Starring: Toni Collette, Matthew Goode, Michael Smiley
Director: Emanuel Hoss-Demarais
Running Time: 90 mins
Birthmarked is an American film about two scientists who decide to raise their children as artists, completely contrary to their supposed genetic destiny, in an attempt to show the power of nurture over nature.
With a good premise that centres on one of the oldest questions of all, Birthmarked is a film that has a simple enough story to prove engrossing and enjoyable all the same. And yet, it fails to pull off what could have been a really good watch, with a frustratingly shallow usage of the theme of nature vs. nurture, a real lack of good humour, and a story that, at least for the most part, really doesn’t go anywhere.
But before I get into that, I want to talk about the film’s central theme, that of the battle between one’s nature (i.e. your genetic background) and one’s nurture (i.e. how you’re brought up), and which has a greater impact on one’s development from childhood to adulthood, ultimately determining your entire life.
So, the film focuses on a couple of scientists who decide to do everything to bring their children up as artists. While they should naturally be driven towards science, the parents push their children through all sorts of trials and challenges that are intended to stimulate their artistic side, thus proving that nurture is more influential than nature, and that anybody can grow to be whatever they want.
It’s an interesting premise that works well at first, but the film’s most interesting elements come in the form of the ethical concerns that are thrown up when the scientists decide to push their children towards one particular fate in the name of experimentation. With the intention of proving that nurture is superior and thus that everyone is free to become whatever they want, they contradict that very idea by pushing their children to do one thing, without giving them the freedom to do otherwise, especially when they show signs of wanting to do so.
That’s the basis of the film’s story, and it’s all very interesting, but the way that it pans out on screen isn’t quite so enthralling. Above all, there’s a real lack of emotion to go with the fascinating ethical and scientific themes at the core of the story, so while the characters appear to be wrestling with the difficulties of something that is rather ethically murky, the screenplay doesn’t lend enough depth to their development over the course of the film for you to really understand that from a personal perspective.
The problem is that the movie sees each character only as a two-dimensional entity to represent one side of the debate. Above all, the two scientists are scientists who are pushed to experiment in the name of science, and that’s about it. There’s nowhere near enough focus on their role as parents, and the relationship with their children away from the context of the experiment at hand, meaning it’s really difficult to thoroughly identify with them on an emotional level as well.
What’s more is that the film just isn’t as funny as it aims to be. From the start, as well as its dramatic side that focuses on those aforementioned themes, the movie really pushes a quirky comedic vibe that attempts to emulate the likes of The Royal Tenenbaums, looking at the uniquely absurd side of a dysfunctional family despite the ability and genius of each of the individuals.
But that mirroring is painfully forced, and the remainder of the comedy just isn’t funny. With the exception of an absurd and impressively well-written twist in the final act, I can’t remember laughing once at Birthmarked, and if it weren’t for the strong premise, there really wouldn’t have been anything to be really impressed by throughout, which is why I’m giving this movie a 6.0 overall.