Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Vincenzo Natali's Splice (2009)

 Fig. 1. Splice poster.

As always with science-fiction horror, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. At least on the surface, the protagonists of Splice, Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) seek to better humanity by splicing human and animal genes – using the understanding gained to combat congenital diseases and possibly even some forms of cancer. Yet under the surface are darker motivations for their violation of law and ethics.

Elsa is the main proponent of creating the hybrid, whom she names ‘Dren’. Initially the child is treated simply as an experiment, but over time Elsa becomes emotionally invested in her. Clive suggests that this is due to her own abused childhood, which resulted in a need to control her own child.

“Splice is as much of a cautionary tale about people having kids before they're ready as it is a time-worn tale of scientists playing God” (Vejvoda, 2010). The story looks at the impact of an abusive childhood on childrearing, taking the unsubtle but unfortunately accurate route of the abused parent becoming the abuser. Elsa is made simultaneously sympathetic and loathsome through this; she is a monster for treating Dren terribly, and yet we can understand why. She both fears and loves Dren, seeing her as a daughter and an experiment, which leads only to trouble.

 Fig. 2. Dren and Elsa still.

Dren is treated by the film as both human and animal – she can turn a scene from sweet to horrifying simply by alternating between human and animal behaviour. Her human side makes the audience engage with her and even feel affection for her; “the humanity in Dren is essential not only to the character but to the entire film” (Goldberg, 2010). Nevertheless, her dangerous animal side is never below the surface, be it in moments of physical or sexual aggression.

Freudian theory and metamorphosis and body horror never seem to be far apart. The film discusses incest without much in the way of commentary besides the expected disgust from Elsa, on whom Clive cheats with her own genetic ‘daughter’. Dren displays both Elektra and Oedipus complexes (courtesy of becoming male in the climax), seducing her ‘father’ and threatening to kill her ‘mother’ and later killing Clive and raping Elsa.

The film also discusses contemporary scientific ethics, not just in terms of the actual science but looks at the behaviour of funding bodies and the increasing influence of business on scientific progress. Scientists are forced to produce rapidly profitable work or lose funding, and businesses, rather than the scientists themselves, are the ones who decide what is studied. Splice is also commendable for presenting a sympathetic view of scientists; “Clive and Elsa are hardly your typical movie scientists. Far more personable, Brody and Polley are effortlessly smart, and we root for them even as we realize these scientists are on heading down a very dangerous path.” (Charity, 2010).

Fig. 3. Dren and Clive still.
In terms of scientific progress itself, Splice taps into the generalised fear of the potential of genetic research, particularly the fear of ‘designer babies’. While people feared a culture in which parents deliberately engineered their childrens’ traits, with all the politics that entails, rather than Frankenstein-esque monstrosities, the film serves as an allegory.

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Natali, V. (2009) Splice poster. http://blog.80millionmoviesfree.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/splice-poster1.jpg (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Figure 2. . Natali, V. (2009) Dren and Elsa still. http://gordonandthewhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/splice-2.jpeg (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Figure 3. . Natali, V. (2009) Dren and Clive still. http://atnzone.com/nz/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/splice-still-11.jpg (Accessed on: 25/10/11)

Vejvoda, J. (2010) IGN Movie Reviews. http://uk.movies.ign.com/articles/109/1094345p1.html (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Goldberg, M. (2010) Collider. http://collider.com/splice-review/30455/ (Accessed on: 25/10/11)
Charity, T. (2010) LOVEFILM. http://www.lovefilm.com/reviews/Splice (Accessed on: 25/10/11)

1 comment: