However, it does contain the single most shocking scene that I have ever seen in a film of any type ; in fact make that the 2 most shocking scenes. Why not make a follow-up where some 10 year-old girl snogs a man in his 30s ? ; and shares a bath with him.
Anna's relationship with Joseph is a breakthrough in and of itself - her husband, Sean, died ten years previously, and grieving has been slow and torturous. Her moving on is a quasi-festivity for her family. But this new sense of self is thrown completely out of whack when a little boy, also named Sean (Cameron Bright), pops in out of nowhere claiming to be her dead husband, reincarnated as a prepubescent.
Of course, such a claim seems, at first, preposterous. But when Sean begins spewing out information to Anna that rings as unsettlingly intimate, she begins to lose sight of a clear psychological state, really and truly believing that this ten-year-old is Sean, harming her relationship with her fiancee and her family in the process. The aforementioned stunner of a scene is the most convincing example of unspoken mental ruin I've ever seen; in a film with such a ridiculous plot, a magnetic, drawn-out pause given to peer inside the mind of the subject is crucial.
And so "Birth" is exceptionally acted and directed, moodily toned and distressingly ominous. But it carries the burden of a premise that I just cannot accept, not necessarily because director Jonathan Glazer doesn't know what to do with it, but because no direction seems to be the right direction. It could either come to the conclusion that Sean actually is Anna's husband reincarnated, or it could prove to us that everything is just a cruel snow job. We never necessarily react to anything because we don't know how to; it is a refined case of an impeccable film that is as apt at leaving the viewer cold as it is leaving them disturbed. When putting into consideration what kind of film this is, and what it is going for, I cannot think of a single fault. And yet, it sits as a mirage before me, straightforward in terms of vision, but empty when I try to reach out for it.
It is the second Glazer project I've seen, the first being 2014's "Under the Skin," which left me with a similar impression at first but ultimately has become something I've felt was underrated by me. Though his calling card is 2000's "Sexy Beast," I've come to the premature conclusion that, while Glazer is a visual stylist of the highest caliber, he is not a filmmaker concerned with his audience, taking a liking to ensuring that the strangest of stories see the light of day and therefore acting as defiant counters to the mainstream. His challenging methods are difficult to warm up to, but I cannot deny the artistry involved in "Birth," his fondness for close-ups and muted colors making the film randily disquieting. In another filmmaker's hands, its offbeat story would become too vocal for anything else to matter. Glazer's understated techniques implicate more.
And Kidman, an actress whose number of risky endeavors makes her the most daring popular actress in present-day Hollywood, gives one of her finest performances, convincing us of Anna's plight with sympathy that, in many other cases, could be misconstrued as desperation mixed with a slight pedophilia, if you'd like to go that far. But her character is a victim of melancholy, guilt, and instability - and if confronted with the information that Sean knows so well, who wouldn't, against their will, be persuaded by his knowledgeability.
Likewise, Bright delivers what I believe to be among the best performances of a child actor - his expressionless face, paired with an odd maturity, coaxes us into dancing under the same spell Anna is so fixated on. Lauren Bacall, Huston, Anne Heche, as the most exceptional members of the supporting cast, are strong as people who either know more than what they tell, or who are maybe indoctrinated by Sean's presence themselves but don't want Anna to take the illegal path of falling in love with a ten-year-old.
Some modern critics consider "Birth" to be a misunderstood masterpiece (the prolific critic David Thomson named it a forgotten work of genius), but I'm not so sure. A masterpiece should leave you spellbound, knocked off your feet, emotionally moved. "Birth" is brave conceptually and visually, but I don't think it's a forgotten work of genius. Let's call it an interesting experiment from brilliant minds - that might explain why there's an inexplicable disconnect.
