Solemn and Thrillingly Ridiculous Study of Obsession and Yearning


Unfolding as if under a spell, Jonathan Glazer’s solemn and thrillingly ridiculous second feature succeeds more as visual and aural enthrallment than as supernatural narrative. The final third hovers uncomfortably between the mystical and the earthbound, but Nicole Kidman, playing an Upper East Side widow who thinks a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) may be her reincarnated late husband, is a marvel of tight-lipped sangfroid, and Glazer, with the help of Harris Savides’s ghostly cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s womb-like score, orchestrates one moody knockout scene after another. The movie bears a more than passing resemblance to Rosemary’s Baby—Kidman’s Mia Farrow crop, ubiquitous piano in the background, the pervasive feeling of the sacred about to be violated. But insofar as Glazer’s film is a study of obsession and thwarted yearning, the twin templates are Vertigo and That Obscure Object of Desire (which Birth screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière co-wrote). Charged with an impossible hunger, Birth has a mordantly humorous undertow, recognizing as it does the cognitive dissonance at its core. In the end, it’s less a meditation on reincarnation than a monument to the ferocious power of suggestion—which is to say, a love story.

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