It's November, so I had to watch it again and, again, I was ravished. Birth is the most misunderstood movie of the past five or 10 years. [If you haven't seen it, read no farther. Watch it first.] It's a masterpiece about a widow's encounters with a 10-year-old boy who claims to be the reincarnation of her dead husband.
Anna -- played by Nicole Kidman, in a career-best performance -- is on the cusp of re-marrying when the boy shows up, begins "courting" her anew and tries to discourage her from marrying Joseph (a slick, perfect Danny Huston). The boy knows too much. It's eerie. And Anna begins to fall in love again with the memory of her husband. Are our bodies simply carriers of an energy that survives biological death?
There is so much to praise about Birth: Alexandre Desplat's score, director Jonathan Glazer's sure hand, the exquisite screenwriting (and a most elegant plot twist), Anne Heche's insanely brilliant supporting performance, the small choices made by Lauren Bacall and Alison Elliott as Anna's mother and sister -- who meet the boy with a delicious blend of haughtiness, amused skepticism and contempt.
The most compelling shot in Birth comes 25 minutes in. Glazer holds Kidman in close-up for a full 122 seconds and, without any theatrics or even moving her face, she conveys a whole narrative arc simply by throbbing with emotion: Anna has believably moved from dismissing the boy to "realizing" the truth. Kidman is such a gifted actor that she trusts the camera to pick up everything she's giving off.
I also love the way Heche's eyes search furiously when she confronts the boy, the way Glazer slows the camera speed ever so slightly when following Heche on her secret mission, the way Kidman utters a cute scoff when the boy persists in front of his father and Joseph, the way Bacall says "Laura move" (and not "Laura, move") during a confrontation in the kitchen, the way the boy is able to expose Joseph as a gutless fraud, and the way Elliott's face says everything at the wedding reception in May -- after the boy has admitted he is the fraud and Anna recommits herself to Joseph.
Oh the wedding reception. The final scene. It's rapturous and it destroys me. Anna puts on a smile for a little bit, but then Joseph finds her distraught on the nearby beach. She looks ready to fling herself into the surf. The only sound is Desplat's score. Those aching violins. Joseph approaches Anna, who reacts at first like a stunned, wild animal. Then he catches her in an embrace and speaks into her ear. What is he saying? Is she even hearing him? When he leads her away from the water, she walks stiffly, like she's just surrendered her soul at the waterline and all that's left is a beautiful husk.
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