Code 46: I’m not sure whether I’m recommending this film or not…

Code 46 grabbed me from the beginning, with its dark future, it’s brown open spaces and grey, constricted interior world.

“Do you think the sun is as dangerous as they say it is?”
“I hope not.”

A human race under the thumb of ‘them’, the mysterious someone that controls everything. Except the someone is not a government or any one body that can be identified. Control is diverse. Like the internet. Control rests in hubs — in this case, it seems, organisations make the decisions, give people ‘cover’ to travel or not travel, live or not live ‘inside’, away from the sun.

At times it reminded me of Bladerunner, at times of Lost in Translation (‘a poor man’s Lost in Translation,’ says one review), but somehow thinner than both those films. Stretched out. Nastier.

Awful place, the future.

Life is cheap. Even our own protagonists are prone to abandoning people.

“Everyone’s children are special. It makes you wonder where all the mediocre adults come from.”

I was with the story, with the unrelenting horror of the place, even with the compulsive love affair between the star crossed lovers. I was intrigued by their sense of recognition of each other (recognition being one of those marvellous psychological mysteries — what, after all, is recognition? Is it half-felt memories? Is it the subconscious? Is it our own imperfect attention, picking up on extraneous cues that remind us of something or someone — someone else entirely? I was absorbed by it the whole way through.)

And where did the recognition lie for Robbins & Morton, who are, after all, genetically linked? Is it genetics that makes them attracted to each other? Is it some shared gesture or turn of phrase that has appealed to their similar physiology? Is it just in the biological programming — the same programming that made Oedipus seek out, unknowingly, his own mother? Is it that we seek reflection of ourselves in our partners, is it that we seek our parents & of all this seeking & being sought, how much is conscious, how much instinct?

Take this & then add to it the ‘empathy virus’ (a virus that makes Robbins so empathic he’s practically psychic) & what disasters are assured? Morton tells him it was fate that made him spare her. It wasn’t, though. It was the virus, if anything. She says she recognises him from a dream. She doesn’t, though. She recognises him from the moment when she wakes from the dream — a moment her memory-erase failed to fully catch, evidently. In the dream is a man in a suit, but how much of this is from her memory that day, of meeting Robbins (in a suit) in the turnstyle right before he turns?

The tagline says: How do you solve a crime when the last thing you want to know is the truth?

Too true.

They are both piecing things together, filling in the gaps with what they want to believe. Is Robbins really saving her, after all, when he pulls her from hospital? In sparing her from her ignorance, isn’t he actually condemning her? To go by the movie’s ending, ignorance is the only bliss worth having in the future.

I hated Morton’s character. Hated her mundane superstitions, her grandiose selfishness — giving away favours (‘papelles’) without responsibility, basking in the looks on the faces of the people she herself is condemning. Hoarding those memories away in her ‘photo album’. There’s normally a good reason people can’t get cover, says Robbins, foreshadowing the tragedy Morton is causing. Does she store the memory of her friend, medically unfit to travel, bleeding to death? No. She explains to Robbins: you have to expect, given the dangers, some people won’t make the trip. No doubt the same excuse is used for illegally transporting refugees.

Is it true, though? If I do a good thing, does it outweigh the bad thing I have to incur? Can we compute a cost-benefit analysis on life? Should we be aiming for zero, or for some small positive net gain? One person lives, two people die — is that OK? Is it better the other way around? Or is it better to not get involved? I find myself leaning towards the ‘first, do no harm’ theory, but others will disagree.

I hated, too, the mechanism by which the inevitable ending arrives, the ‘consensual rape’, if such a thing can possibly exist. The impulsion for intercourse against the imperative of the virus with which Morton is infected was too fantastical. The resulting sex scene uncomfortably implying unwanted relations between a parent & child (a reversal of their genetic relationship, where she is a clone-sister to his mother — a nice little gothic touch there) heightened by the fact I unwillingly see Morton as a boy-child, her androgyny compelling on screen in the same way Christopher Walken’s bizarreness is compelling: a physical challenge that implies something human & also other worldly. Samantha Morton, in other words, creeps me out in a way few other actors have. Awkward close-ups of her face elucidating (to steal the words of some other critic I read & whom I can’t now be bothered locating) the awkward relationship between the pair were almost too grotesque for me to watch. Her shaved pudenda suggesting a pre-teen, & with nothing but a terminated pregnancy to remind us she is actually a grown woman.

Though it made me even more uncomfortable to realise this about myself, that I was having a hard time seeing her as a woman.

Since the story is told from Robbin’s point of view, but it is told *by* Morton, I left uncertain of how much of the story was ‘real’. She supposes Robbins didn’t stop her giving them up to authorities. If that’s the case, why didn’t he? My own conclusion was that he wanted them to be caught, wanted the memories wiped from his mind, so that he could return to his happy, comfortable, ignorant life. And yet did he know what fate he was abandoning his partner(s) to? That they would know what he had willingly surrendered — his complicity in ‘Fate’. In the end, it is the women who carry the burdens of guilt in this film — which is not to say they are most guilty, but to say they are the ones left with their knowledge intact. Ignorance is the boon of Robbins’ character & of his son, but of no one else.

Which leads to a question not of motivation but of plot: why do the authorities let him go? They blame the empathy virus & they give him back his life. Yet he knowingly broke Code 46. Perhaps they don’t realise this, & aren’t able to trace the conversations he had with hospital workers that prove his prior knowledge. She, on the other hand, clearly ignorant of the extent of her crime (and they do have proof of this, surely, since she would have her medical records indicating the memory wipe & abortion) is banned to life ‘outside’. Outside in the sun, but trapped with her memories & her own unanswered questions, wondering how it was he didn’t step in and stop Fate.

Fate. How can she even ask? Wasn’t she the one invoking Fate in the first place?

And what room does Fate have in this controlled, constricted, biologically enhanced or maintained future world? Where emotions can be directed by a virus & dictated by law.

What interesting and challenging concepts in this film. What a grotesque and unnerving story. What a sickness Fate & the future seem to hold.