movie could have been.
Parents should know that the movie has very explicit sexual references and situations, including bondage. Characters drink, smoke, use drugs, and use strong language. There are tense scenes of peril and some minor violence.
Families who see this movie should talk about what in today’s society inspired this idea of the future.
Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate 1984.