Writer: Frank Cottrel Boyce
Stars: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Om Puri
CAN LOVE BE DETERMINED? : FATE OR GENES
Science fiction films aim at representing how the world will be like in the future concerning with technology, medicine, and social and cultural life or ethical values. We usually see science fiction mixed with other genres such as romance, western or thriller. On the other hand, the most interesting and crucial thing in science fiction films is that they usually carry some social or ideological messages in itself and try to represent it to the viewer by using different metaphors such as placing an ‘other figure’ in the story. The 2003 Michael Winterbottom film Code 46 is a great example of science fiction films in which the spectator can find some references to how the future is going to be like, how people and their life style change and how the ethical values change. In this paper, I am going to analyze the main concerns of Code 46 in by emphasizing why they are put in that film. Firstly, I am going to analyze how the future represented in the film. Then, I will try to focus on some post-modernist elements included in the mise-en-scene and also plot. I will also explain why these elements are post modernist and why they are in the film. I will also look closely to the other figures in Code 46, how these figures are presented to the audience through acting, setting and costumes. As the second part of my paper, I will look at the film from a different angle which mostly focuses on the messages given by the film. First of all, I will give some brief accounts on who is Oedipus in Greek mythology, what is Oedipus complex, how it is related with incestuous relationships. Then, I am going to relate them with the film by emphasizing why these theories put in this film.
Although it is not given directly, since we watch Code 46 as a science fiction film, we get the sense that the film takes place in some time in the future. From the start of the movie, the spectator feels that the future represented in the film is not so far. We are represented a lot of parallel things with our own time that we immediately get the notion that all the things in the future are based on present. Actually, whole film gives its concerns indirectly. Time is one of them and the other is space. We are presented some city names like Seattle, Shanghai and Jabel Ali but we never actually understand where we are through the imagery. There is a long take at the beginning of the film which shows us the environment. It is a desert-like city because we hardly see any plant throughout the long take. After that, we learn the city depicted through the long take is Shanghai. Normally, in today Shanghai has a humid subtropical climate. So, in the near future, we will see the consequences of the global warming kind of message are given to the audience. Actually, this is much underlined in film. We are always confronted with a foggy and toxic kind of atmosphere throughout the movie (00:05:25). Most of the science fiction films give this kind of representation of the world such as Blade Runner. Besides this kind of depiction of atmosphere, in Code 46, the spectator directly learns that the people in Shanghai cannot go outside in day time because of the harmful sunlight. It is obviously a direct reference to the ozone layer depletion. The scene in which Maria wakes up at night and the sun raises artificially by the computer gives this notion very well (00:05:37).
The viewers of science fiction films are accustomed to see the future full of advances in transportation and life standard like in Blade Runner we see people use flying car-like vehicles for transportation. Contrary to this common notion, in Code 46, we see things in the world so much similar to today that may be at first we can doubt that they are in the future. We see highways, bridges and heavy equipments used in the future as in today (00:04:22). We expect something like teleported system in the future whereas we see in the film that they travel with regular planes. The cars used in the film are also the models we use today. Ironically some of them are considered as old fashioned even today. The interiors are not so advanced or extraordinary. The elevator they use has no advanced changes (00:22:42). The fingerprint technology used in the film is something we use even today. Even the game William plays in the hotel is a different version of Wii we play today (00:05:16).
So far, I talked about the similarities and parallels between the future and today represented in the film. Now, I want to talk about some differences. As I said before, most of the differences are not in accordance with technology whereas they are in the domain of medicine and intervention of human mind. From the start we see a separation and border problem in which some people cannot go inside the cities. The cross border travel is not easy today too but apparently because of different reasons. The problem represented in the film is because of health and wealth conditions. The people who cannot cross the borders and live outside are depicted as poor and unhealthy (00:03:20). So, we can infer that health will be the reason of discrimination in the future. We also see the differences in accordance with medicine as the instances of advancements in genetics. In the opening scene of the movie, the definition of Code 46 is directly given by the intertitles to the audiences. It has a lot of meanings. First of all, we understand that the film is named because of this Code 46, a rule of an authoritative government. The spectator immediately understands that in the film there is going to be some instances of this Code 46. It also gives other clues about the time day live in which can also be a reference that they live in future. First of all we understand that cloning and embryo splitting is possible for humans, which is not possible today so we get the sense of future, and this possibility may lead some unintentional consequences like genetically incestuous reproduction which should be avoided. The rule, clearly, forbid genetically incestuous relationships by laws which show that the government is an authoritative one. This also brings some ethical questions to the minds which I will try to enlighten later.
