Monday, September 05, 2005

Movie Review: Birth

I am a fan of Nicole Kidman. I think she is a great actor and has done some excellent movies. But her film Birth must signify a low point in her career. The problem is not the cinematography nor the acting. The problem is the plot and some of the subject matter. Anna (Nicole Kidman) is a grieving widow of 10 years who has resisted the invitations of Joseph (Danny Huston) to marry him. Finally, she accepts. As preparations for the marriage take place a ten-year old boy (Cameron Bright) appears and claims to be the reincarnation of Anna's deceased husband. At first, Anna refuses to believe that this boy is Sean but he demonstrates a knowledge of intimate details that only her dead husband could have known. Finally, she agrees to be with him but things do not go as expected and the movie finishes on a heart rending note. As I said, some of the cinematography is beautiful and haunting. The movie opens with a very long shot of Anna's husband running in the early hours of the morning along a snow-covered road where he finally collapses with a heart attack and dies. Then there is the scene at the opera where the camera is filled with Nicole Kidman's face as she goes through a range of emotions reflecting the turmoil and pain in her heart and she tries to come to terms with the confusion she is experiencing. The movie is often gentle, languishing, haunting, and sensual. But the plot is weak and the subject matter becomes distasteful and may border on child exploitation. Sean is supposed to know intimate details of his relationship with Anna and thus demonstrate his authenticity. But Sean was supposed to be a physicist who would have understood concepts that Sean, as a ten-year old, would never have been able to grasp. And yet no one thinks to ask him any questions about physics. And what a coincidence it is that Sean happens to live in the same apartment complex as Anna -- that is just too much. The more likely explanation for the goings-on is that he has a crush on Anna. And what a coincidence it is that he just happens to observe Clara (Anne Hesch) going off to bury the box of letters she planned to give as a gift to Anna but, at the last minute, decides to go and buy something else? It is all too contrived and unbelievable. Then there are the controversial scenes of Anna and Sean in the bath. Anna is in the bath when ten-year-old Sean enters, gets undressed, and gets in the bath gazing longingly at "his wife". Apparently, when the movie was made, at no time were Cameron Bright and Nicole Kidman ever together both naked. But that is not the point. When we watch the movie we are meant to understand that this is the situation. The scene is dripping with sensuality if not actual sex. There is no actual physical contact between the two. But Sean is claiming to be Anna's husband -- and so we have an adult-adult relationship being played by an adult and child. These scenes are obviously meant to be disturbing otherwise they would not be in the movie. We wouldn't be anywhere near as disturbed if there were two adults naked in the bath together. And Anna, at one point, is clearly thinking of sleeping with her boyfriend because she is warned by her mother and sister that it would be illegal. In a day and age when child exploitation and abuse is so rampant and such a problem one has to question the advisability of constructing scenes such as these. I am not saying there is actual child abuse in the movie -- there is not (except, perhaps, for the spanking Sean gets from Joseph). However, I think it is difficult to avoid the fact that these scenes are charged with erotic tension, involving an adult and a child, and that there must have been alternative creative ways of representing the disturbing nature of the experiences of Anna was having. Birth should be given a wide berth and I look forward to Nicole Kidman returning to her former high ground. My Rating: * (out of 5) Content Warning Sexuality Positive Review 'An effective thriller precisely because it is true to the way sophisticated people might behave in this situation. Its characters are not movie creatures, gullible, emotional and quickly moved to tears. They're realists, rich, a little jaded.' - Roger Ebert/Chicago Sun-Times Negative Review 'Too highbrow for the multiplex and too literal for the hipsters, it's unsatisfying both as gothic camp and serious cinema.' - Michael O'Sullivan/Washington Post Related Links

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