Unique, disturbing reincarnation tale is about much more than returning from the dead
By Jimmy Gillman
Anna, a well to do New York City woman with an upscale background, loses her husband when he unexpectedly dies while jogging. Ten years later, on the eve of a gathering at which her engagement is to be announced, a ten year old boy appears claiming to be Sean, her dead spouse.
What’s more, Sean (Cameron Bright) has a warning for the now thirty-something Anna (Nicole Kidman): “Don’t marry Joseph (Danny Huston) or you’ll be sorry.” Though no details are forthcoming, family members in attendance assume the whole thing must be some kind of practical joke—morbid at best, cruel at worst.
Yet, the boy seems deadly serious; his piercing stare hinting there could be more to this; that it might not be a rouse or some kind of hustle. But after a few awkward exchanges, Anna and the others tell the boy to leave.
The next day brings a note from Sean in which he repeats his warning to Anna. She sees the boy with the intent of breaking his spell, but the strange encounter begins to convince her (and viewers) the youngster may be telling the truth.
Desperate for resolution, Anna appeals to her brother (Arliss Howard), who conducts a friendly interrogation with the boy in a riveting sequence that reveals even more evidence Sean may be who he claims. But none of it convinces Joseph, Anna’s mother (Lauren Bacall) or sister-in-law Sean is anything but a phony, and each of them implores her to stop seeing him.
Anna can’t, of course; not only because she can’t dismiss the possibility of reincarnation out of hand, but because she’s still deeply in love with Sean, the person this boy has come to symbolize. And as Birth moves forward, that places Anna (and the audience) in increasingly uncomfortable positions.
It’s these increasingly unconventional settings that gives Birth something extra, not content to simply manipulate its main conceit—whether or not Sean is for real—as the film’s only feature.
Before building to a pair of climaxes—one quietly potent, the other heart wrenching—Birth explores many adult themes, including the nature of unbearable loss. The film is beautifully shot, directed with assurance and effectively performed, with Kidman once again a standout.