Birth tells the story of a woman, Anna (Nicole Kidman) who loses her beloved husband, Sean, to a heartattack while jogging in Central Park. Ten years later, a boy turns up at Anna’s appartment and says simply, “It’s me, Sean.”
If you view this story as a supernatural mystery akin to The Sixth Sense (“I can see dead people”) or The Exorcist then you will be sorely disappointed. While the mystery of husband Sean’s rebirth as young Sean is a bit creepy and the build up first rate, how the film concludes ultimately is dissatisfying. Young Sean eventually “loses” his psychic alter ego and disappears back into the schoolyard as a regular 10 year old.
While this is how the film was marketed, this is not the story ! The story is all about Anna while the rest of the cast orbit her grief.
Still mourning her husband from 10 years prior, Anna knows intellectually that it is time to move on. Her family tell her it is time to move on. She finally accepts the advances of Joseph (Danny Huston) and agrees to marry him; the opening act is of their engagement party. Emotionally and spiritually, Anna cannot or will not move on from her first husband. In fact, the first time we see Anna she is paying her respects at Sean’s grave. When young Sean first appears, we can see she is troubled and unsure. She wants to believe that her beloved Sean has come back to her (“I wanted him to be Sean”). The rest of the family are less convinced, assuming young Sean to be a hoax or a nasty coincidence.
After young Sean collapses in a hallway we watch Anna’s face in the next scene, during the prelude of a concert. The camera focuses nowhere else. Slowly, surely her resolve falters. What we are watching is a woman who has not come to terms with her grief.
Young Sean however is not the Sean. He is a mystic projection of Anna’s memory of her husband. What she knows about Sean, he knows about Sean. What she doesn’t know about Sean however “breaks the spell.” The event, precipitated by Ann Heche, is like a pebble that breaks the surface of a still pond. The images reflected on the glassy surface shatter and fragment.
Intellectualism reasserts itself briefly to a happy wedding in the beach house gardens in Spring. Being an optimistic, ‘glass half full’ kind of guy, I assumed that they walked off arm in arm to live happily ever after but the evidence doesn’t point to that. Instead of a sunny May (equivalent November) day for their wedding the weather is bleak and cool. Anna can’t smile for the camera and Joseph finds her down on the beach, alone and crying as the waves break around her feet. The evidence is that of a woman who has finally succumbed to a complete mental breakdown, who can’t see a way over her grief.
The colour palette is blue-hued with the warmer red and yellows desaturated. Many visual images stick in the mind, of winter in the Park and the lush apartment in Manhattan. Credit here to cinematographer Harry Savides. The cast ably support Kidman : Cameron Bright as the young Sean, Danny Huston as Anna’s fiancé and Lauren Bacall and Alison Elliott as Anna’s family. And the classical music scoring the film is sumptuous also.