Code 46, the troubling, moody dystopian romance, initially charmed us, then baffled us, then kinda freaked us out, and then surprised us (Coldplay? Really?). But we are so terribly partial to dystopias filmed in atmospheric indie fuzz that we could overlook even the uncomfortable Oedipal kinks and the too-mainstream pop bookend: we liked it.
Kind of like the (incestuous!) love child between Blade Runner and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Code 46 is about love in the time of being almost-post-human. The film pushes special PPCC buttons by also being post-colonial: it acknowledges the Rest of the World, and what its position would be in a freaky future. But best of all: it's just a sweet, heady, doomed romance full of brooding darkness and two very weird people.
Some scene setting.
Living in an Escher world (where are Godel and Bach?!).
William (Tim Robbins, who is apparently a giant) is - like all good dystopian anti-heroes - a bureaucratic drone. This drone's particular job is investigating "papelles" fraud. The world has been divided into the Inside - buzzing metropolises full of light, drugs and technology - and the Outside - underdeveloped, poverty-stricken deserts. Movement across this so-familiar-it's-alien world is heavily controlled, and you need "papelles" to get anywhere. Interestingly, the axis of geopolitical influence has shifted from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean - most characters circle around India, the Middle East and China.
Let the Om Puri Lovefest begin! We love you, Om Puri!
You're so cute and great, Om Puri!
Oh, Omnomnom Puri!
William has now been sent to Shanghai (looking remarkably like Hong Kong) to investigate a possible fraud at the large Sphinx company. While the anxious manager (Om Puri!!!) is eager to keep things quiet, William - tripping, William Gibson-style, on an "empathy virus" that spikes his intuition - easily identifies the culprit using only one, quick meeting with all the employees. That culprit, unfortunately, is the sexy, alluring Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton, still in Minority Report buzzcut mode). Maria is so totally awesome that William has some other, less attractive person arrested (whose only line announces that he was born in Hyderabad!), then follows her into a karaoke club where Mick Jones sings Clash songs. And so begins their very inappropriate, kinda gross but also fascinating romance.
It's been a long time since we've seen a believable future presented, but Code 46 was the most evocative, grimy and convincing future since Gateway. Everyone speaks a babel of world languages - their chatter is peppered with Spanish, Italian, Urdu, Arabic and Mandarin. Familiar cities - Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seattle, Delhi (?) - are filmed in ways which render them otherworldly. The whole territory is strange, yet its links to our present are easily traceable. The whole film's look is very mysterious and beautiful.
Big Brother is watching you. As usual.
This sort of story also encourages us to THINK in capital letters, and it does raise some interesting questions about gene pools, designer babies and the "Third World". But we were much more refreshed by the interpretation of this as an updated Greek tragedy, full of yearning and elliptical consciousness and DOOM in capital letters (also). It is forbidden love at its most primal, and the modern spin to the tragedy is that it was technological drive which set William and Maria up for their Sophocles-and-Aeschylus-style fall. Are all dystopias cautionary fables with a Luddite bent? Maybe. But only some of them are as classy (and classical) as this one, and even fewer let the softest of human emotions take center stage.