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Movie Review: Splice

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“What’s the worst that could happen?” That question is raised several times during the new science fiction movie Splice.

Two scientists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), set out to make the greatest breakthrough in medical history, curing every known disease along the way. They splice together the DNA of a human with that of the already grotesque result of their previous experiments and raise the resultant offspring as their own.

The movie then shows us just what the question begs, all the worst possible horrors that can happen when man has the hubris to play God. Their creation, Dren (“nerd” backwards), brings out the worst in Clive, Elsa, and their relationship. Greed, envy, gluttony, and especially lust are all vividly illustrated. And the final imagery of Dren resembles pictures of Satan as a fallen angel.

Clive and Elsa are portrayed as reckless, impatient outlaws who charge ahead with their experiment with nary a plan between them to deal with the consequences. They are terrible scientists and the movie is filled with shaky science. They are “straw men” in a movie that amounts to a treatise against science.

The ending even reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ writing, “My symbol for hell is something like … a thoroughly nasty business office.” But, along the way, the movie did offer plenty of pleasures. I enjoyed it quite a bit actually as it played out on screen. It was only upon reflection that it began to trouble me.

Dren goes through many stages of evolution during the movie. The concept is of a creature developing rapidly before our eyes. She goes from a tadpole looking thing to a creepy infant to an oddly cute little girl in a dress to a rebellious teenager to a woman and so forth while barely pausing for us to breathe. And she goes through enough deaths and rebirths to make Lazarus jealous.

The visualization of each stage though is fun and creative. The tadpole stage is scary and mines its horror roots very successfully. At one point, Clive exclaims, “It’s alive!” The creepy infant stage is set in a laboratory filled with plenty of shadows and nooks and crannies, perfect hiding places from which to jump out and scare us.

The little girl in a pretty dress stage is charming and centered around Elsa teaching Dren words using scrabble pieces. During these games, the word “nerd” on Elsa’s shirt gets rearranged to form “Dren.” And the rebellious teen stage has mommy showing daughter how to use makeup – and has Dren spying as mommy and daddy make love.

The most interesting section of the movie is when Dren becomes a young woman and starts to desire Clive. A scene where Clive teaches Dren to dance could’ve been disastrously silly, but instead is quite lovely, infectious, and even exuberant. And Clive realizes – before dashing away in a panic – that this dancing can only lead to more.

Roger Ebert is a fan of the movie. And I find that unexpected given his political views and his battles with thyroid cancer. The movie is very conservative including a strong anti-abortion stance that I’m sure he finds uncomfortable. And it raises the idea that Clive and Elsa may be justified in their actions as they work to cure cancer only to drop it like a hot potato.

Enough with what’s the worst that could happen. I’m ready to watch a movie about genetic research that asks: What’s the best that could happen?

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