In the intriguing world of Code 46, genetics are rigorously policed, perhaps as a result of widespread infertility or sterility in the recent past.
To make passage from one from city to another, from Inside to Outside and vice-versa, travelers must carry genetic passports termed "cover," or "papelles." These electronic "papers" -- genetic driver's licenses, essentially -- must be presented before any egress. "Cover" is also severely time-limited. If your cover i.d. expires while you are still in a foreign land, you have no way to get home.
As Code 46 commences, a fraud investigator, William Geld (Tim Robbins) is sent to Shanghai to investigate a problem inside the massive Sphinx Insurance Company.
Legally, they cannot "liaise"
The couple attempts to outrun the State in a hastily-purchased car...
In some ways -- and as has been duly noted in other reviews -- Code 46 plays like a high-tech variation and meditation on Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex (429 BC).
Society as depicted in the film creates the very technological conditions under which William can encounter a genetic duplicate, essentially, of his mother. And then society punishes him for his "illegal" response to Maria. Yet, importantly, Geld is in no position to deny his Oedipal feelings, his destiny, either. The "empathy virus" he has been injected with only augments his feelings for others, thereby assuring that he will step outside of bounds of legality with Maria.
And again, there's a kind of hypocrisy embedded in the State's will. The very world that it creates ultimately is responsible for encouraging and discouraging William and Maria's love. The State is a fickle deity. The couple would never have met without the genetic laws, never have fallen for each other without the "empathy virus" and then never have been torn asunder without the widespread prosecution of Code 46 violations. Maria and William are thus screwed six ways to Sunday, if you'll pardon my French. Their love and loss is unimportant to the Order of Things as legislated.
William survives the affair well enough, after a fashion. But for Maria, it's quite a different story. The end of the film features a canny montage of cross-cuts to suggest this.
These images are inter-cut with visions of Maria alone, in Dubai, wandering in solitude and poverty. Her final words, uttered in voice-over -- "I miss you" -- are ones that William will never hear. In fact, he has no awareness or memory of Maria at all.Their love affair is erased, deleted except in her solitary memory.
William had an illicit dalliance, but was welcomed back into the loving embrace of his wife (and we see them make love after his return). He carries not even the burden of a guilty conscience for his illegal behavior. In this world, love apparently means you don't have to remember to say you're sorry.
"Can you miss someone you don't remember? Can one moment or experience ever disappear completely, or does it always exist somewhere, waiting to be discovered?"
As I wrote at the beginning of this review, Code 46 is an eminently powerful mood piece, and all the details add up to a believable future world as backdrop to the haunting, conflicted love story.
Specifically, all the characters in the film speak a hodgepodge of English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Farsi. There are no borders anymore, as the State (apparently a Corporate State) has smashed all of them.
Kurt Loder noted this idea in his review of the film: "But in extrapolating from our contemporary unease about human cloning, and of course the ever-ominous powers of government, "Code 46" presents a future society that's hauntingly plausible. Robbins and Morton don't seem to have much in the way of romantic chemistry at first — or do they? In fact, they probably have all the chemistry possible in a world that's been so drained of cheer and trust and human possibility, and so fundamentally disfigured by scientific technology. They have too much chemistry, it turns out, and it dooms them both in different, dreadful ways."
The heart wants what the heart wants...