The pay as you go future

Sometimes, even comfortable Brits can shake us out of our complacency. I just got around to seeing Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, which was first screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2003.

Shanghai, from Code 46

The screenplay, a cooperation between Winterbottom and his longtime writer associate, Frank Cottrell Boyce, hits on all the right cylinders: the cordoning off of the power centers of world cities even as the the rythyms and languages of India, China, Latin America and the third world overtake the anglo culture, pervasive privacy intrusions by quasi-governmental investigators (I love the firm name they chose, “Westerfields”), and ethical dilemmas resulting from easy human genetic engineering, to name a few of the topics that enmesh a simplistic love story.

Winterbottom chose to wing across the axes of population and the growing centers of world power: Shanghai, Dubai, and Rajasthan. The division of this not-so-future world between the cities and the fuera outside the checkpoints is where we are going. Maybe what was not so clear in the film is the police state required to keep the majority of the world’s population fuori le mura. What is clear is that everywhere you want to go, you have to present proof that you belong to the first world. Little holographic papeles show that you have “cover”. Without them, you might as well be Tsotsi.

All the details are telling: Tim Robbins’ P.I. character who flies from his oh-so-tidy Seattle home (wife, genetically engineered perfect child) to practice his powers of ESP on suspects in Shanghai and tells his mate, “I’ll be back in 24 hours.”

For the doomed lovers, the only escape from their inside lives is to venture out. The trip is to Jebel Ali (can anyone say “Dubai Ports World”? John Hagel can). From there, you have to go without “cover”, without the protective cocoon of technology, to make a connection with your past and with the human race. But you’re not really fuera. If you slip off the road, the helicopters and SUV’s of the state are on the accident scene in a matter of seconds to make sure that your memory is erased and your dissident lover is disappeared. Lo siento, but it’s verdad.

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