Despite her age, ten years of trying, and eight miscarriages, Maria (Kim Basinger) still wants nothing more than to have her own child. Her husband, Peter (Sebastian Schipper), wants her to accept that her body will not grant her biological children. Maria even literally dies for two minutes after her most recent miscarriage, yet she persists. Not every option has been explored, she claims. There must be a doctor who believes pregnancy is a possibility, despite the myriad signs it’s highly unlikely. (And for whatever reason, adoption isn’t presented as a viable option for the couple, despite Peter and Maria’s obvious wealth.)
As managing director of a shipping company, Maria sits in on a meeting, wherein her company is asked to divert one of their routes, which passes through part of Eastern Europe that is home to rampant prostitution. Gangsters and pimps sell the prostitutes’ children into sex slavery from there, and the shipping vessels are often clandestinely used to help in this human trafficking. Tipped off to so many infants facing horrendous futures, Maria sets off on her own to find the sex traffickers and save one of the babies from them. Along the way, she picks up Petit (Jordan Prentice), a drug-addicted, hitchhiking, Canadian dwarf dressed as a panda bear. Petit agrees to help Maria find a baby in exchange for ten thousand Euros, and the duo heads east together.
So what is it that drives Maria—by all intents a successful, intelligent woman, albeit one tormented by a loudly ticking biological clock and more than her share of failed pregnancies—to take such extreme actions in her quest for a child? The answer, believe it or not, is her future child. In creepy, whispered voiceover, Maria hears her future offspring, who despite the failed earlier conceptions, urges her not to “give up on me.” The spectral child that could be, who at one point appears as a diminutive ghostly visitor in the middle of the night, begs Maria not to forsake her. It’s like the field of dreams mentality, only far more twisted and dangerous—“If you believe, I’ll be conceived.”
Is it Maria’s delusion, or is it really her child? Writer/director Anders Morgenthaler actually answers the question pretty clearly, though whichever way you pin it, Maria looks crazy. And how wouldn’t she? As Maria, Kim Basinger—who needs a new agent, desperately—is nothing short of manic and perilously naïve. She invites a complete stranger along her journey, flat out explaining both her ridiculous quest (again: to buy or steal a baby from Russian gangsters who sell infants into sex slavery) and the fact that she’s loaded. She makes one terrible mistake after another, trusting the worst of humanity, not because she sees the positive in everyone, but because she’s so blinded by her desire for a child that she can’t think straight.
Yes, that’s the point. But it also calls into question the entire premise. Granted, I have no idea what so many miscarriages—or even one—can do to a person’s mind. There is no doubt, however, in my own mind that such an event can be and is devastating. Yet, Maria is unhinged from the get-go. She is so crazed, so frantic, so impossible to reason with that it becomes just as hard to align with her. Why should we follow this woman through such a hazardous journey? Most viewers will likely find her too alienating to relate to. More so, every bad thing that befalls her is none other than her own fault, because she so adamantly refuses to use reason.
Actually, it’s Morgenthaler’s fault, more than anyone’s, for he doesn’t take the time to set up a Maria we can sympathize with, a Maria that makes sense to us, whose journey we can follow. By the time we meet Maria, she’s already too far gone to step in sync with. Why can’t she and Peter adopt? With barely a passing line of dialogue, Morgenthaler writes-off the common route for barren couples. Maria and Peter are wealthy, have secure and powerful jobs, and clearly have love to share with a child in need. Yet, life-risking pregnancies are their only recourse (save the extreme action Maria takes)? Highly unlikely.
More than anything, the film calls into question Morgenthaler’s ability to successfully establish a protagonist. Maria never feels whole. Her unyielding desire to birth a child of her own in the face of all the dangers, problems, and turmoils it causes, doesn’t ever achieve total coherence. Kim Basinger does what she can with the material, but that’s not much. Morgenthaler’s story is so out there, and the special effects he employs (future baby ghost) catapult the film that much further beyond the realm of believability. If nothing else, Morgenthaler should have kept his original title, “I Am Here,” which serves the film so much better.
As it is, the film feels flimsy, poorly conceived at best (no tasteless pun intended). It fails to hold up to even superficial scrutiny very well. Not once do we root for Maria—which we inherently should, as a point. And everything culminates in a frustrating finale, a climax better served by a 20-minute short than a 100-minute feature. There is little worth waiting for in “The 11th Hour.” [C-]