Cyberpunk Review » Code 46

February 3, 2007

Code 46

Movie Review By: SFAM

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • William Geld: Tim Robbins
  • Maria Gonzales: Samantha Morton
  • Rating: 6 out of 10

    Code 46 Screen Capture


    Overview: Code 46 is a movie that generates significant disagreement on ratings. The pacing is glacially slow, but there are enough interesting ideas that many viewers will really dig the final product. Viruses as transhuman upgrades, memory removal, and problems brought on by mass cloning all are mashed together to give an interesting, but somewhat incoherent view of a near-term dystopic future. The cinematography is interesting, and the story itself may end up working well enough for some to enjoy the final product.


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    The Setting: Code 46 takes place in a non-specific near future, where overpopulation and degradation of the earth have led to a situation where cities have become protected entities. The population is now divided into those living in the outside and those citizens who have rights to live within. Each city has restricted access – a person is required to have “papelles” (a valid passport/visa) to enter. For some reason, even though there is massive overpopulation, cloning has been used in an overabundant fashion. There is even a law, Code 46, which restricts the relations between those who are genetically similar. Viruses have been genetically engineered to allow new capabilities for people, but also have become so deadly that people must have a valid insurance policy to stay in the city.


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    The Story: William Geld, played by Time Robbins, is an insurance investigator imbued with an empathy virus, who’s been tasked to track down a forged papelle ring in Shanghai. Shortly after arriving, William quickly determines that the guilty party is a worker named Maria Gonzales (Samantha Morton), but he doesn’t turn her in. For some reason, even though he is happily married, he is strangely attracted to Maria, so he falsely implicates someone else. After following her home, Maria and William become fall for one another. William leaves the next day for home, but is brought back a few weeks later when the forged papelles continue to be produced. He decides to turn Maria in, but she has left. After investigating, he finds that she had incurred a code 46 violation. William fears that he is the genetically similar party and sets off to find her.


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    The Acting: Director Michael Winterbottom seems to be going for a Lost in Translation type vibe, but this feel doesn’t really work very well. The leads both turn in believable performances, but something is missing. While the world certainly has an alienated feel, there’s never a sense that the chemistry William and Samantha is strong enough to support a “genetic attraction.” It’s all cerebral. Unfortunately, with the rediculously slow pacing of the movie, this merely adds disconnectedness with the audience.


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    Viruses as Genetic Upgrades: In Code 46, custom made viruses are used for short to long term sensory upgrades. William has an “empathy” virus which allows him to read people’s thoughts. Other viruses allow skills to be developed. The weird thing about the use of viruses as an idea for genetic manipulation is that it causes all sorts of dangerous linkages. For instance, viruses can be passed on, and worse, can change over time. This, I think, is why insurance may play such a large role in Code 46, and why the cities are cordoned off (again, this isn’t really explored all that well). It does make you wonder though, how exactly will genetic manipulation be used in the future? If we are to look for transhuman-like upgrades, are we going to be purchasing an ensemble of cocktail viruses?


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    Futuristic Low-budget Worldbuilding: Without a large budget, and the absence of CG, director Winterbottom struggles to make his world look futuristic. Mostly based on locations, Winterbottom also emphasizes pastel florescent shades to indicate futurism. Pastel florescent pinks, greens, and blue tones are used in most of the otherwise normal looking city scenes. The outside world is mostly desert, apparently brought on by the effects of global warming, whereas the people all dress like they’re in New Dehli. The night scenes are generally neon shots of Shanghai, which sort of fit in the cyberpunk, near-future genre. Still, there are glaring problems which break suspension of disbelief, where the futuristic world looks identical in most places. The most obvious one deals with the liberal use of modern day cars - apparently the auto industry got laid off after 2003. A cheap solution would have been to jimmy up a few futuristic fiberglass bodies to stick on-top of a jeep or VW, but instead, we are almost left with an alternate view of the present.


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    Cyberpunk Tower of Babel – the Creole Merging of Languages: In Code 46, English seems to be the only language used, but it has been “creoled” in that many of the words have been replaced with words from other languages. Boy and girl is now chico and chica; paper is now papelle; hello has been transformed to “meehow”; discontinued is now discontinuago. The cool part about this is how naturally the actors work the word changes into the dialogue. The problematic part of this is that within 50 years or less, the world (even if only the industrial parts) would transform into a single language. If there even is a trend toward this, I think we’d be looking more like 300-500 years for a place like Shanghai to do away with their native Chinese. The more interesting question this raises though is the issue of whether the human race is moving toward a reverse Tower of Babel, or whether the local cultures will become more entrenched as a defense against a globalized language and culture. The world is getting smaller all the time – the implications of this are far from understood right now.


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    Cyberpunk Oedipus Complex: Harkening back to Freud, Code 46 explores the issue of a man in love with his mother. In Code 46, this connection is so strong that it exists even when the relationship itself is not known to the participants. Personally, I never bought into anything as generalized as Freud’s Oedipus complex, and I don’t know that it works all that well here. But the genetic/cloning slant to this question certainly raises some interesting thoughts. Still, with the advent of overpopulation, its hard to see why people would resort to making an abundance of clones. Perhaps for nefarious thoughts such as body replacement parts, but it would be a stretch for an overpopulated world to create massive versions of the same person. Based on the huge insurance slant in Code 46, we might assume it had something to do with contaminated bodies, but like so many other aspects of this future world, this is never really explained.


