Code 46

I finally had the chance to see Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46 (IMDB) last night, and while I don’t have time for a full review, I’ll quickly note that I found the film’s subtle meditations on genetics to be rather rewarding. Unlike Gattaca, in which bad genes become just another means for replaying the “triumph over great odds” narrative, Code 46 doesn’t reduce genetic engineering to two classes of “valids” and “invalids,” instead focusing on narrower restrictions. A genetic predisposition to certain diseases prevents you from traveling to certain countries, for example. And, as the opening credits explain, you are prevented from having procreative sex with someone who has a too similar genetic makeup, a “Code 46” violation.

The film’s plot centers around Tim Robbins’ William and Samantha Morton’s Maria, two people who meet for the first time in Shanghai, while William is investigating a passport forgery crime, and ultimately the two have a passionate affair, not realizing that they are genetically too similar (their mothers are genetic clones). Visually and aurally, the film is pretty cool, too. The dystopian future is clearly made to resemble our own world–the clothes are similar, and the visuals emphasize futuristic structures, but without the visual effects that might make the space seem too detatched from the contemporary.

In his review of the film, Steven Shaviro notes that “What distinguishes Code 46 from these other films is that it shows how the ‘society of control’ is inextricably interwoven with the sense of possibility that comes from decentered flows,” and I think that the issues of “control,” as they have been articualted by Gilles Deleuze, are central to this film, specifically in terms of “access.” In fact, if I had seen this film earlier, I almost certainly would have taught it alongside Deleuze’s essay in my freshman composition class this past semester.


  1. McChris Said,

    May 6, 2005 @ 11:43 pm

    I watched Code 46 not too long ago, and I liked it quite a bit. I was going to post something about it, but being a not-film guy, I never got around to it. Now, I frankly don’t remember what I was going to say about it except that Winterbottom’s style is slick without being flashy. It’s interesting to see how it is applied in both that movie and the very different Wonderland, which I watched a couple of months ago.

    Oh, the Karaoke bar scene with Mick Jones performing his ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go” was hilarious and probably what I wanted to mention on my blog.

    A few days later in an editing room, I told an undergrad about the “empathy viruses,” etc, which really piqued his interest in the movie. I thought that was a really interesting concept; I suppose Adbusters contends that the widespread use of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs is a kind of cosmetic psychiatry. The movie raised some interesting questions about personality enhancement.

  2. Chuck Said,

    May 7, 2005 @ 12:37 pm

    I think you’re right about the “empathy virus” scenes rasing some good questions about “control” issues. They were certainly an important part of the film, though I’m not sure I buy the Adbusters argument. I wanted to mention the cinematography in more detail, but was trying to keep the review somewhat brief.

    And the Mick Jones cameo was very funny.

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