09 August 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 570
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
From watching the trailers for Splice, I thought the film centred on a genetic engineering experiment gone awry - mutants taking over the world and so on. Sadly not. At least if it had, it would be based on a storyline which - although tiresome - is proven to work. Not only that, but this horror of a horror film was far from scary. I'm scared of the dark, but I hid behind my hands just once during the whole hour and 44 minutes and that was from sheer embarrassment at the storyline.
'Splice' refers to the 'cutting' of DNA sections - DNA splicingThe film centres around two superstar scientists - Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as Clive Nikolai and Elsa Cast - who secretly create an animal-human hybrid using this scientific method.
Splice is, in fact, an apt name for the film, but not for this reason. Instead, it felt like the film writers had taken a few good ideas and 'spliced' them together in a random way -exploring a few provocative notions before tailing off without drawing meaningful conclusions.
We first meet the superstar scientist couple during the movie's first ten minutes and see their mutual drive to push boundaries. Whether this is purely for fame or to find cures remains unclear. Their grungy attire and music tastes err to the former - a notion backed up by their desire to be interviewed by 'Wired' magazine.
We learn the scientists have created two animal hybrids - Fred and Ginger - a pair of amorphous blobs who can be harvested for proteins useful for drug manufacture. The scientists are now trying to sell their idea of introducing human genes into the splicing program to the company employing them - the notion gets shut down: the company is more focused on profits and pleasing its shareholders than dealing with the moral issues human-animal hybrids would raise.
The two scientists decide to secretly 'cross the line' and create such a hybrid. How exactly they did this is unclear - probably at present it's in the realms of science fiction - but the resulting hybrid chromosomes are injected into a donor embryo.
That is, I'm afraid, as good as it gets. The hybrid creature initially looks like a mutant organism but, as it grows, it looks more and more 'human-like'. The relationship between the scientists and the 'experiment' becomes the film's focus. The scientists know lines have been crossed, but become too emotionally involved to abort the process. The term 'sweety' and motherly instincts (such as dressing the female child in human clothes) come to the fore. The scientists clearly become caught up with their creation, not its intended scientific benefits.
The key question touched upon at the beginning of the film - how far should you push medical boundaries and why? - is soon pushed firmly into the background. Instead, we are faced by new dilemmas - what relationship do scientists have with their experiments? Can they become too emotionally involved? How does this cause moral and ethical boundaries to be crossed? And what risks can this cause to others?
The movie continues downhill. Without giving away the story, it spirals out of control and not in a good way before an anti-climatic ending. I felt like the script writers had asked themselves 'What are the moral issues associated with genetic engineering?' and invented a storyline that allowed them to 'tick off' each moral concern before moving to the next.
Overall, insufficient thought was given to the film's structure and outcome. Despite moral questions about hidden animal-human hybrid experimentation being briefly and explicitly raised, the movie provides no notable answers.