(2004) director Jonathan Glazer
Last month, I read an article on the Guardian’s website in which critic David Thompson listed 10 under-appreciated or “lost” films of genius. And sure enough, I’d seen none of them. And almost equally assuredly enough, not many of them were even available from Netflix. One of the two that was, the most recently produced of these “lost” films, was Jonathan Glazer’s 2004 film Birth, starring Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Anne Heche, and Cameron Bright. Thompson’s emphatic feelings about this film (which I only vaguely at the most even recalled) urged me to queue it up for viewing.
It’s a strange story. The film opens with the figure of a jogger, running through a snowy Central Park. We never really see his face, just track him as he moves across the landscape. As he enters a tunnel, just a silhouette, he collapses and dies. The next moment, we are shown a newborn, emerging into the world.
Ten years later, Nicole Kidman’s Anna is about to marry Danny Huston. It’s been ten years since the death of her husband Sean, and she’s finally relented to marry her long-time boyfriend. But at a party for her mother’s birthday, an extremely serious 10-year old boy shows up, pulls her aside, and tells her that he is Sean, her Sean, reincarnated.
Slow-moving chaos ensues.
Actually, when I first read the description of the narrative, I almost imagined a romantic comedy of the Sandra Bullock ilk. The film is, however, very grim, very dark, and very serious. Glazer takes the outlandish premise and plays it out with as much realism as possible, as in, “what if this crazy thing really happened?”
Glazer, whose 2000 film Sexy Beast had been quite the intense experience, paints a moody, disturbing picture in Birth. Not to give away any of the film’s twists and mysteries, I won’t try to delve into the way the story unfolds, but I will say that I probably agree with some of the film’s critics of the time of its release in suggesting that there are some implausible elements to some of the film’s core emotional elements and that some of what plays out in the film’s narrative, that further twist and enlighten the story, muddle the feeling of understanding and believability.
That said, the film ends with what might be considered a very “European” sensibility, an open-ended scene, which leans more heavily on tonality than finality. I give Birth credit. It’s interesting, challenging, and evocative. But I don’t know that I agree entirely with Thompson of its ultimate qualities of greatness, elusive and debatable thing that that is.