That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Code 46, Stranger Than Fiction & Truly Madly Deeply

Saturday, August 4th, 2007 9:14 pm—Film

Code 46 (UK 2003, Drama/Romance/Sci-Fi/Thriller), Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce; Director: Michael Winterbottom

Stranger Than Fiction (USA 2006, Drama/Fantasy/Romance), Writer: Zach Helm; Dir. Marc Forster

Truly Madly Deeply (UK 1991, Drama/Fantasy/Romance), Writer/Director: Anthony Minghella

If you’re familiar with these films, they may strike you as an odd trio. But I’m combining them into one post because I happened to have rented them all this past week. And they provide an interesting contrast in the use of the camera in film. And come to think of it, they all deal with people living in altered realities.

Code 46 is set in the near future when a relatively benign Big Brother watches over people in the form of a totalitarian government known as the Sphinx. We’re told throughout the film that: “The Sphinx knows best.”

Director Michael Winterbottom employs the camera to convey the notion that the characters are under surveillance. He uses a lot of coverage as if to suggest that people are being watched from all angles. It creates a distinct style that is sometimes jarring but has an interesting effect.

In the world of Code 46, people can only travel outside of their city if they’ve been issued a papelle, a travel permit with a strictly enforced expiry date. Those whose papelles expire are not allowed to return home. Those who have been deemed unfit to reside in the cities are exiled and forced to live in the vast desert that has taken over the outside world.

The film’s title refers to one of the Sphinx’s laws that forbids people with a close, or identical, DNA match from reproducing, or even from liaising. Because of IVF, cloning and other practices that have become commonplace, there is a greater risk that citizens are unknowingly genetically related. People are tested to determine genetic compatibility. If a couple is found to have knowingly breached Code 46, it is punishable by law.

The story begins as William (Tim Robbins), a married investigator for the Sphinx, travels to Shanghai to find out who is responsible for issuing fake papelles. He discovers that the culprit is a woman named Maria (Samantha Morton). But instead of reporting her, he falls in love with her. William can only stay in Shanghai for 24 hours before his papelle expires, but he spends all of them with Maria and they end up in bed.

Not long after returning home to his wife and son in Seattle, William is ordered to return to Shanghai to finish the “unsolved” case. When he tries to find Maria to press charges regarding the fake papelles, he discovers that she has been taken to a clinic outside of Shanghai to deal with a “body problem.” Namely, that she had been pregnant with his child and that, because they are genetically incompatible, she is in breach of Code 46. The problem has been dealt with: the pregnancy terminated, her memory of William erased.

An issue I have with this film is that it tries to cover more ground than it needs to. Code 46 isn’t necessary to the story. What is necessary are: a mechanism of social control; a conflict of interest in William loving Maria; and a reason why he can’t be with her. But the papelles serve as the mechanism of control. The conflict of interest arises because William is required to report Maria for distributing fake papelles, and because they are operating on different sides of the law. And they can’t be together because he is married. It doesn’t really matter that Maria and William aren’t permitted to have children together. There are other reasons that the Sphinx would keep them apart.

And that’s without getting into the viruses people take to trigger desired responses or be able to read people’s minds. It’s a lot to pack into 90 minutes.

To me, what the film is really about is better captured in one of its taglines than in its title: “Can you miss someone you don’t remember?” It’s about the idea that Maria is tied to William even after having her memory erased, and that their connection still exists upon the second meeting (and probably would on the third, fourth, fifth if it had to).

This reminds me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (worth seeing), and of a recent newspaper article I read about a drug that can erase certain memories to alleviate conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. It seems to me, and both Eternal Sunshine and Code 46 seem to assert, that even if you erase a specific memory, you can’t erase all the facets of the personality that were formed or affected by that memory, nor can you erase other memories that developed as a result of the specific incident or person. For that reason, erasing a memory wouldn’t facilitate recovery, but would make it even harder for a person to cope with the feelings that evolved from that memory because the individual wouldn’t understand the source of their feelings. It would be more like a repressed memory than a vanished memory.

Another slight complaint I have about Code 46 is the strength (or lack thereof) of William and Maria’s bond. The first we hear of their relationship is when Maria narrates William’s journey to Shanghai, where the couple will ultimately meet for the first time: “I think about the day we met.” We know right away that their relationship carries weight, that it will play a fundamental role in the story.