Another interesting point in the film is given to the audience at the very beginning of the film. Before I explain this point, I want to give a brief definition of post modernism and its instances. Post modernism is a contemporary movement in which there is seen hardly any objective truths, reliable authoritative figures and valid inherited cultural or social phenomenon. Basically, post modernists argue that culture and values are created in specific social structure so they are valid for certain time and space. That is why post modernist view is not belonging to any period, any tradition, any culture or any ideology. We see some instances of this movement in Code 46. First of all, from the start we are given the names of the actors and the film also in different languages. The characters in the film are also represented as belonging to different races. The spectator constantly sees some Arabs, Asian people, but also English and American characters. That is one reason why the viewer easily understands which country the film took place. Another reason is that the director constantly presents different parts of different cities like Dubai and Shanghai as a one unified city. So, the spectator is totally losing the sense of a defined city or ethnicity in the film. Another instance of this is that characters constantly use some words from different languages. They sometimes says hello in Chinese as Ni hao (00:06:30), they use the word papelle instead of passport, the woman William talks in the Sphinx says una cosa instead of saying it in English (00:10:23) and William’s wife says to him I love you in Italian (00:59:40). These are some examples but there are a lot of usages of different languages in the film. Obviously, the mixture of ethnicity and language is an instance of the probable post modernist society in the future in which there will be no nationalist concerns. The cross border problem is also not about the nationality you belong as in today. We also see other instances of post modernity in the film such as the consumerist society. Consumerism is the dominant social behavior of post modernist society as a mean of late capitalism which is the phase of capitalism after the World War II. In science fiction films like Blade Runner, we see some instances of late capitalism as advertisements which are the dominant structure of the cities. This is also the case in Code 46. We see streets full of shiny and huge advertisements. Moreover these advertisements are also belonging to different nations and languages. Like in the scene when William walks in the streets of Shanghai, we see a lot of Chinese advertisements and also Mc Donald among these in the background (00:59:01).
So, all the differences are tried to blur in the film except the outsider and insider difference. People want to live in the cities which are controlled. One main reason both for their desire to go in and the rejection of the government to take them in is health conditions. It is really weird that instead of curing those people, they ignore them and try to develop systems not to take them inside. It is weird because as it is seen, they should have an advanced medical system. Maria helps Damian to go inside the city by giving him a fake papelle in front of William. In that scene, William says that there is a good reason if you cannot take a cover because Sphinx knows the best. Later on, we understand that Damian cannot get the cover legally because he has a disease. Sphinx knows this but what it did is to ignore him not trying to cure him. This is shown as the best which is very weird (00:19:45). We understand this difference clearly when Maria and William go to Jabel Ali. Normally, at the start of the film, the people who can get the papelle to live in the cities are shown as the lucky and also belong to upper class. However, in the Jabel Ali, we see a city much more like today. The depiction of suburbs and the people are like the time had not passed. People of Jabel Ali are portrayed as friendly and helpful without concerning where they come from or whether they have papelle or not (01:10:40).
Since there is this sense of insider and outsider in the film, there is of course the representation of the other too. From the insiders’ point of view, the outsiders are obviously the others. Both the places they live like suburbs, their costumes which are torn, old and dirty and their life standards like jobs as peddlers and cars they use as old fashioned and they even use coaches in Jabel Ali are put them in the eyes of the viewers as others. The interesting thing is from the start William does not see them as being others. The scene in which William talks to Nabil, we see him very friendly. This is the clue for the viewer given at first that when William learns that Maria was an outsider once and also helps outsiders to go in illegally, he will not see Maria as the other both concerning with being an outsider and being a criminal. Actually William will help Nabil by stealing a fake papelle from Maria after (00:27:30). Of course this attitude makes William the other too. Since his job is to catch the frauds by intuition, he is expected to be in a very different way like his boss warns him a lot of time throughout the movie.
Because the thing considered as normal in Shanghai is not to violate the code 46, which is very apparent in the laboratory scene when the couple are tested genetically in order to marry (00:56:52), Maria and William are the other as a couple because Maria is genetically identical to William’s mother. On the other hand, in the film something else is emphasized by using the otherness. As a couple, they are welcomed in Jabel Ali in which there is no inquiry about papelle or genetic inheritance (01:10:40). But they apparently have seen as the ultimate other in Shanghai. So, I think the director wants to put some question marks in the spectators’ minds about the definition of the other. How we can determine the other is a post modernist way of thinking again, I think. Since there is no global cultural measures, how we can label someone as the other in a society.
