Code 46 is a British film from 2003 starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton in a sci-fi love story set in the “near future.” It recently arrived on Amazon Video and the plot synopsis and trailer pulled me in.
In a dystopian future, married fraud investigator William Geld (Tim Robbins) arrives in Shanghai to investigate the forging of papelles, passports that record people’s travel grants and genetics. Geld falls for Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton), the woman creating the forgeries. After a passionate night, Geld covers for Maria. When one of Gonzalez’s customers is found dead, Geld is sent back to Shanghai to complete the investigation and learns Maria is gone because of a “body issue.” He hunts her down and pulls her out of the clinic she’s in.
There were a couple of things I loved about Code 46. The characters in this future world speak in a crazy mix of every language. It’s like Spanglish on steroids. People speak mostly English but there’s a lot of Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese and I don’t even know what else used. A sentence could be in 2 or 3 languages. It sounds crazy but it’s perfectly easy to follow and it makes the world seem to have grown into a big global language slurry.
The other thing I loved most about Code 46 was the bit parts. This was 2003, remember. Nina Sosanya, Archie Panjabi, and Essie Davis all had small parts and a few lines. Kristin Scott Thomas Jeanne Balibar, who played Tim Robbins’ wife, didn’t even get a credit! (*See comments) Seeing these faces pop up on my screen for a few seconds was a delightful part of the film for me.
A code 46 violation refers to a genetic violation. (Thoughts of Orphan Black resonate here.) William and Maria commit one. In this future world, when you do something in violation of the laws of the central government you either have your memory of the event erased and return to your former life, or you are exiled to al fuera (the outside), a vast desert where life is a struggle for survival.
William and Maria commit one such violation by having sex when they first meet. Her memories of it are erased, but when William returns to Shanghai, they are drawn to each other again even though Maria has been programmed to reject him. They commit another violation by running away together after his second visit. When they are found, he is “erased” and returned to his former life. She suffers the worst of fates – she is exiled to the outside but still remembers her love for William.
There were unexpected plot twists in the story, but it was basically a tale of forbidden love. The sci-fi trappings around that were interesting, but not brilliantly so. There were voice-overs throughout by Samantha Morton that only made sense at the very end. Up to that point they were just annoying. The voice overs seemed like a lot to put up with for a brief, but powerful, payoff at the end.
Samantha Morton was luminous in this role, but it was told from William’s point of view. Michael Winterbottom directed based on a script by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Code 46 has a lovely look to it. The cities are as mixed up as the languages. Everything is hazy and muted. If you love sci-fi, you will probably enjoy this film.