‘Birth’ leaves audience empty | AspenTimes.com

‘Birth’ leaves audience empty

Stewart Oksenhorn
Nicole Kidman stars in the thriller Birth, showing today at Harris Hall as part of Aspen Filmfests Academy Screenings series. James Bridges photo.

Stylewise, “Birth,” the psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman, is eerily reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic “Rosemary’s Baby.”There’s the upper-class, uptown Manhattan setting. Like the earlier film, “Birth” makes abundant use of long shots to make the spaciousness of the building practically a character in itself, and even the dynamics of Manhattan apartment dwelling become a player in the film. Most of all, Kidman’s short-clipped haircut seems an apparent homage to the hairdo worn by Mia Farrow’s spooked Rosemary.

In story, however, “Birth” is a complete original (that is, if you overlook the strange parallels to another current film, “P.S.”). Can you think of another thriller that featured no payoff whatsoever?Directed by Jonathan Glazer – who was behind the sensationally terrifying “Sexy Beast” – “Birth” has Kidman as Anna, a well-to-do New York widow on the verge of getting on with her life with a new husband to be, Joseph (Danny Huston). Very much out of nowhere, in ghostly fashion, enters Sean, Anna’s former husband who had died while running in Central Park. Only Sean is now in the body of a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) who, zombielike and without explanation, continually insists, “I’m Sean.”Sean’s reappearance throws an abrupt kink into Anna’s existence – past, present and future. After first rejecting the idea that this 10-year-old pisher could be her late beloved, Sean’s dull persistence begins to win her over. Without even trying to hide it much from her family – including her stern mother (Lauren Bacall) – Anna gets closer and closer to the prepubescent Sean, culminating in a naked bathtub scene. Anna’s future with Joseph is jeopardized, of course. And when Anna’s close friend Clara (Anne Heche) uncovers her old secret about the dead version of Sean – see if you can guess – Anna is forced to confront her past.

It’s a moderately intriguing set-up, done with a decent – though borrowed – sense of style. And then … nothing. Almost literally, nothing. To me, it barely even spoils the ending to reveal that Sean turns out not to be the reincarnation of Anna’s late husband. The horrifyingly lame explanation is that Sean was a bit mentally disturbed. That’s all, folks. And how that accounts for Sean’s thorough knowledge of the intimate details of his and Anna’s life – well, best to leave that disbelief suspended.A more explicable and satisfying story of adults interacting with children is “Finding Neverland.” Johnny Depp stars as turn-of-the-20th century Scottish writer J.M Barrie, who spun his friendship with a family of a single mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet), and her four young sons into “Peter Pan.” The movie has faults aplenty: Julie Christie as Sylvia’s mother seems ripped from the pages of a fairy tale, and Dustin Hoffman as a wealthy theater owner is a tangent not worth exploring. And the message about ignoring conventions to cultivate the child and imagination within is obvious and with little nuance.Still, “Finding Neverland” wins with the always appealing Depp, and a handful of scenes that visually affirm the theme of the importance of keeping one’s sense of childlike wonderment.

“Finding Neverland” shows today at 5:30 p.m., and “Birth” shows at 8 p.m. at Harris Hall as part of Aspen Filmfest’s Academy Screenings series.Academy Screenings continue with multiple daily features through Jan. 1. There are no screenings scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Dec. 24-25. For a complete schedule, go to http://www.aspenfilm.org.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com