Film Reviews


By • Jun 8th, 2010 •

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Natali has created a menacing landscape and a fresh approach to the monster-maker genre.

Last week it was announced, with great fanfare, that science took a giant leap towards its main objective – becoming God – by making a new living organism. The team of Daniel Gibson, Hamilton Smith, and Craig Venter have created the first cell controlled by a purely synthetic genome. Dr Venter described the converted cell as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” In 2003 Dr Venter synthesized the genome of virus, Phi-x174, which has a mere 11 genes. (See The Economist cover story, And Man Made Life)

The Human Genome Project was completed in April 2003 and the exact number of genes encoded by the genome is still unknown. The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium confirmed the existence of 19,599 protein-coding genes in the human genome and identified another 2,188 DNA segments that are predicted to be protein-coding genes.

Scientists Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are lovers and genetic researchers on the righteous path of recombining DNA from different animals to create life-saving proteins. There is always a highly-touted life-affirming reason – it’s always about saving diseased people – for tinkering with DNA.

Clive and Elsa succeed producing two masses of living organisms and their funders are satisfied. Elsa wants to go further and continue manipulating life. Nicoli holds the moral high ground.

Before their lab is disbanded, Elsa goes forward, creating a human-animal embryo with an incredibly fast aging process. She has created a new life form. Within weeks they have a toddler running around the lab. The half-human, half-animal female creature has a stinger tail, a weird face, chicken-like legs and cannot speak. But she is smart. The creature, kept hidden in the lab, horrifies Clive who wants to kill it, but Elsa gets a motherly attachment. They call their creature-baby Dren.

Dren is more animal than human and clearly prefers Elsa, though there is little mother-child bonding. Elsa becomes Dren’s care-giver, teacher, and disciplinarian.

Through egg nuclear transfer the genetic material from two sperm cells could create a biological child from two men. The technique, when perfected, would introduce sperm DNA into an enucleated egg, fertilize this “male egg” with another sperm and gestate the resulting embryo in a surrogate mother.

Scientists have already produced monkeys who have three biological parents.

Male-male babies and human-animal hybrids are inevitable.

So, it is clear that the premise of SPLICE is more than unlikely science fiction aided by CGI. It’s the future of mankind.

Soon Dren (Delphine Chaneac) starts puberty and Elsa doesn’t recognize that Clive may be repelled but attracted to the sexy creature. I assume Dren is house-broken, or if you prefer, potty-trained.

When Dren transforms into a winged avenging angel-like creature, her true nature emerges. She’s angry she is cooped up. Instead of seeing Dren as a marvel of their scientific brilliance, Clive and Elsa selfishly take her to an abandoned farmhouse. They give her stuffed animals and Barbie dolls to play with.

In this twist, Elsa is the Dr. Frankenstein and Clive the hapless waif, de-masculinized by his castrating partner.

How does he respond? Of course and why not?

While SPLICE careens towards the standard ending, the entire storyline is intriguing. I understand the sexualizing of Dren – its cinematic foreshadowing – but it would have been more creepy and kinky if Dren was a horrific monster.

Brody’s Clive is a slacker-scientist while Polley’s Elsa is domineering and sexually comes alive by creating a bizarre creature. Polley is a terrific actress but also a very accomplished writer-director (AWAY FROM HER).

Written by Vincenzo Natali (who also directed), Antoinette Terry Bryant and Douglas Taylor, the real star is, of course, Dren. Natali has created a menacing landscape and a fresh approach to the monster-maker genre.

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