‘Code 46’ – a science fiction detective story on Criterion Channel

The future in Michael Winterbottom’s science fiction detective story Code 46 (2004) isn’t post-apocalypse. It’s post genetic engineering gone mad, an existence where the gene pool so engineered that you need to swab potential partners to make sure they aren’t a genetic sibling.

That creates a crisis when empathic detective Tim Robbins, who has lost his soul in the sleek and sterile environment of the future, falls for his suspect Samantha Morton, a lively, rebellious working class plebian in a world of willing automatons. It sparks him back to life.

It’s less science fiction that speculative social commentary. The colorless, emotionally stifling environment is watched over by “the Sphinx” (Big Brother as enigmatic, all-knowing cyber-god). Those who defy the social controls are relegated to the outside, a desert world sucked dry of resources where shanties and tent cities hold the impoverished have-nots. You don’t have to dig deep to find echoes of Gattaca, 1984, and Brave New World sounding through the dispassionate study in alienation, social regimentation, and economic disparity.

The texture of this future—colorless, alienated gated communities (largely created out of present day Shanghai and Hong Kong) and lifeless deserts sucked dry of resources at the fringes—is more interesting than the dispassionate love story between Robbins and Morton, who have little chemistry. It works better intellectually than emotionally, though Morton’s frosty narration (spoken in past and present tense simultaneously) adds a La Jetee-like melancholy to the tale.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Code 46 [Blu-ray]
Code 46 [DVD]

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On Blu-ray and DVD with a featurette and deleted scenes.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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