The acting in this film is honestly, all over the place. I really don't like criticising too much for reasons I have previously stated in others reviews, like, there is no way I could do what they could do, especially with acting and so on but, like I said, it is all over the place. I like the actors, Danny Huston, Peter Stormare; who admittedly is only in a few scenes like usual and Nicole Kidman, who looks different in pretty much everything, I remember looking at the cover ages ago and didn't know it was her until I read the cast list. However, sometimes they mumble to the point where I can't understand anything, sometimes they say things so monotone, which is usually the fault of the secondary characters, but other times it is okay. Peter Stormare remains unscathed though, despite being in a few scenes, so, in turn, having less chance to mess up, he has never given a bad performance and that doesn't look like it's about to change, but Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe, so what do I know? However, actors, no matter how good they are, can only do so much with what's given to them. And who is Lauran Bacall to call Nicole Kidman a beginner? At least she has an Oscar. Danny Huston's character seems like the only smart one ready to take action. Some characters just act strange as well, the mother doesn't say thank you when she is offered a drink but scolds her son for not saying please.
I really didn't believe the eventual acceptance of Anna, the boy didn't really show any signs of believability or anything. Sure, he did know an awful lot about Anna and even though we know it's written in the script that he only knows after he's a seen a person's face who they are or what they did, it seemed flimsy. He didn't even smile; I thought at one point he could have when he was asked who he was but he just replied, 'I'm Sean', and could have smiled or something when he said that. It's left unknown, probably for this reason but I'd ask to at least hear the young Sean's surname to start believing he is who he says he is as that would have been more proof and maybe should have gotten right to the point when they first meet. He also seemed to throw Anna under the bus a lot, by telling secrets in that conversation that was recorded, it made sense that he had to tell some secret things but to tell them that Anna had sex on that sofa? Nice one. She also says at one point that she does not want to fall in love with Sean again, I think the real issue is that you don't want to fall in love with a child. When they are having that party at the start, from the way the music sounded, I kept expecting a classic lullaby to start playing and while that wouldn't make sense to be played at such an occasion, given the story that will soon happen, it would have fit, in a way.
While this film has some very good editing at points, it also has some very bad editing, the likes of which it'll just focus on someone's face for a long time or at the start with someone running or when characters are eating and it'll have a little bit of nothing happening before they talk again and it just felt like 'My First Indie Movie'. It's not that I was bored, the opposite is true actually, the film went by very fast and was quite short but that style of editing really didn't seem to add anything. The look of this film is quite drab, while thematically it makes sense; it is quite dark to look at, even when turning the brightness all the way up. What was up with the soundtrack in this film? I liked the soundtrack by itself, but it really didn't seem to fit and part of it sounded like it belonged in 'Super-Man 64' and it just kept ringing in my ears after a while. The film has a rather ominous opening but the music fades in and makes it sound oddly upbeat; speaking of which, the film has a rather coincidental opening with that character talking about what he was. I did think a car would come crashing off of the bridge or something, though. Speaking of, I am glad that film didn't go to the cheap shock value horror clichés, for example, when the young Sean stays at Anna's home I just expected there to be a scene with him standing over her bed. Or later on when Anna walks in on the young Sean taking another bath, after running away from the useless police that just gave up looking for him and probably shouldn't have taken their eyes off of him, he hadn't drowned himself.
The film seemed to outstay its welcome at around the 50 minute mark as the young Sean became increasingly annoying as it really didn't give us anything new to grab onto. Before long, however, the film got back on track by pulling the rug out, even if it didn't make much sense either. What would be the point of burying something like that where it'd be easy to find, sure, we wouldn't have our story otherwise, but it would make more sense to keep that at home and why would he follow her anyway? Even before that some things didn't make much sense, why would a 10 year old just go to the park numerous times by themselves? Where were the parents?
I understand there is supposed to be more to this than meets the eye but whereas 'Under the Skin' was so obvious in its theme that it spells it out for you in the title, this film is the opposite. I understand that the film had deeper themes to it but the way it progressed and wraps up doesn't seem to allow any kind of interpretation at all; themes and symbolism have to fit in there in some way but because of how it is told, it ends up being just a weird story. It had the feeling of a straightforward film that would end up revealing that Anna was being conned. While I liked 'Under the Skin' more, although it did have me fidgeting quite a bit near the end, I will say this film had me solidly engaged, intrigued and focused on what was going on, it's such an odd story there's no way that you can't, really; although the ending seemed kind of weak, really? You're going to put her through all that and then leave? And those clothes are just going to be ruined as well. Also, wouldn't she be cold by never wearing any trousers?
