Birth (2004) / Drama-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality and language
Running time: 100 min.
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Alison Elliott, Michael Desautels, Anne Heche, Peter Stormare
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Screenplay: Milo Addica, Jean-Claude Carriere, Jonathan Glazer
Review published May 2, 2005
Slow and contemplative, Jonathan Glazer's (Sexy Beast) Birth will not be to everyone's taste, especially as it portrays a twisted love affair between a young boy and a much older woman. Not every film has to speak to everybody, though, and as odd as the film may be, its mystery did keep me reeled in for the duration and quite a ways beyond.
The film starts with the death of a man jogging in central park, who collapses at the end of his run. An unknown birth occurs, and we flash forward ten years, where Anna (Nicole Kidman, The Hours), the wife of the deceased jogger, Sean, is about to get married to her new beau, Joseph (Danny Huston, The Proposition). Meanwhile, they are visited by a ten year old boy, also named Sean (Cameron Bright, The Butterfly Effect), who happens to also claim that he is Anna's long deceased lover, and that she shouldn't get married to Joseph. Needless to say, Anna and the rest of her family and friends are not amused, accusing the boy of some prank or juvenile misdeed, but are constantly intrigued by the fact that he seems to know them all. Still, they deem enough is enough, and try to shoo the boy away, but he appears drawn to Anna, and persists until she decides to explore the possibility that this boy may actually be Sean reincarnated.
Birth is a challenging and provocative film that offers up limited but deep themes, and wisely leaves it up to the audience to make of it what they will. This may not please some members of the audience, who are looking for easy, definitive answers to the core mystery, but Glazer only hints at just what he's going for, rather than blatantly pointing it out. It's a very subtle work, reminiscent in scope to an independent film, although the presence of Nicole Kidman gives the subject matter the weight it properly deserves. It's not an easy role, as most of her acting requires her to internalize her feelings, but she handles every scene in splendid fashion, as we can read the pain, doubt, and even hope in her face, sometimes all at once.
One thing may meet with controversy with some viewers, which is whether or not it is right for a grown woman to have feelings for a young boy she may believe to be her dead husband. Glazer doesn't really shy away from this angle, although there is consolation that it is treated with seriousness without trying to titillate in this area. If anything, it brings to mind the difficulty such a relationship would have, and the implications to the lives of everyone involved, should the bounds of love truly know no limits.
Birth is an elegant and beautifully shot film that is beguiling enough to merit repeat viewings. Recommended for those fascinated by life's ultimate mystery, and the complications that may arise should one such theory ever come to pass. Not entirely plausible, but somehow, always believable.
©2005 Vince Leo