Thursday, July 15, 2010


- Overheard during the Guillermo Del Toro produced recent flick, Splice

Sad, really, that this movie, in this summer of flop-sweat on executive car-seats, had to go down with the rest. It's one of maybe three or so films with any ideas in it to come out since April.

And does it ever have ideas. So many, and so casually strewn in ornamental order, and in so short procession (the themes):

Man plays god, toys with nature

Man splices (titular!) genetic hybrid rabbit/fish/slug that harbors all kinds of disease curing possibilities

Man breaks rules (because man HADN'T broken rules yet!), combines own DNA with that of rabbit, bird, bat, fish (manticore?)

Man and woman have domestic woes. Raise subsequent she-beast together as though it were child

Man reads Frankenstein, realizes things will be JUST FINE

Step back for a second, replace the word man with Sarah Polley, and you've got the real story. Adrien Brody's character is playing rear-guard here. He has to be pleaded with for a good sixty minutes of the movie to be remotely on board with raising the central creature of this film, a female straight out of The Arrival with a stinger on her tail and a longing in her heart.

The film is compulsively watchable, interesting, and deeply creepy from start to finish. It has two or three very memorable scenes and a conclusion that will make or break your willingness to re-evaluate everything that has gone before.

The creature itself is the best reason to see the film. It's called Dren, and is named suddenly and decisively by Sarah Polley's character, who does everything here suddenly and decisively. Dren can proudly stand beside our greatest movie monsters. She's an ably designed, but most of all very well acted character indeed. It's worth remembering the words of Terry Gilliam:

My problem with E.T., and I think it would be a better film, are those big Walter Keane moonstone eyes, because you immediately love that little creature. There’s a moment in the film when they’re dissecting the frogs and they do a close-up of the frogs with those alien slit eyes. Now if E.T. had those eyes, then he’s a really grotesque ugly thing and the kid has to learn to love a grotesque ugly thing. It’s easy to love E.T. It should have been difficult to love E.T.

This movie keeps those moonstone eyes and makes it at times deeply troubling to find any sympathy for this creature, who is just NOT right at all. She shouldn't be. The story's inherent flaw, for me (though I sense the film is fumbling at a comment on our incredibly blasé times), is that our protagonists here take it as a given that they can essentially create life. There is nothing of the human awe we have in Croneberg's The Fly, in his protagonist's technological breakthrough. Stealing from the gods is so old hat.

True, Brody's character (wisely) fears their creation, knows it's just plain wrong, leaving Polley motivated by wounds I'll leave for you to discover. The whole thing is a domesticated affair. Everything is neatly tied into a homemaking, child-raising bow in this movie. It's interesting, but strikingly implausible. Genetic cut-chemists in love or no, if your significant other clones a human lady-bat-scorpion-frog-princess, it's actually perfectly reasonable to protest.

Splice is a series of bad decisions, played out on too everyman a stage. Stephen King is said to populate his stories with ordinary characters in an ordinary world, and confront them with extraordinary circumstances.

The couple in this movie is anything but ordinary, but they act like they're in a late-nineties sitcom together.

Still, it's fairly even-handed, in the sense that they both make about the same number of unfortunate choices. Brody's character takes the cake, by the end, making a profoundly terrible decision, and I must say, I haven't heard an audience talk back to a movie, in this way, in years.

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