Code 46

Tagged: Film

Film (2003). The UK Film Council and BBC Films presents in association with United Artists a Revolution Films production. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Cast includes Jeanne Balibar, Nabil Elouahabi, David Fahm, Togo Igawa, Shelley King, Natalie Mendoza, Samantha Morton, Archie Panjabi, Om Puri, Kerry Shale and Nina Wadia. Colour. 93 minutes.

An empath (see Empathy under ESP) investigating an Identity fraud conducts an unlawful love affair with a Clone of his mother.

That the prohibition of "natural" human impulses common to the depiction of Dystopias in both mainstream literatures and the SF Megatext so often fail to transmute from mise en scène to story, or, conversely, from psychodrama to Conceptual Breakthrough has almost become a Cliché of science fiction Cinema: for every Solaris (1971) or Blade Runner (1982), there are any number of cinematic examples of Genre SF in which the intimacies of love and Sex feature as little more than a plot device, and as many screenplays by Mainstream Writers of SF in which a plot hinges on a vital detail of Technology that flies by as a momentary piece of exposition or background colour. The transgressive force of science fiction thrives on the interrelationship of human truth and societal change: the dramaturgy of this relationship is fundamental to the genre's emotional impact.

Code 46 is in most respects a good film, containing beautifully-shot panoramas of the deserts and flood-plains created by the Near Future effects of Climate Change, well-staged disparities between those who live in the high-density Cities of the future and the underclass that lives at their borders (see Fantastika), atmospheric Music by David Holmes operating under the name "Free Association", and an intelligent script by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who had at the time of Code 46's release worked with director Michael Winterbottom on four previous films, including Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), about the contrast between the reality of War and its representation in the Media Landscape. Cottrell Boyce forswears the Heroes and Inner Space set-up of much of sf cinema in favour of a screenplay that attempts to communicate its message through the interplay of Psychology and Linguistics. This approach draws excellent performances, both from a supporting cast that manages to relay wry Satire about the human desire to dodge the bureaucratic regimentation of society via Drugs and sex and travel, very often from within a few well-chosen lines of dialogue, and from lead actor Samantha Morton as Maria Gonzalez, the numinous intensity of whose performance eclipses that of her scene-stealing turn as one of the trio of Precogs (see Precognition) in Minority Report (2002). Code 46 does, however, make basic mistakes. Its central Novum (and subsequent plot "twist") concerning the societal Eugenics that direct the administration of its corporatized dystopia is delivered via a lengthy piece of text as the film begins, and the problem is compounded by the script's failure to connect the plot developments afforded by the "empathy virus" via Genetic Engineering being used by protagonist William Geld (Robbins) to a more convincing depiction of the procedures of Biology and Medicine on which the plotline of the film depends: there is little or no fusion, intermingling or dramatic contrast between the unfeeling dystopia of the Scientists and the persuasive verisimilitude of Code 46's central romance. Morton almost saves the film at the last through a compelling rendition of the unconscious desire-flight reflex of a woman forced through Amnesia and biological Hypnosis to forget (and flee from) the person to whom she is most attracted, whispering an oedipal "I love you" straight to camera while strapped to a hotel bed in the rebel freeport of Jebel Ali; all Memory of the love affair is, unfortunately, wiped at the last, with William returning, forgetful, to his wife and family and Maria being banished to the desert.

This last-minute evocation of deep-rooted emotional truth – seemingly some sort of variation on the oft-quoted observation by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) that "science without Religion is lame, religion without science is blind" and one which is revelatory of the mother-complex that underpins both Freudian psychoanalysis and Catholicism – might easily have served the theme of Code 46 very well, had only it been better integrated into the events of its storyline. Where the aesthetics of a writer like William Gibson seem to be present in Code 46's air of cultural stratification, Gibson's brand of Cyberpunk more clearly marries a noir sensibility to the details of its plots; a writer like M John Harrison, meanwhile, might better have achieved thematic Equipoise between the vastation of a planet (see Horror in SF) and the behaviour of characters forced to confront the inescapable Entropy of its Ecology and Politics. In Blade Runner and in its sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – as, indeed, in other film adaptations of Philip K Dick such as Total Recall (1990) – a Memory Edit has consequences for human society as a whole; in Code 46, the device is used (offscreen) to return the characters to a diminished version of way in which they began the story. The world in which they live has not changed at all and nor has the viewer's relationship to it. [MD]

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