Birth (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna


Birth has been a controversial film since its festival premiere. The plot revolves around a young boy who seems to be the reincarnation of a woman's dead husband. The lad is so convincing in this claim that the woman starts to relate to him as if he really were the husband. The controversy whirls around the pseudo-erotic scenes between the woman (Nicole Kidman) and a 10 year old boy, including a kiss and a shared bath.

To my way of thinking, there should be no controversy at all. All of those people who booed Kidman at the premiere seem to be acting out of complete ignorance. I can't imagine that they actually watched the film. There is one occasion when Kidman and the boy are shown in the bathtub together, but there is no nudity in that scene except Kidman's rail-thin bare back. Birth is certainly not an exploitation film, and there is no element of sensationalism. Every scene with Kidman and the boy is handled tastefully, and the entire movie is virtually a highbrow exercise in style. It plays out like a European art film. At one point, there is an unbroken close-up of Kidman's face for two or three minutes! It is a film with glacial pacing, dripping with atmosphere, punctuated by classical music, heavy on the reverberating drums in the background. It will remind you a bit of Kubrick's approach, except it is much more sincere, taking itself completely seriously and completely lacking Kubrick's normal level of detached irony.

Do you think any of those protestors sat through such a film? These are the type of people who would complain about Shakespeare because Romeo's Juliet is only 13 years old.

Enough of the protestors. Back to the film itself

There are some indications that the film is a supernatural mystery of some kind but, to tell you the truth, the director tends to use that merely as a backdrop for an eerie, atmospheric examination of grief and regret. The plot twists are not really very interesting, not very well thought out, nor very fully developed, and there is no big moment where the curtain is drawn back, as you might expect in a supernatural thriller like a Shyamalan movie. After the movie was over I still was not completely sure, for example, whether the kid had part of her dead husband within him, or was a total imposter. In theory he must have been an imposter who gained information about Kidman from some letters he found, and this theory could be confirmed by the fact that he did not know about some things that the husband would surely have known (the existence of a mistress, for example). On the other hand, the film strung us along. It showed the kid being born just as the husband died. The film demonstrated how Kidman was completely convinced of the boy's identity after kissing him. The latter could merely have demonstrated how deeply Kidman wanted to believe, I suppose, but there were other things as well. As one IMDb reader wrote:

If the kid learns everything about Anna from the letters, how could he possibly recognize the face of the woman who told her there was no Santa Claus but not know her name? Was there a picture of her in a love letter with writing on the back saying "This is the woman who told me there was no Santa Claus"? Was it a picture of the woman telling her?

The author wanted to have it both ways, and to leave an element of mystery. In context, this was excessively arty and completely artificial. In real life, somebody would have been pragmatic enough to confront the kid with some hard questions, and this would have happened about ten minutes after he showed up. You might argue that Kidman would not have done so because she really wanted to believe his story, but she was not the only one who had had private conversations with the late husband. Yet nobody in the film did an especially good job of interrogating the kid. If anyone had been logical, it would have been easy to ascertain immediately and assuredly whether he was whom he claimed to be (as the mistress later did).

That's what real people would have done, but the author could not show that process and also retain the movie he wanted.

Although I found it disappointing in general, the film did have one powerful element. There is a sub-plot in which the little boy finds out that Kidman's husband did not really love her as much as Kidman fantasizes. In fact, it turns out that the dead husband had a lover whom he cherished more than his wife. When the boy finds this out, he retreats to the park to think, and finally decides to tell Kidman only that he is not really the reincarnated husband, nothing more. He knows he must do this, but he cannot tell her how he has come to this decision, because it would break Kidman's heart to find out about the mistress. The boy could simply have said nothing and continued stringing her along, or he could have told her the complete truth, but he did neither, because those solutions would have hurt her far more deeply. By telling her he was an imposter, and by simultaneously protecting her feelings, the boy not only proves that he really loves Kidman, but he demonstrates extraordinary maturity for a ten year old. Or maybe the reincarnated husband really is in the boy's body somehow and really loves Kidman this time around. Or whatever. Damned if I know, but it was a gut-wrenching scene when the boy told Kidman he had been lying, because at that point Kidman had become so convinced by the boy's original story that she was making plans for the two of them to run away together.

The real problem with the film was not what happened along the way, but the unsatisfying ending.

Imagine you had written the film I just described. How would you end it? That's a poser, eh? You're probably stumped.

Well, the real author didn't do any better than you did.



  • anamorphic widescreen (16x9)

  • no meaningful features


Kidman and lover are shown together in the missionary position. We see his bare butt as he graphically thrusts between her spread legs while we see occasional glimpses of her bare breasts.

Kidman almost shows her right breast in the much ballyhooed bath scene.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Birth (2004) is controversial due to a scene with a nude Nicole Kidman and a young boy together in a bath. Don't let the hype convince you to see it. It is about as erotic (or pedophilic) as Bambi. Kidman lost her husband, and had trouble getting over him. When she has finally agreed, 10 years later, to marry a persistent suitor, a 10 year old boy announces that he is the reincarnation of her dead husband. Guess what? In the only place this film rings true, people don't believe him. That is, nobody but Kidman believes him. Without going into gory detail, Kidman goes for the kid, then finds out that, gasp, he isn't really her dead husband.

Given her long term marriage to Tom Cruise, I suppose having her in love with a little boy is not that great a stretch after all.

Although Kidman was nominated for a few awards, I saw nothing from her in this role. It was as if she had no idea what the script was asking for, and neither did the director. Nonetheless, they were deadly serious about this film. Everyone in this dirge speaks in pretentious, English 1A sentences, and James Berardinelli called it "pretentious crap." The pace is something akin to watching paint dry. It is a boring film based on a preposterous concept, with an incredibly unlikely ending. Avoid it at all costs.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: No consensus. There was a two and a half star arithmetic average, but the two reviewers were separated by a chasm. James Berardinelli 1.5/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4.

  • British consensus: two and a half stars. Mail 4/10, Telegraph 8/10, Independent 7/10, Guardian 7/10, Times 8/10, Sun 6/10, Express 7/10, Mirror 6/10, BBC 2/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.1/10. Tuna wrote: "The film rates highest with young male voters at 7.1. Why not? At 10, the idea of a bath with a naked Nicole Kidman would have kept me warm at night for weeks."
  • Box Office Mojo. It started in a fairly wide U.S. distribution at 550 theaters, but it inspired little enthusiasm, and finished below $6 million in domestic gross. It performed slightly better in the U.K. (in relative terms). The budget was $20m.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This is a C. I liked a lot of things about it. It is very effective at maintaining tension and a somber mood. It also takes itself way too seriously and leaves the audience unsatisfied by the ending." Tuna says, "This is a D, a boring film based on a preposterous concept, and with an incredibly unlikely ending. Avoid it at all costs."

Return to the Movie House home page