A few minutes later, as Maria continues to narrate, she says: “The thing I can’t imagine is that we hadn’t met. Hadn’t even heard of each other.” Hearing this instantly called to mind a deeply intense bond between the two. But seeing their relationship play out, I wasn’t as convinced as I was by the voiceover. Something about the pairing of Robbins and Morton, both fine actors, doesn’t quite work. Maybe their relationship could have been better developed, or maybe the actors’ chemistry just wasn’t right. But somehow, their relationship is never as powerful as what I imagined when I heard that line.

This is definitely a strong film with wonderful technical elements (cinematography, score). It has a unique tone that carries throughout the movie, and it’s what keeps bringing me back to it days after having seen it. The script is great—it’s written by Frank Cottrell Boyce who also wrote the fabulous Hilary and Jackie. I love the fact that the foreign words that are mixed into the futuristic language aren’t accompanied by subtitles—it’s a sign of respect for the viewer when a director makes that choice.

I recommend Code 46. But I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by it. TS, a friend I’ve known since high school, recommended it to me for this blog. We’ve seen countless movies together and I trust his opinion on films more than almost anyone’s. So when he told me that Code 46 is one of the best films he’s seen in years, I was expecting more. But only a little more. ;-)

I don’t know if TS has seen Stranger Than Fiction, but it reminds me a bit of him because of its perverse sense of humour. This movie is about Harold Crick (Will Ferrell in his best role yet), a socially inept IRS agent who’s so anal that he counts every brush stroke he makes with his toothbrush and every step he takes to reach his morning bus.

One day, he wakes up to hear a voice narrating his life, accurately describing his thoughts and predicting the future. When the voice announces that his death is imminent, Harold is understandably concerned. He seeks counsel from Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a literature professor who tries to help Harold determine what genre of novel he’s living in, and change the morbid ending. Along the way, Harold meets and falls for Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker and the subject of one of his audits.

I really like this film, despite the fact that the ending doesn’t live up to the rest of the script. It’s filled with great lines. Hoffman is fantastic. (He says that this script coaxed him out of early retirement.) I love the details of his character, like how he’s always slurping at coffee or spooning yogurt sloppily into his mouth. He does a wonderful job of creating subtext for Dr. Hilbert. Gyllenhaal is also excellent—as always; watch her in Secretary or Sherrybaby.

I wasn’t entirely convinced that someone as free-spirited and leftist as Ana would fall for Harold, but his attempts are so sweetly awkward that I didn’t really mind suspending my disbelief. Who wouldn’t fall for him when he brings her a box of flours?

Director Marc Forster uses the camera to full advantage. I don’t think there’s even one shot that wasn’t set up without great care. The shots feature a lot of depth, many with beautifully framed images within the frame (look for Harold watching Ana through her bakery window), and there are many interesting camera movements, including some well-choreographed tracking shots.

This is in stark contrast to the use of the camera in Truly Madly Deeply, which is by far the least filmic of the three movies. With this film, writer/director Anthony Minghella (a major talent) doesn’t make the most of the medium. In watching Truly Madly Deeply for the second time (I first saw it years ago), I found myself thinking that it would be better served on stage than on screen—that it could be more moving, and told at least as well, in terms of logistics.

Still, I love the story. It’s so simple and sweet. Nina (Juliet Stevenson) is mourning the loss of her beloved husband Jamie (Alan Rickman) who died some time ago. She can’t let go of his memory. She sees him everywhere, and imagines him accompanying her on his cello while she plays the piano. One day, he comes back to her as a ghost. She’s overcome with joy, and puts everything in her life on hold to rush back home and be with him each night. But as she starts passing up new opportunities for love, Nina realizes that she’s been idealizing the past and begins to remember some of Jamie’s irksome habits—some of which are brought home when he starts inviting his rowdy ghost friends over to talk politics and watch movies.

Minghella’s later films—The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley—are much more sophisticated. But Truly Madly Deeply has a sweet sincerity to it, a raw emotion that is portrayed beautifully by Stevenson. Look for her breakdown in the psychiatrist’s office, or the scene when Nina and Jamie reunite. It makes you believe in love again.

All three films are worth renting: Code 46 if you’re in a thinking mood; Stranger Than Fiction if you’re in the mood to laugh; and Truly Madly Deeply if you’re looking for something romantic and uplifting (but bring a few tissues for along the way).

Leave a Reply

You’re not a robot, right? Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.