2004Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall
o doubt you heard the outraged cries long before the premiere of this one. The hype surrounding Jonathan Glazer’s Birth has drawn the ire of reactionary babies everywhere. Accusations of child pornography and abuse or, at the very least, poor taste abound thanks to a now infamous bathtub scene which even got the cast booed at Sundance for their complicity in the corruption of a minor. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this one ever since seeing Birth last night. All I can tell you is this: if you’re looking for an outrageous controversy, Birth is sure to disappoint. Fortunately, this turns out to be the only disappointing aspect of an otherwise utterly remarkable film.
Birth’s premise sounds almost laughably implausible. Ten years after the death of her husband, Anna (Nicole Kidman) prepares to remarry despite feeling that she has never truly overcome her grief. During a party thrown for her mother, a ten-year old boy named Sean (Cameron Bright) shows up on Anna’s doorstep claiming to be the reincarnation of her dead husband, who is also named Sean.
Sounds absurd, right? But somehow Glazer manages to turn a premise that seems patently ridiculous into something sublimely moving. His use of stillness and silence and an amazing symphonic score will (and has) invoke unavoidable comparisons to Kubrick. (And rightfully so in this reviewer’s humble opinion.) It’s hard to imagine that this is the same director that brought us Sexy Beast, but as operatic as Beast’s violence was, Birth is every bit as operatic as a heartbreakingly doomed love story.
I see dead people.
And Glazer’s direction is only half the magic here. Nicole Kidman is outstanding, at turns powerfully restrained and then almost evangelically wild in her belief that this little boy is the love of her life returned from beyond to claim his wife and stop her re-marriage. And Cameron Bright is completely mesmerizing as Sean, frightening in his eerie, calm intensity, as if an adult really is peering out from behind those spooky, logical eyes.
There are so many scenes that, as stand-alone pieces, are the stuff iconic imagery is made of. There are moments in this film that I can see becoming defining moments, not just in Birth, but in the history of cinema. For example, when Anna confronts Sean and his parents, asking him to leave her alone, Sean simply stares in numb despair at her form retreating down a long hallway before finally collapsing. But the real crowning jewel of Birth is the scene where an emotionally rattled Anna attends the symphony with her fiancé Joseph (played by Danny Huston, who is also brilliant in his seething jealousy). Kidman, in close-up, seems to cycle through the entire spectrum of human emotion while barely moving a muscle. It’s a breathtaking moment that seems to last an eternity, which brings me to an important point…
"I didn't want to like you, but at least you're taller than that Cruise fellow she used to go with..."
Birth apparently isn’t a movie for everyone. The pacing is meditative in its slowness, and shots seem to linger forever, sometimes in total silence. The overall effect is so compelling as to be almost narcotic, but in those frozen moments of perfection, the theater was practically day-lit by a constellation of tiny blue LED screens as people furiously checked up on their missed cell-phone calls. So, seriously, if you can’t sit still and shut up for the length of a feature film, then stay the hell away, because you are so killing my buzz.
So, there you have it. A serene, autumnal, rich and emotional film, Birth will not scandalize you, contrary to the hysterical braying that surrounds it, and despite its twists don’t expect a big M. Night Shamalyan payoff. Instead Birth will quietly implore you to imagine the impossible and to question just how boundless is boundless love. And it will do it gorgeously.
By: Jen Cameron
Published on: 2004-11-10