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    Removal of Memories: The idea of memory modification and their removal has been explored in other movies (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for instance), but the general question is probably similar. Are memories discrete entities that can be targeted and wiped out, or is something more organic going on? Also, if your spouse cheats on you, will a future option for conflict resolution be to simply have the memories of the offending person and the deed itself removed? If so, would you still think your spouse cheated?


    Code 46 Screen Capture


    The Bottom Line: Although the plot runs at a glacial pace, and the chemistry between the actors is stilted at best, the inclusion of interesting thoughts, however haphazard, potentially make Code 46 worth a watch. I would have liked to see a bit more clarity on the basis for the technology selections, and definitely would have liked to see more emotive chemistry between the leads. The “Lost in Translation” vibe just doesn’t work here all that well. Bottom line, if you’re someone who doesn’t mind watching interesting looking paint dry, you might end up liking Code 46.


    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under Utopia Surrounded by Poverty, Memory Modification, Dystopic Future Movies, 6 Star Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 - 2009 by SFAM.


    February 3, 2007

    Com Wedge said:

    I actually have a copy of the EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for Code 46 - which is used to sell the film to distributors. In it the actors seem really uninterested in this film and it does somewhat appear that way on screen. It does though seem that this is what the director was trying to portrait. Another bleak view of the future this time, however, achieving it through bleak acting. The problem is for me that the story while somewhat interesting does not take you anywhere. All of the conclusions are not surprising. I remember seeing Wonderland by the same director and being equally disappointed. I agree with SFAM 6 stars.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Com Wedge, Cool - where do you get ahold of those? BTW, I’da been happy even if they’d just tightened up on the coherency of the world. In addition to the actors not really “getting it” assuming this was the issue, the world itself was out of focus. Yeah, the ideas were interesting, but it almost seemed like this thing needed another couple drafts on the script prior to shooting.

    February 4, 2007

    Case said:

    I couldn’t agree more. Interesting ideas, but, as with all Winterbottom films, dreadfully dull. Naturally, I think I’d rate this a tad lower…

    SFAM said:

    Hi Case. I could have easily rated this thing anywhere from 4 to 6 stars, but I went for 6 mostly because it had enough interesting ideas to at least give me something to write about. And also, the gratiutous nudity shot does help in truly boring movies. :)

    February 5, 2007

    Com Wedge said:

    Hey SFAM. I get the tapes sometimes sent directly from the distributor or pick them up (As I did in this case) from a place called reverse garbage in Sydney. They have old theatre and film sets you can buy there too. Pretty cool. I worked on Star Wars Episaode II and they threw litterally everything in the garbage it kinda sucked to see the set you were on the day before sitting in a giant bin :|

    I think also the film makers here for Code 46 were possibly trying to emulate parts of 2046 by Wong Kar Wai. Hence the name. As always the western version of Eastern films suck rule applies methinks.


    SFAM said:

    Hi Com Wedge - no kidding. Western films imitating Eastern films do truly suck usually. And wow, that musta been fun working on Episode II. Any fun stories from that?

    February 10, 2007

    Com Wedge said:

    Ah yeah a few. I was a featured extra and missed one cue and the 1st AD got very pissed! The director (George) I don’t think cared either way because he knew he could digitally recreate the scene any way he wanted.

    The fight director I’m working with at the moment played about 5 characters in Stars 2 and 3 (For the fans that know him it’s Kyle Rowling) He had trained Ewan and Hayden for the fight scene in the end of Ep 3 for three weeks and the Lucas comes along and said but I don’t want it this way! Lol they argued for a further 3 weeks and Lucas ended it with “I’m gonna make the film my way!”

    What can you say to that? Probably that you’re an idiot George and start listening to people who might have a clue. Though my experience of George was fun others find him to be an obnoxious knob :)

    February 10, 2009

    jimiyo said:

    I actually enjoyed the movie despite it’s dismal ending. I like it that way.

    April 19, 2010

    l1zrdking said:

    I really enjoyed this movie, the story was pretty compelling, the ONLY thing I would like to have seen changed, the addition of more tech.

    May 7, 2010

    Gillian Seed said:

    This movie was all eye-candy, and no substance, but the eye-candy aspect at least makes it worth a cheap rental/midnight HBO binge.

    August 4, 2010

    Teri Pettit said:

    I liked this movie quite a lot, but then, I much prefer relaxed pacing and quiet staging. I tend to avert my eyes and cover my ears whenever a movie gets loud and fast. To my tastes, Minority Report would have been infinitely better without the chase scenes.

    About the only criticism I agree with is that some of the premises seem contradictory or implausible. The movie could have done more to help the viewer understand or at least suspend their disbelief on such premises. Other reviewers have mentioned the oddity of widespread mass cloning in an overpopulated world. Another question that bothered me was wondering why they couldn’t simply generate a virus that made genetically similarly individuals be cross-sterile. Seems it would be much easier to bioengineer selective birth control than to induce a compulsion to report the union to authorities.

    Still, the mood appealed to me so much that I could overlook the implausibilities and drift with the dreamlike flow. I only wish it had been based on a novel, so that there would be something to read and acquire the missing background detail.

    August 31, 2010

    Anonymous said:

    the image of the beast was unleashed on me i know what it is now revelation 13:15 it will be in everything electronic i live in the bible land and they dont even believe in the bible anymore.its a sad day when the bible belt dont believe in it anymore.

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