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Film / Code 46

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Code 46 is a 2003 British film by Michael Winterbottom, starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton.

In the near future, William Geld, an insurance fraud investigator, receives orders to unmask a forger of "papelles" (visas) operating in Shanghai. However, his life takes a turn for the unexpected when he falls in love with the perpetrator, Maria Gonzalez.


  • Artistic License – Geography: There are no deserts outside of Shanghai. This was a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to show the devastation wrought by global warming.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The interior of Sphinx's offices are quite creepy.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Played with. There are very few security cameras in this world. On the other hand, implanted "viruses" can manipulate human behavior.
  • China Takes Over the World: The film is mostly set in Shanghai. Dialogue involving the casual use of Mandarin slang heavily implies that China's become a strong economic and cultural influence.
  • Crapsaccharine World:
  • Downer Ending: William and Maria try to escape to the desert, but a virus implanted in her mind causes her to report a violation of Code 46, leading to her being exiled and his memories being erased.
  • Dystopia: Inside the cities, ultra-capitalist and authoritarian governments have absolute control, including over human memories. Meanwhile, the outside world is a desert populated by the poor and homeless.
  • The Empath: William takes pills which give him an "empathy virus", allowing him to probe the emotions of the people he investigates. The government decides an error in the virus caused him to fall in love with Maria, sparing him, but not her, from exile.
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  • Fanservice: A gratuitous, ten-second shot of Samantha Morton's naked crotch.
  • Fate Worse than Death: "The people outside don't live. They just exist." Which happens to Maria in the end.
  • Le Film Artistique: The film is shot in a rather cold and dispassionate, almost documentary style, which does little to set up or explain the rules of this world. The viewer is dropped straight into the proceedings and trusted to work out how several aspects of the depicted future reflect the time in which the film was shot.
  • Gentle Giant: William (Tim Robbins is much taller than Samantha Morton).
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: A little mind control effectively reprograms William back into his old self.
  • Girl of My Dreams: Inverted. Maria always has the same dream on her birthday, of finding her true love, William.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Inverted. The authorities give Maria an abortion without her consent because William had got her pregnant, and wipe her memory afterward. It's because she's a clone of his mother, which violates the "Code 46" of the title.
  • Hope Spot: For a moment, the couple seem close to becoming Doomed Moral Victors. Like in 1984, they fail.
  • I Choose to Stay: William decides to escape into the desert with Maria. Sadly, he must have known that Sphinx would implant a trigger for her to denounce him should they have sex...
  • Light Is Not Good: Due to global warming, city-dwellers mostly walk around at night.
  • Mind Control: The government keeps the public in check by wiping the memories of past delinquents, or by implanting special "viruses" which make people unable to commit certain infringements, such as forbidden intercourse. Repeat offenders get exiled to the desert.
  • Mega-Corp: Sphinx. It's suggested that companies have more power than governments in this future.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: William and Maria.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Maria.
  • Surprise Incest: William and Maria, again, due to artificial insemination and cloning. She's actually a clone of his mother.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: William has a wife and child; he seems to get along with them just fine, but we're still meant to sympathize with him as he conducts an affair with Maria. This is because the corporations seem to choose people's partners for them (due to issues of genetic compatibility, hence the film's title), making William and Maria's relationship a rare display of pure love.
  • Un-person: What people become when they're exiled from the cities.