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flick pick | Code 46 2004
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Starring: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton
Look for it at the video store under: sci-fi, drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, lovey
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis On a futuristic planet Earth, where cloning and donor-assisted in-vitro fertilization have become standard modes for reproduction, the government has enacted a set of laws to prevent folks who share too similar a genetic identity from conceiving a child. The laws are referred to as Code 46 (46 being the number of chromosomes in a human cell) and are strictly policed. All pregnancies resulting from a Code 46 violation must be terminated. Inadvertent violators are forced to go through a procedure in which their memories of the Code 46-related events are selectively erased. Anyone who dares to commit a Code 46 violation consciously, on the other hand, is guilty of a criminal act. When William [Tim Robbins] goes to Shanghai, he has no intention of falling in love; he already has a loving wife and beautiful son back home, and Shanghai is supposed to just be a routine business trip. There's a major agency in Shanghai that's responsible for getting people the papelles they need to travel from one area of the world to the next; they've been having a problem with forged papers, and they're sure it's an inside job. They need William to have a one-on-one with each of their employees and find the culprit. William, you see, has a talent for understanding people; with the aid of an empathy virus, he has the amazing ability to read people's minds. In the course of his interviews, William discovers that the forger is a woman named Maria Gonzalez [Samantha Morton]. Maria is young, vibrant, mysterious, intriguing, and without completing understanding why, William lies to the company and points the finger at some other guy. United now in their duplicity, William and Maria have an excuse to pursue their inexplicable attraction to one another; both are clueless that Maria is a genetic match to William's mother. Their one-night stand becomes a whole lot more complicated when William's company discovers he's accused the wrong guy, and William is ordered back to Shanghai to right his mistake.

Review Watch Code 46 and you enter another world. It's like this world, but somehow not quite. Blues are a little too blue, reds a little too red; people talk like in a dream, where the words mostly seem to be English, but still it's hard to make sense of what it all means (you soon realize it's because it's not actually 100% English; the film imagines that the language of the future is a lovely hybrid of English and Spanish, some French, a bit of Chinese). Unlike most sci-fi tales, Code 46 doesn't spend a whole lot of time explaining how things work in this futuristic society; it drops words like papelles into the story without much explanation of what papelles actually are, and just expects that viewers will be smart enough to figure things out as the story goes along. The movie doesn't dwell on all the neat innovations in its vision of the future; like its characters, it just takes them for granted. This has the very cool effect of dumping you directly into the world of Code 46 -- provided you're patient enough to muddle through the initial disorientation and let yourself slowly get acclimatized. Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton are, as always, excellent in their roles (he's understated and reserved; she's earthily sexy), and Winterbottom creates a swooningly lush, lovey ambience for their love story to play out. True, Code 46 is a little hard to get into at first, and it's never entirely clear why William and Maria are so crazy in love (but then again, love isn't always rational, is it?) But for those who like their sci-fi with a good heaping dose of originality, thoughtfulness, and emotional resonance, Code 46 just might have what you're looking for.—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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