As I mentioned before, there are some elements in the film which makes the viewer feel that the film takes place in some time in the future. Cloning humans legally is the basic one but there are some other pinpoints too. The scene in which William reads the mind of the girl who works in Sphinx is the first surprising part of the film (00:08:13). After this scene, we understand that there are some power used for controlling people mentally in the future but still we do not know what it is. Actually, this is directly explained by William himself in later scenes. William clearly explains it to Maria when they are in the bar (00:18:03). Empathy virus is injected to some people to make them able to read another’s thoughts. They can do this by knowing only one random thing about others. This really seems to us weird because it seems impossible nowadays. Moreover, everybody dreams about this once in his life. On the other hand, I think throughout the film there are some implications which are really not so ethical in use like this one. Actually, William often uses this ability for his own benefits such as surprising people to let him go in without permission. William also uses his ability when he learns about Maria’s pregnancy and violation of code 46 through reading the officer’s mind in the hospital (00:43:28).
Another important and different thing from today is obviously the memory book of Maria (00:24:46). She has used this book since she was a child. She transfers her memories to that book through her finger print. This is important because there is another implication done by government which also seems as belonging to the future. The government is able to erase someone else’s parts of memories through medical advances. In the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry, which is also a science fiction film mixed with romance, the whole plot depends on the theme of erasing memories but by the choice of individuals. The different thing in Code 46 is that erasing memory as applied by the government without permission. Moreover, the person whose memories are erased is not conscious about this implication. The government uses it to erase the memories about the relationships and other things belonging to that relationship which violates code 46. Obviously, this is also a violation of individual privacy and about the control of human mind and thoughts. As we have seen, all the advances used in the future is about dominating and controlling the mind and thoughts. The memory book is important because of this reason. Later in the movie, we see that William shows the memory book to Maria in order to make her remember him. However, at the end of the movie, when William’s memories are erased after the accident, he completely forgets about Maria and returns to his happy life before her.
As the second part of my paper as I have mentioned above from now on I want to give some brief explanations of theories and myths which I will refer while analyzing Code 46. First one is Oedipus from Greek Mythology. Because his father is cursed, Oedipus will kill his father. His father let him to die in the forest but he is adopted by another king and never knows who his real father is. When he learned that he is adopted he went to Delphic Oracle to find out his real parents but he learned something else. He is cursed to kill his father and marry his mother. On the road of returning home, he fought with the driver of a chariot and killed him. Actually he was Oedipus’ real father. Then, on the road he encounters with Sphinx, which is a very important metaphor in the film. Sphinx is a mythological creature with haunches of a lion, wings of a great bird and the face and breast of a woman. Sphinx was asking riddles to people and killed the ones who could not solve them. Oedipus solved the riddle and sphinx killed himself. After that the people make Oedipus the king by making him marry the queen who is actually the real mother of Oedipus. After he learned this, he became blind beggar by carving his own eyes. Freud’s theory of Oedipus complex is named as such because of this myth. Freud basically argues that in the oedipal phase which is between the age of three and five, there are some unconscious ideas and desires to eliminate the parent of the same sex and possess the parent of the opposite sex. The important part of this is that we do this unconsciously so there is no way of escaping this. In the first times of his theory, Freud concentrated on male children choosing their mothers as first libidinal figures. But of course this theory leads some controversial issues like incestuous relationships. Incestuous relationships are generally seen as sexual relations between close relatives and it is really seen as ethically vicious. It also has some psychological consequences on people who are in that relationship such as emotional disorders, sexual dysfunction or low self-esteem.
