A mixed bag full of gore, ethical quandaries and Adrien Brody.
There are some questions which lay in a gray area of morality, in which there are few concrete answers and everyone will offer a differing set of individual viewpoints. Splice flirts with some interesting subject matter concerning the ethical implications of human cloning/experimentation and the difficulty with which we quantify the gains of scientific progress with the moral lines which often have to be crossed to reach said gains. Cinema is an ideal medium with which to ruminate on these issues, allowing for the presentation of the various arguments and opinions through it’s characters. Splice carries great potential in these ideas, however as it continues it loses control of it’s plot and encounters a number of roadblocks in fulfilling that potential.
Splice, at it’s core is a small scale character piece focusing on two research scientists, Clive ( Adrien Brody) and Elsa ( Sarah Polley). The film follows their foray into less than ethical human experimentation’s which cross human and animal DNA, which they perform covertly in hopes of a scientific breakthrough. Brody’s character opposes the idea of these experiments, and both his debates with Polley’s character over the ethical implications of the research and their romantic interplay is well acted and enjoyable. To Brody’s chagrin, Polley forces the artificial insemination against his consent then gradually coaxes him into at first allowing the fetus to grow for several months (as something as a proof of concept) and then to allow their new creation to live in secret within the lab. Their new creation is a horrendous yet beautiful hybrid, intelligent and dangerous, it is aging at an exponential rate and causing numerous teething problems.
Polley pushes this experiment fervently, ostensibly as a means for scientific gains although it is clear that there is more at play than pragmatism. It becomes increasingly clear that Polley is developing maternal feelings for the subject, which she names Dren and begins dressing and rearing in a capacity well beyond the relationship between researcher and subject. After several near attempts by Brody to murder Dren he also begins to accept both that events have snowballed beyond his control and that he has developed emotional ties to his unconventional offspring.
While this early part of the film allows for a good deal of subtle nuance both in it’s arguments concerning the experiment and in the characterisation of the film’s protagonists, it begins to break down after the halfway point, mutating from a delicate rumination on research ethics into a ham fisted parable about the dangers of engineering bio-weapons. Balanced objectivity is readily abandoned in favor of; ludicrous plot twists; characters who suddenly vacillate between violence and empathy; a heavy handed warning about inherent human brutality and an outrageous conclusion.
The film seemed to be aiming for so much more than the bland, slasher film remake territory which it descends into in it’s finale. Coming soon after a monumentally ill conceived sex scene, we are subjected to a confrontation which evokes a monster movie crossed with exploitation cinema, resulting in queasy disappointment. Many of the events in the latter half of the movie seem to suggest that humanity has an endemic evil within it, programmed barbaric traits even at the genetic level. This message is neither satisfying nor presented in a believable manner, and considering the understated themes and presentation offered earlier in the movie, is entirely incongruous.
Considering these faults, Splice is still a well acted, entertaining and unique film overall. While it may not live up to the lofty ideas at it’s center, and opts for a shallow massacre as it’s finale rather than a less impressive and more satisfying conclusion, it is still entirely it’s own beast and whether it is a miracle or an abomination really depends on your point of view…