Friday, September 11, 2015

"Birth": a low-key "sci-fi" drama presenting a claim of reincarnation and some troubling sexuality

Reincarnation has sometimes triggered interest sci-fi “real world” dramas, and a low-key but controversial example is the 2004 film “Birth,” by Jonathan Glazer (written with Milo Addica).

Nicole Kidman plays Anna, a crew-cut heterosexual NYC socialite who has lost her husband, Sean, ten years ago after he jogged in the winter in Central Park and then dropped dead from a heart attack.  The film shows us a quick concomitant underwater birth.  

A 10-year-old boy, “Young Sean” (Cameron Bright) repeatedly contacts her, telling her that he is the reincarnation of Sean.  It’s never explained how he could “know” this.  But, having said “yes” finally to another marriage proposal, she gets drawn into believing it, to the consternation of her fiancée, leading to an explosive scene at a salon piano recital.

There is also a controversial bathtub scene, which Wikipedia assures us was filmed legally without the actress and minor child being present at the same time. There’s a conversation where Anna asks Young Sean if he meet her “needs”. 

Finally, toward the end, Young Sean seems to outgrow his “obsession”.  Was this a “joke”? 

The movie, with the music score by Andre Desplat, has a feel that recalls “Rosemary’s Baby” but also anticipates “The Tree of Life”.   There is one chamber orchestra passage early, that anticipates Timo Andres’s “Antennae” (from the duo piano suite “Shy and Mighty”).  Lauren Bacall gives the film some schmaltz as the mother-in-law.

There were reports of people walking out on the film, but Roger Ebert liked it.

The film was produced by New Line Cinema, but distributed by subsidiary Fine Line Features as “indie”. Too bad, Fine Line isn’t around now. Neither is Picturehouse.


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