I think sometimes movies and books should be applauded simply for trying something different and for including interesting ideas, even if the end product is not particularly great. Splice is a good example of this. The movie is in many ways flawed, and I’m sure a lot of people aren’t going to like it, but underneath all of the imperfections, there is a lot that lends itself to psychological and philosophical discussions, which is more than I can say for a lot of more successful blockbusters.
Splice wasn’t much of a success when it came out. Vincenzo Natali had wanted to film the movie for years before backers finally came through (among them Guillermo del Toro). Then, in theaters, it only made abotu 17 million, which is especially unfortunate because it cost 26 million (by the way, 26 million is pretty cheap in terms of Hollywood money). I think part of the reason it didn’t do well was that it was advertised as a horror film, even though it hardly was. Similar to Cronos which I just reviewed, Splice is for the most part a family drama, just one that involves cloning. I’d sooner categorize it as sci-fi than horror.
I think the other reason why it didn’t do well is that audiences didn’t know what to make of it. In general, I’d say that we Americans take things pretty literally, especially that which we see upon the screen. I think that’s part of the reason why surrealism didn’t catch on in the States the way it did in Europe. I’d speculate that American audiences saw Splice only as a ‘don’t play God’ sort of movie, and missed out on what else the film had to say.
To broadly summarize it, the story of Splice involves two researchers who are a couple (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) cooperating to create genetic hybrids that would produce proteins capable of saving human lives. They first create two weird amorphous lumps of life, then proceed to make a quasi-human specimen.
Splice though functions on two levels simultaneously. On one level, it’s a psychological exploration of its two main characters, and on another it’s a critique of scientific advances. To address the psychological aspect first, I’d say that Splice operates much the same way Hitchcock’s classic The Birds did, in that it uses biological creatures as the external (visual) versions of what the characters themselves are feeling and thinking. If you do decide to watch the film, take note of how the creatures’ actions are always precipitated by discord between Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley’s characters.
Initially, when they create genetically altered animals, the new beings are blissful things, but when the scientists are put under huge stress, the creatures turn ugly. Later, when the human clone comes into the picture, it personifies the way the scientists feel toward each other. So as the two lovers drift apart, the clone becomes less humane.
Now, on the philosophical front, Splice deals with what Francis Fukuyama called the “post-human future.” It asks the question, if we are able to manipulate and control the fundaments of new life, how does that change our own moral standards? Brody’s character even says something to the effect of ‘after what we’ve done, how can we call things right and wrong?’ For instance, if human life can be perpetuated without parents, at what point does love start to seem supercilious? This transition is symbolized in the main characters’ romance falling apart.
I think with all of this going on, I wish Splice were a better film. It has a lot to say. The problem is, there are some flaws that are hard to overlook. The big one for me is that the script seems to be pretty sexist. Throughout Splice, Adrien Brody’s character is allowed to be the sound and rational voice of reason, while Sarah Polley’s character acts and responds like a confused mass of maternal instincts. She frequently comes off as vain, narcissistic and egotistical, while he seems logical. Even when Brody’s character hugely errs, the film puts him in a sympathetic light, again making Polley’s character seem like the bad one.
The last 40 minutes of the film get a little too ridiculous. Characters start making decisions that really make no sense. It’s like what happens in horror B-movies where the audience has to yell at the screen “Don’t go in there,” but this movie’s smarter than a B-movie, so the idiotic choices seem truly out of place.* Also, there’s a sex scene I really could have lived without.
Bottom Line: I guess I’d half-heartedly recommend Splice for it’s content, but you’ll have to grin and bear it through many scenes. Maybe watch it if you’re really bored and don’t feel like watching a classic film.
*Spoiler: The most idiotic scene in the whole film would have to be when Adrien Brody drops his flashlight in the pond while they’re in the process of fleeing for their lives, then insists on stopping to fish it out. He yells something like “I need it.” But why does he need it? It doesn’t even seem that dark out.
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I’ve written a book titled The Madness of Art: Short Stories. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.
If you’re interested in the notion of a post-human future but don’t want to watch Splice, I’d recommend Hanna, which I liked much more.