Code 46 (2003) – Michael Winterbottom


The 101 Sci-Fi Movies brought me this little film that is set in the not too distant future, where DNA is monitored, travel is tightly controlled, and those without cover are forced to live outside cities as non-citizens.

Tim Robbins plays an investigator, William Geld, who is on the trail of a forger of papelles. These identity papers allow for people to travel between cities, something that one is unable to do without the proper documentation. Arriving in Shanghai, Geld investigates Sphinx, the company/agency that seems to be the source of global government in this future.

He tracks down his suspect, Maria Gonzales (Samantha Morton), but thanks to the empathy virus he has taken to enhance his own intuitive ability he is unable to turn her in. Instead the two of them have a romantic liaison, before Geld returns home to his wife and son.


When circumstances require him to return to Shanghai, he learns more than he would like, and finds himself falling in love with Maria despite the fact that doing so would constitute committing a Code 46, an intimate relationship with someone who shares genetic similarities.

I love the fully realized world into which we are thrust with this film. A lot of the tech we see doesn’t seem too far from what we use now, but for the genetic manipulations we hear about and see (the memory book is especially cool).

I was put in mind of a brighter version of the dystopian future seen in Blade Runner, especially when it came to the dialogue, it’s a polyglot of French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, reflecting the melding of the world we see around our characters. It’s a nice touch, and definitely seems to be where we are going as a society.

As these two people struggle to be human in a world that almost seems to want to prevent that, they race across the globe to a free port, but fate catches up with them.

We are left at film’s end with a huge sense of loss, even if one of the characters isn’t even aware of all that has been taken from them.


This is a gentle, slow-moving science fiction film, that ponders about the nature of humanity and our own freedom, even as it illustrates the wonders of science and technology.

Robbins and Morton are very good together, and there’s palatable chemistry between them, though whether it’s enough to legitimately believe that Geld would leave his wife and son behind, I’m not sure. Nor could I understand why Geld’s company wouldn’t simply extend his cover so that he could leave when his assignment was done, instead of allowing it to expire, causing Geld to pursue a more illegal option of escape…

It’s an interesting look at where we could be going as a species, and a welcome addition to the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.

The film looks great, with fantastic locations, little but exemplary VFX and nice turns by the actors involved.

Have you seen this one? What did you think of it?


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