Unlike most films that fall into the science fiction category, Code 46 doesn't rely on complicated visual effects or elaborate action sequences. Instead the film takes a more internalized approach, focusing its attention on character and story development. Both subtle and poignant, the film acts as a cautionary tale about the role that genetic science plays in the social class system. Touching upon such controversial issues as cloning human beings and incestuous love, the film manages to be provocative without being gratuitous or exploitive. It does this by portraying its characters with sensitivity and honesty, and avoids glamorizing the world they live in.
But Code 46 is about more than a corrupt, futuristic social system, where science is used to control people. It's a story about a love, so forbidden that consummating it results in government intervention. When Code 46 is violated, love is outlawed and the law proves to be unjust.
"Code 46 – Article 1
Any human being who shares the same nuclear gene set as another human being is deemed to be genetically identical. The relations of one are the relations of all.
Due to IVF, DI embryo splitting and cloning techniques it is necessary to prevent any accidental or deliberate genetically incestuous reproduction.
I. All prospective parents should be genetically screened before conception. If they have 100%, 50%, or 25% genetic identity, they are not permitted to conceive.
II. If the pregnancy is unplanned, the foetus must be screened. Any pregnancy resulting from 100%, 50%, or 25% genetically related parents must be terminated immediately.
III. If the parents were ignorant of their genetic relationship then medical intervention is authorized to prevent any further breach of Code 46.
IV. If the parents knew they were genetically related prior to conception it is a criminal breach of Code 46."
In the not-too-distant future, society is divided into two distinctive castes: those that live and work within the wealthy cities and those that are forced to live in squalor in the harsh deserts that surround those cities. There are few on the "outside" who are fortunate enough to gain access to the opportunities provided in the metropolises, and those that manage to do so often use stolen or fake passports called "papeles'.
When investigator William Geld is sent to Shanghai to investigate illegally acquired papeles, he has no idea of what fate holds in store for him. He quickly uncovers the culprit behind the fraudulent papeles. Her name is Maria Gonzalez and she and William fall in love at first sight, but there are complications that stand in their way. Not only would William be neglecting his duty by letting her go free of consequences, but he would also be engaging in an illicit affair behind his wife's back, which if she ever found out could lead to the dissolution of their marriage. Still with these setbacks in mind, William lets Maria off free of consequence and they begin an intimate relationship. Yet William can't escape his responsibilities and he leaves Maria to return to his home in Seattle. After someone who used on of Maria's fake papeles dies, William is sent back to Shanghai, where he is shocked to find that Maria has become pregnant with his child. Even more shocking is William's discovery that Maria is a genetic match with his biological mother, whom he never met, which would mean that Maria is William's mother's clone. Realizing that Code 46 has been breached William plans to run away with Maria, but her memory of him has been erased to avoid future violations of Code 46. William reforms the bond between himself and Maria, and they plan to escape into the desert… but can they escape their own fate?
The film stars Tim Robbins as William Geld and Samantha Morton as Maria Gonzalez. Tim Robbins is typically charming in hisrater nondescript manner, though he seems far too docile to be a government investigator. Samantha Morton gives a stunningly erotic yet subtle performance as Maria, and her commitment to acting is very apparent, especially in one of the film's intense love scenes in which she is shown naked from the waist down. Had another, less dedicated actress attempted to do this it would have seemed self-exploitive but Morton's portrayal of her character is so strong that she comes away from this film seeming all the more empowered and talented in her abilities. The two actors create an intriguing chemistry together, and I for one would like to see them reunited on-screen in another film.
Code 46 was directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) and was written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. These two are responsible for the film's unique style, which is very minimalistic and character-driven. The film has all of the best attributes of a modern European mystery film and an intelligent science fiction film combined, not to mention the element of classical romantic tragedy. In many ways Code 46 could be seen as a futuristic update on the Oedipus myth.
The DVD includes four deleted scenes, "Obtaining Cover: Inside Code 46" featurette, and a theatrical trailer.
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