I do love a good film to challenge my brain and go against conventions but I don't really know what to make of this film and it seemed like the film didn't really know what to do either. It's provocative in the way that this premise naturally would be and, like I said, was intriguing, I was engaged to see where it would go like I think anyone would be but I just don't think it really did anything with what it had.
After seeing Birth, I was torn as my feelings towards the film jumps back and forth from decent to good. As I am writing this, the score I would be giving is the score on how I feel at this moment. Jonathan Glazer has previously swept me off my feet with his crime character study, Sexy Beast, which demonstrated hard hitting and vulnerable performances from Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone respectively. I came into Birth hoping to see a dominating performance from Nicole Kidman and at the same time be drawn into the intriguing mystery of the film's premise; the former succeeded more effectively than the latter. Glazer has only directed three films and as of now I have seen two; it is hard for me to say if this is Glazer's weakest film as I have yet to see his recent release, Under the Skin, which divided audiences, but I would not be surprised if this film would be ultimately regarded as his weakest film.
Birth features a captivating premise of a woman, Anna, gets taken aback when a young boy confesses to her that he is the reincarnation of her dead husband. When I read that, I truly thought this film was going to deliver a deeply impacting mystery that would have me guessing until the final act. Sadly the film slightly lets its curtains swing early on, which allowed me to anticipate the film's final reveal. It is hard to say if Glazer wanted his audience to be in a guessing state, and decided to provide some sort of incentive at the start to hook us, but accidentally showed too much in his attempt to edit the film, or does he intentionally gives us that nugget and solve it early on and instead have our attentions be focused on exploring the internal drives of the film's character and its deeper themes. I think this is an issue that would only occur for those who are watching this for the first time, I want to believe that Glazer is urging its audience to search for something more than its bizarre premise that it was meant to symbolise meaningful for both the protagonist and the audience. Though in saying all this, I was never at all felt bored with what was presented to me. I was, throughout, engaged with the protagonist Anna, wanting to understand on how and what she is feeling with this sudden revelation. Glazer does not let Anna's entire psychological and emotional aspect be completely explained on the surface, it needs a bit off effort from the viewers in order for the internal layers of the character to be revealed; this statement does not only concern for Anna as the supporting characters in this film also were given the same treatment by Glazer.
Glazer handles the film's tone effectively by allowing the film's ridiculous idea to be taken seriously, but not to the point where audiences are beaten over the head with it. He provides the film some breathing space, allowing the audience to see the film on how they want to see it; there were a couple of moments in this film where I laughed because I found the situation to be awkward, but I never at any of those points felt that I was being punished for not taking the situation seriously. I think the film's premise is one of the central reasons on why some people could not find themselves be completely engaged with this film; in order to find the gem in this film, one must not be too sceptical and instead be drawn into its emotions. The film seems to have many themes filling the air, but the one that truly stood out to me is the idea of closure. Anna is this broken hearted individual that, after ten years, simply wants to find a sense of closure to her past. Glazer ends the film with an idea that closure is the most difficult thing to do, especially when it concerns with love; years can go by and we do what we can in trying to move on, but memories and feelings of grief will forever stick until the very end.
I was thoroughly impressed with Alexander Desplat score, it was actually the first thing that caught my attention when the film started. There was this layer of hope and sadness in his composition, which reflects well with the emotions that the characters are going through in this film.
Birth features a good performance from Nicole Kidman as the emotionally fragile Anna. Though I was pleased, I cannot help but feel that it was too easy for the audience to be hit with a role like this, and I was hoping both would go the extra mile in providing something more substantial. Cameron Bright as the re-incarnated Sean was also great, given his limited experience in the profession and the role he is trying to achieve. There were a couple of moments where I was almost completely drawn in to his character, shifting my focus away from Kidman's Anna. Glazer handles the film's supporting cast wonderfully, not allowing the audience to forget their role in moving the film's story and the performances that the cast has brought were uniformly effective.
Birth may not be as impressive as Sexy Beast or as ambitious as Under the Skin but Glazer provides enough guidance to keep its audience engaged.