In a movie “Birth”, directed by Jonathan Glazer, a young widow from a prominent Manhattan-based family named Anna, played by Nicole Kidman, who slowly becomes convinced that her husband, Sean, who died 10 years previously, has been reincarnated in the form of a 10-year-old boy also named Sean. At first Anna is skeptical, but Sean’s intimate knowledge of their past makes her think twice.
I am watching a lot of movies, but I had never watched “Birth” before the teacher showed it to us during one of the film classes. I even hadn’t heard about it. I was very intrigued before I started watching the movie, because the teacher said that it was one of the most, if not the most Kubrickian movies since Kubrick’s death in 1999. It was two hours later, when I was disappointed about the movie, but it was not Kubrickian style of cinematography, which I was disappointed about, it was a feeling of being cheated about the false “reincarnation”.
“Birth” was not indented to make a furor among thriller movies, it debuted at the 2004 Venice Film Festival and was shown only in 550 theatres all over the world grossing only 23.925.492 in total with the budget of 20.000.000$, which is not a good rate considering the fact that the director is Jonathan Glazer, the director who made “Sexy Beast”, and the main character is played by Nicole Kidman, who needs no introduction.
“Birth” is a good example where all the distribution depends on the main star of the movie (Nicole Kidman). If you look for Birth’s advertising you won’t find even one poster or a print aid without Nicole Kidman on it, her face is also all over the DVD cover. Nicole Kidman is one of the actresses who decided that the best way to maintain her long-term artistic credibility is to alternate big studio productions with lower-budget, edgier movies like “Birthday girl” and “In the cut”. As William Arnold from Seattle Post-Intelligencer Movie Critic writes: “Sometimes this strategy has worked for her (“The Others”), sometimes not (“Dogville”). Her latest slumming expedition, “Birth”, seems likely to fall in the minus column, though her performance in the austere, bound-to-be controversial drams is quite convincing.” Despite the fact that I am a huge movie fan and seeking for new movies all the time I had never heard about “Birth” before the teacher presented it to us in the class. I am pretty sure that, if not Nicole, who is one the main attractions of this movie and whose face is decorating the DVD cover all over the place, this movie would be lying on a dusty shelf in some old DVD store.
“Birth” claims to be a movie about “reincarnation”, but, in fact, it’s not and this is where it cheats on its audience and that is one of the reasons of its failure and bad critic response. I have read a lot of “Birth’s” reviews and a lot of them shared the same point, which I was writing about in my Birth review, which was written 2 weeks ago. Among the most significant reviews, which I have read are:
– “Chicago Sun-Times”, Roger Ebert
– “www.filmcritic. com”, Sean O’Connell
– “Seattle Post-Intelligencer”, William Arnold
Let’s dig deeper and find out why “Birth” is a controversial movie, which has been discussed for a long time and what are good and bad points in it.
Birth can, righteously, be called a thriller, which intriguing and intense beginning is troubled by its boring and questionable ending. A lot of critics have noted that the main disadvantage of this movie is that it pretends to be a movie about reincarnation, Glazer is toying with the idea of reincarnation by showing Sean’s death and child birth in the beginning, which makes the audience 100% sure that the little boy is really Sean’s reincarnation, and then trickily misleads it leaving tons of fundamental questions. Much has been said a lot about Cameron Bright’s performance, who shows no emotions in any of his movies, perfects monotonous, robotic line readings, but nothing else. He states with no real enthusiasm, “I’m Sean”, then waits for everyone to believe him. Bright has one facial expression – sleepy – so he can only carry his role so far. A key is eventually produced to unlock the film’s secrets, but the solution to young Sean’s insistence is laughably preposterous. Either Sean is Anna’s dead husband or he isn’t. By its final frame, Birth manages to avoid deciding on either option. Roger Ebert from “Chicago Sun-Times” says: “ The movie goes deep and then it takes a turn and takes a turn, and leaves us asking fundamental questions.” Glazer is falling over himself, trying to convince the audience that the little boy is Sean’s reincarnation and then completely misleads the audience.
Most of the critics have been praising “Birth’s” Kubrickian cinematography style. “Birth” is a dark, brooding film, with lots of kettledrums and ominous violins”, – that’s how Roger Ebert describes “Birth”, which, perhaps, has been the most Kubrickian movie since Kubrick’s death. A lot of critics draw parallels with “Rosemary’s Baby” referring to Kidman’s haircut and the similarity of the apartment locations. Shot in grey, black, green and white tones “Birth” brings the mood of disparity and depicts the grief of the main characters very well. The cinematography is beautiful and remarkable, a close-up of Kidman’s face for a full three minutes during the opera performance, is considered by critics to be one of the best and key shots in the whole movie, as the main heroine starts to, firmly, believe that the little boy is her ex-husbands’ reincarnation.
The story is intriguing in the beginning, but loses its logical thread in the end and leaves lots of significant and important questions by giving very doubtful answers. The audience, desperately, demands for the reasonable denouement, but, unfortunately, “Birth” provides the audience with no reasonable explanation to why 10-year-old boy knew so much about Anna’s life and manages to ignore the most significant question “What was the boy’s motivation in pretending to be Anna’s ex-husband’s reincarnation?!”
Sean O’Connell from FilmCritics wrote: “A plodding and pretentious thriller, this beyond-the-grave affair ends up being too art-house for the mainstream crowd and too mainstream for the art-house crowd.”