Friday 3 September 2010


Elsa and Clive, named after the the actor who played Doctor Frankenstein in the 1931 movie and the actress who played Mary Shelley in "The Bride of Frankenstein", are scientists in an institute called NERD. They splice genes of different animals to create new ones that can be used to harvest substances for medicine. In the beginning of the movie, these creatures are comfortably removed from anything that would be recognizable as either animal or human - the two specimen are basically blobs of flesh, without any limbs or  something as disturbingly likeable as a face. 
Elsa and Clive aspire to add human genes to the mix, but are brutally shut down by both their boss and the board of NERD. Seeing their legaccy threatened, they decide to continue on their own, and in a short scene that indicates all the creation of a new species requires is a couple of machines and the right kind of music, they splice human genetic material with their selection of animal ones. 
"Splice" points out that it doesn't need responsibility to create, in fact, as a shot of Clive and Elsa's apartment shows, they are stuck in an adolescent state (apparently, biochemists are even more solid geeks than theoretical physicists). Clive eventually wants children ("what's the worse that can happen"), but Erin doesn't like the idea of being pregnant and giving birth - already hinting that the thing growing in their lab  now might be more than just an experiment - a substitution. In a very literal translation of "losing control" and "getting out of hand", the growth of the creature in the tank surprises them, and the thing that finally comes out, causing destruction even that early into the process, is more active and resilient than their previous two fleshy pets. Even more disconcerting - as it grows, it starts to resemble a human woman more and more, yet remains eerily alien at the same time. While Clive reacts with terror, Elsa starts to treat "Dren" (Delphine Chanéac gives a terrifying performance) as a child, especially when she realizes that she has enormous intellectual capacities. While Dren, at this point, is still an experiment for Clive, one that he tries to end prematurely and brutally (only revealing Dren's resilience in the process, and the fact that the animal genes give her powers that should not be underestimated), Elsa (and for a good reason, as the film reveals, although it hardly comes as a surprise to the perceptive viewer) adopts her as a substitute child. 
From this point on, any pretense that "Splice" is about the consequences of genetic engineering falls away. "Splice" is more interested in the question of humanity and identity, and what degree of sameness Clive and Elsa need to recognize in Dren to treat her as human. Ultimately, the result of Dren becoming part of their family resembles that of a newborn child: Elsa becomes more occupied with her and stops showing up at work, while Clive struggles with the fact that they need to hide this creature at all costs. They are forced to take Dren to Elsa's childhood home, a place that harbours memories of an abusive mother (a mother, the film argues, Elsa fears to become herself). Dren, who remains a stranger to the viewer because she does not have the ability to speak, struggles for her freedom - since she ages so quickly, puberty is reached within days and comes with expected troubles that reveal the dark sides of both Elsa and Clive. The unquestioning presentation of gender stereotypes (with a twist at the end, but still) is probably the biggest flaw of the movie. Masculinity and feminity exist mutually exclusive, and "Splice" never questions the dichotomy between aggression and seduction that it associates with both. The movie presents some interesting ideas, but fails to realize its potential by relying on clichéd notions of motherhood, gender and competition.

2009, directed by Vincenzo Natali, starring Sarah Polley, Adrien Brody, Delphine Chanéac, Brandon McGibbon, David Hewlett.

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