BIRTH is a slick and suave gothic tale directed by Jonathan Glazer. It opens on an ordinary urban scene with a dark-hooded jogger snaking his way round Central Park, past heavy, snow-kissed trees. A very ordinary beginning to a not so ordinary film…
However, the runner suddenly collapses beneath an underpass, as if caught in the darkness between two worlds. The remainder of the film takes place in a similar limbo.
The man who died in the park was Sean and, 10 years after his death, his widow, Anna (Nicole Kidman), is planning to get married again. She and her fiancé, Joseph (Danny Huston), live in a flat owned by Anna’s mother, Eleanor (Lauren Bacall).
On the night of Joseph and Anna’s engagement dinner, a young boy with a very stern disposition turns up and demands to speak to Anna alone. The boy then calmly tells her that she is his wife and she should not marry Joseph. Anna reacts at first with laughter, as do Joseph and the disapproving mother, Eleanor. But the boy is too authoritative to be dismissed. He refuses to back down, keeps popping into Anna’s life in one way or another and knows too much to be a pretender.
His persistence understandably upsets the entire dynamics of the house and leaves everybody questioning whether this boy has real problems and is playing a sick joke on Anna, or indulging a weird childish fantasy. But he could, of course, be telling the truth…
Gradually and very painfully, Anna begins to give in to the young boy’s advances, which make for awefully awkward situations that send shivers down your spine for being both unsettling and intensely moving.
Cameron Bright, who plays Sean, gives an unnervingly controlled performance. His character represents a premise that is absurd and ridiculous, but has to be accepted in order for the film to work. And, work it does. The silent, almost secretive and at times claustrophobic atmosphere created in Birth is intoxicating. This film is definitely one to watch carefully and pay attention to.
The pathos in the movie arises from the attempts by the stiff, decorous adults to deal with the unwelcome child in their lives. Anna’s mother humours him and Joseph moves between being sceptical to insanely jealous. The most important response, of course, is Anna’s, and it is also the most complicated.
Kidman conveys both the toughness of a woman who has managed to survive the shock and trauma of the death of her husband and the vulnerability of someone whose grieving has remained incomplete enough to want to believe the situation she suddenly finds herself in. Kidman is superb. She very successfully almost, but not quite, underplays her part, registering all big emotional responses with just minor facial movements and gestures.
Without her brilliantly deft performance, Birth could seem like a highbrow Ghost or possibly even a tad sadistic, but the talented aussie, plus the few twists thrown in by Glazer, make this a thought-provoking and utterly engrossing film.