Maria (Kim Basinger), a wealthy corporate executive, is incapable of bearing children. After a nearly fatal miscarriage, she goes psycho and stages a plan to go to a town in the Czech Republic to buy a baby from a prostitute, despite her husband’s wishes to try to live happily together without any kids. Along the way she picks up a drug addicted hitchhiker with dwarfism, because apparently she needs another person to get the child.
Moving past the initial contrivance that an allegedly intelligent woman would just irresponsibly take off to buy a child seems already like a stretch. But as the “inspirational” epigraph puts it, “fate is the sum of determination and desperation,” so we should just go with it. This philosophy later creates one of the most insensitive and offensive “be careful what you wish for” morality plays that I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it’s just meant to be happy, in which case it’s even more disturbing.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel during The 11th Hour. Happiness from the repercussions of rape? Sympathy for a baby-stealer? Sadness for a depraved drug addict? Pathos for a naïve, out-of-touch, incompetent, appalling, and frankly dumb rich woman? The only feeling I’m certain about is my contempt for this movie.
It’s quite possible that the director, Anders Morgenthaler, strives for ambiguity, but even if this flimsy reading is granted, the absurd plotting and uninteresting characters derails this miserabilism. I like when sad movies have a point, but The 11th Hour is more like a self-loathing emo in high school who writes over-the-top depressing poetry for attention. Look, the woman had a miscarriage and bled all over the bed! Look, now she’s rinsing off the blood in the shower! Look, someone is being raped! Look, the man’s head was just kicked in! 11th Hour’s emotional manipulation is more off-putting than just our visceral reactions to what we see onscreen. It’s more disturbing that these acts are being used merely for shock value to hold our attention. Hell, if you can’t tell a good story, try this formula: have a protagonist who has had something bad happen (so we should care), then make her really stupid to cause pain to everyone, including herself. This could be the guiding force behind a slapstick comedy, but here it’s in service of torture porn.
Admittedly, I was wrapped up in the opening twenty minutes as Morgenthaler manages to craft an oneiric mood through interesting visual choices. Shooting with an extremely shallow depth of field, the cold distance that Maria experiences is expressed cinematically through compositions that accentuate her alienation. The sound in these scenes is muddled and difficult to comprehend. Certain shots, which focus on insignificant objects in a room while a conversation takes place off-screen, reminds me of Shane Carruth’s loopy Upstream Color. To transition between scenes, we’ll often see an insignificantly-small detail like a pen pointlessly circling on a paper before cutting to an establishing shot that depicts Maria dozing off. In the beginning, Morgenthaler does a good job getting us stuck in Maria’s daydream.
Despite this promising beginning, the rest of the film is either banally stylized or pseudo-Malickian. Taking cues from Tree Of Life, there are interludes in this film where the action is broken up by whispery narration laid over artsy bokehs of street lights. Like the heinous acts that are depicted, the problem with this attempted poetry is its lack of depth (cinematography pun intended)–the would-be profundity is trivial, pointless and mind-numbing.
These are aesthetic crimes, but what really bothered me about this film is its questionable morality. Not only are we to empathize with a criminal crackpot, but the ending, which finds happiness through the repercussions of rape, is more disturbing than any of the shock value plot devices.
(Spoilers abound in the next paragraph)
After abducting a prostitute’s baby, Maria is captured by the mother and her boyfriend. She is raped but escapes after a gas leak causes an explosion. The film ends with Maria shaken up by what she has experienced, taking a pregnancy test. What do you know, she might be able to have a child! Whoopee! I guess that’s what “desperation” and “determination” get you: raped and pregnant. Isn’t that a fitting, happy ending to this wonderfully joyous movie?