Birth

Birth is the second film from director and co-writer Jonathan Glazer, following his smashing 2002 debut, Sexy Beast. The delivery doesn't come easy. Glazer's reluctance to show what he really wants to emerge from this supernatural thriller can make you yearn to go in with forceps. Still, the best of what's onscreen is a mesmerizing mind-teaser. What the film is not is kiddie porn, despite some huffy "Well, I never!" reactions to a scene in the luxurious Manhattan apartment of Anna (Nicole Kidman), a grieving widow for ten years who is about to remarry. Anna is in her bath when Sean (the eerily effective Cameron Bright), a ten-year-old boy who has recently entered her life, comes in, removes his clothes and gets in the tub with her. "What are you doing?" she asks incredulously. "I want to look at my wife," he answers.

The scene is not sexual. Anna is shocked, as she has been since Sean announced that he is the reincarnation of her dead husband. The boy's parents (Ted Levine, Cara Seymour) are alarmed, as is Anna's mother (a no-bull Lauren Bacall). Anna's fiance (Danny Huston) is so miffed that he tries to beat the kid.ut, ever so slowly, Anna begins to believe. And the film, which sidesteps a prosaic subplot involving a couple (Anne Heche and Peter Stormare) who knew the dead husband, takes hold as a fierce psychological drama. Glazer and his ace director of photography, Harris Savides, create an atmosphere that seems alive to every possibility. At a concert, while the orchestra swells with Wagner's Die Walkuere, the camera just fixes on Anna. Kidman, sporting a short Mia Farrow hairstyle out of Rosemary's Baby, lets emotions play across her face with her own symphonic grace. It's a tour-de-force performance in a stylistically bold movie that — flaws and all — has the power to haunt your dreams.

From The Archives Issue 274: September 21, 1978