So far, I give some general knowledge to understand the film better. Of course, these are deeper issues but I only give some parts of them which I will use for analyzing the film. First of all Code 46 is a romance in which the control of love is impossible even though the control of mind and body is possible by exterior factors like government. From the first scene in which Maria and William come across, the viewer get the sense that there is going to be an emotional relation between them (00:07:15). Actually, Maria is not a classic sexy, attractive and beautiful girl. Still, among all those people she attracted William’s interest from the first sight. The second confrontation in which William was questioning her, the attraction between them is obvious even though William understands intuitively through the help of empathy virus that Maria is the fraud who prepares fake papelles for outsiders (00:12:51). The clues of Oedipus complex is obviously not apparent to the viewers until they learn that Maria is genetically identical with William’s mother but I will explain the instances by supposing that we know it from the first. The first step of Oedipus complex is the desire of the male child to possess the parent from the opposite sex. In the film, we see William as following Maria up to the train (00:13:51). There are other scenes in which the spectator gets the feeling about William’s interest toward Maria. For example, the scene in which Maria tells William how she prepares fake papelles, the director uses point of view shot to make us see Maria from the eyes of William. Although his job is to identify the fraud, he sees Maria in a way attractive and sympathetic. In the club, the director uses the point of view shot again for the same reason but this time we are convinced that William finds Maria as sexually attractive too. The camera makes us focus on Maria’s breasts, hips and lips like William does (00:21:24). Even their first love making represents the unconscious part of Oedipus complex because Maria and William did not know about their genetic relation. One thing is important in that lovemaking scene. Although they are preparing to make love, the way Maria takes William’s shoes off is just like a mother taking her son’s shoes off full of compassion (00:29:15).
Before the controversial part of the film in which they become conscious about their incestuous relationship, I want to explain the metaphor used delicately in the film. The name of the company in which Maria is a worker is Sphinx. As I mentioned above, Sphinx is a mythological creature. In the film, the motto of the company is Sphinx knows the best as the symbol of an authoritative system. They tried to control the possible incestuous reproduction by code 46 and they also tried to control the papelles people have to enter the city. So, as I have mentioned above, the people who cannot answer Sphinx’s tricky questions will suffer a bad fate, mostly death. In the end of the film, we see Maria as a beggar since she frauds the company and William returns to his happy life because he gives the name of Maria to the company.
We can take the part in which William learns Maria is pregnant and her pregnancy is a violation of code 46 as the second part of the film. This is because after this part, they become conscious about their incestuous relationship. Whole film, actually tries to stress the notion that genetic resemblance necessitates being totally identical. This message is given by code 46 directly at the start of the movie and later on we see that the fate of the people also bounds to their genetic identity. In the laboratory scene the couple gets some genetic tests in order to find out whether they can marry or not (00:56:46). The purpose of that laboratory is to compare the genetic code of two people and decide whether they can marry or not. Certainly from this reason that scene is very important for the message the film wants to stress. Through the tests, William learns that Maria is genetically identical to his mother and any relationship with her will be the violation of code 46. However, the laboratory assistant who says this also ironically says that it is not the same thing as being genetically identical and the same person. The diet, climate, environment, accidents and even God can change us. We are not the slaves of our genes. There is a thing called fate. Otherwise, we will be completely determined. By the way, it is also ironic that the government who make cloning legal forbids the genetically incestuous relations since they create countless opportunity to these kinds of relations by making cloning legal and unaware of close relatives.
Since the definition of being a human necessitates being emotional, it is impossible to give up the love just because it is forbidden by laws. From now on, the spectator watches a film in which the romance part is more dominant. William returns to Maria even though he knows it is a violation of code 46 and he has a family (01:08:24). Apparently, he also does not think that genes are the only identifiers of us. He is in love with Maria whether this love is appropriate or not. The question about whether this really counts as an incest relationship is worth to ask at this point, I think. Apparently, Maria has no bounds other than genes with William’s mother. At least, there is no reminder of this to us throughout the film.
The love between them is so powerful that although Maria is injected with a virus which makes her a somnambulist state after she had genetically incestuous relationship and makes her inform the government about this relationship. This virus also controls her body in a way that she rejects the body of person from the same genetic code (00:49:03). After learning all those things done to Maria without permission and when she is in an unconscious state, the spectator really questions what should they consider as vicious. It seems that the government’s attitudes towards individuals are more vicious than having a genetically incestuous relationship since it is not literally an incest relationship at all.
Maria insists on making love with William although she feels pain because of the virus. Still, we see the pleasure mixed with bodily pain in her face (01:13:26) and it is a really very impressive scene. It summarizes the whole movie. There is a thing called fate and human beings are not totally determined by their genes. That is why, although they erase Maria’s memories about William, she falls in love with him again. This is not about genes, it is all about feelings and Code 46 reflects this message effectively. The overcome of Oedipus complex which is normally done by super ego in male children made by the government in the film by erasing William’s memories after the accident (01:20:55). He returns to his old and happy life with his family. But, since Maria frauds the company, she is expatriated and becomes an outsider that is why they do not make anything to her memories. The outsiders are ignored; it is not important what they think anymore. So, maybe the real lucky ones who are led to live their fate are the outsiders.