One senses that in BIRTH everyone concerned was laboring under the delusion that they were creating high art. Let me put the brakes to that. What could have been an interesting consideration of love being stronger than death in more ways that one is, instead, an unpalatable trifle that plays more as a comedy that fell flat than as a metaphysical meditation.
In it grieving, widow Anna (Nicole Kidman) is confronted shortly after her engagement to the charmingly persistent Joseph (Danny Huston) by Sean, a ten-year-old (Cameron Bright) claiming to be her dead husband, re-incarnated at the very moment he died a decade ago. That her late spouse was also named Sean is thrown in for whatever purpose such synchronicities might portend.
Anna and her family dismiss it all as a bad joke or a psychological malfunction on the part of the little boy. That Bright plays the role with a morbid gravitas that is almost robotic does little to garner the audiences sympathies to his plight, or to Annas. But there is something about that unblinking stare, not to mention the dogged determination and the way he seems to know things that only Sean, or someone who knew him, might know, that slowly seduces Anna in every sense of that word, to the consternation of everyone, including the audience.
There are long rambling speeches with much emotion and little point. There are snippets of dull dialogue punctuated with snippets of tight, silent close-ups as the simulacra of emotions play across faces, but fail to engage. Even when Sean walks in on Anna in the bathtub, proceeds to undress and get in the tub with her, it isnt until hes firmly ensconced in the water that she asks him what hes doing, and in a tone that is more appropriate to asking someone to pass the gravy. Its properly creepy, as is a later conversation between them, fully clothed and over ice cream sundaes, where Anna is asks Sean how, if she agrees to be his wife again, he will be able to provide for her needs.
Kidman, sporting heavy eyebrows that render her appearance ferocious rather than fragile, is hampered by unflattering clothes that make her rail-thin body approach seem almost doughy. Technically, she hits her marks when it comes to acting the role of a widow who never fell out of love with her dead husband, but, like the film itself, there is no spark. Take Huston, whose natural buoyancy is dampened here to the whispered tones that the film employs in its attempt to be taken seriously, or Lauren Bacall, as Annas mother, who is barely allowed to roll that gloriously gravelly voice.
BIRTH is a mess that so desperately wants to be profound one can all but hear the metaphorical cracks and strains as its equally metaphorical grasp falls emphatically short of its reach as it drifts lugubriously along. It wants to leave us with unanswered questions and cosmic mysteries, but instead leaves us wondering what better use we could have found for the 100 wasted