I think it’s safe to say, at this point, that everyone here has been born, and no one that is dead will be reading this. However, for anyone who watches Birth without yet knowing what it is like to die, they might wish they were dead, or at least feel like they were dead after the credits have rolled. While Nicole Kidman has mastered the art of delivering her lines in a whisper, which worked for The Others, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the entire concept for the movie is spread thinly over under-acting, a lack of cohesion and dialogue, and trying too hard to be artsy.
Birth seems to follow the rule that if you think you’re cool, then you probably aren’t. If you think your movie is deep, symbolic, and edgy, then it probably isn’t. I give Jonathan Glazer credit for attempting to touch on a subject not often explored, and that’s the only reason why I'm giving the extra half-star the film doesn’t really deserve, but the disorganization of story and absolute lack of information about these characters is horrendous.
The movie opens as we watch a man running through the snow, who then proceeds to keel over and die. The shot that follows is a slow motion one of a water birth as a newborn baby is lifted into the air. Flash forward ten years and Nicole Kidman’s character (whose husband was the one that died) is now preparing to get married again. The plot thickens as a ten-year-old boy comes to her claiming to be her deceased husband. As the story moves forward she begins to believe the boy and is amazed and intrigued by what he knows about her past and the marriage she once had. Sadly, while the concept is good, the movie doesn’t come across as beautifully as it could have.
Let me start by saying, I don’t think putting a grown woman and a boy into a bathtub together is brave, I think it’s a gimmick. The bathtub scene in Big Fish had ten times more feeling and character than this and that was an older married couple that never even took their clothes off. Birth is not some absorbing heartfelt story that just absolutely needs to be told. It is more like an attempt at shocking an almost bored-to-tears audience into staying for the rest of the movie. Likewise, there’s a realistic and very naked sex scene near the beginning, but it’s pointless and serves no purpose other than to physically show that the character Anna and her fiancée have sex. Woo hoo. Who cares.
All of the relationships between characters, if they are even specified at all as to who anyone is and how they know one another, are stagnant and uninteresting. No one displays any emotions whatsoever and everyone acts unrelated, reserved, and dull. It's all surface level communication with no deeper understanding of individual relationships between the characters and even the characters themselves are unattainable and stale.
The only drama in Birth is the sight of Nicole Kidman’s butchered hair and the boy acts about as natural as a three year old girl in a beauty pageant smothered in makeup and standing in a pose she’s practiced hundreds of times in front of a mirror. I know we are supposed to believe the boy is under some sort of spell, but he really just seems like he’s on Valium. He’s not realistic as a person, let alone as a reincarnation of another person. I’m not asking him to act like a kid because I understand the nature of the story, but even adults have some amount of energy to them. By far the only one out of the whole cast who comes across as an interesting and animated person is the character played by Anne Heche. Her part is so minor in comparison to Kidman’s and yet she does the best acting and adds some amount of characterization in a film where there is virtually none.
To top it off, we watch these characters through odd, ineffective camera angles that do nothing to build or retain our interest. One scene in particular uses almost nothing but head shots and yet we’re supposed to know where these people are and who is sitting where. Well, don’t we all invite a quartet over to play in the living room for the fam? Shouldn’t we know these things? Isn’t that how stereotypes of rich families work? Almost every character has a stick up you-know-where and contains all of their emotion for all time, no matter what the situation. It’s just not realistic in anyway.
Birth should have been intriguing, insightful, and strong. Instead it comes out frail, helpless, and unable to nourish itself. If you want to make a movie that makes people think, then you have to give us something to think about. If you want us to invest in the lives of certain characters, and the idea of love beyond life, then you need to give those characters more dimensions than just someone that can sit on a couch and say a line. A movie full of silence and awkward moments of classical music does not equal depth of story.
Typically, movies are about people and an attempt to mirror real life or pull away from the ordinary. A good movie also shows us all the sides of a character’s life and their personality. Birth jumps into the pile to tell a tale, but never asks us to think for ourselves or like anyone. Everything is laid out on the table and is not open for discussion. In return, it should be kept on the shelf at the store and not opened.
If everything I’ve just said isn’t enough to convince you not to buy this not-as-good-as-you’d-think movie, I’ll throw in some additional information. They were too busy making a bad film to make any “making-of the bad film.” There’s nothing on the disc but the theatrical trailer.
I’m sick and tired of being offered crap movies and then asked if I want shit-pie for dessert by not giving us extras. Does Hollywood think we’re too busy contemplating the intensity of feces that we won’t possibly be able to digest special features? Like the movies nowadays are just so superior in quality that we should be satisfied with the garbage on the more expensive round, flat platter with a hole in the middle. Why are we paying extra to not get extra? Do they realize that sometimes, and this does happen to me, after watching a bad movie, when you check out the extras sometimes, sometimes, it makes your understanding of the film better? So, even if the movie still sucks at least you can appreciate it for what it was trying to be, rather than just thinking it was bad with unreached goals?
Anymore, I just feel like Siguorney Weaver in Galaxy Quest when she says, and I don’t quote, I have one job to do on this ship, it’s stupid, but I’m going to do it. Well, it’s my job to watch the extras, no matter how many or how few there are, and when they give me nothing to watch, after flipping the DVD box the bird, I can’t help but feel like a teacher that wants to mark a big, fat, red F at the top of this page.