Monday, June 7, 2010

Splice Review, Or How to Watch Adrien Brody Bang a Freak Humanoid

     What is it about freaks that draws the attention of most any curious, self-absorbed man? Flip through the channels on any given week night and one is bound to find a show on TLC or Discovery that deals with conjoined twins connected at the cock or some 1,400 pound man suffering from retardation and a tendency to hoard. There's even a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode (well, there are many actually) that deals with freaks, including a picture book with freaky photos, John McEnroe, and the one-legged Heather Mills. It's not that most people want to make fun of them--it's about the fact of witnessing something that you don't see in the tediousness of everyday life, something that's abnormal and unknown. That's why films such as Freaks ( a 1932 film about sideshow performers [starring real people with real deformities]) become such a cultural phenomenon. It's also why Splice, the new film starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, showed up on my very wide movie radar. Splice, though, has a different type of freak: one that has advanced characteristics of many differing species. The scientifically-advanced creature in the film, named Dren, has all of the great things that make a perfect creature: lungs that can breathe underwater, wings that shoot out from the skin like a bird, a stinger as a self-defense mechanism like a scorpion, and, namely, a woman's breasts and vagina.
     The story of Splice is complex yet very simple at the same time. Two scientists (the aforementioned actors) become mildly famous by splicing together the DNA of various animals. They want to take their experiments to the next level: by using human DNA in the mix, they could create incredible breakthroughs in science and medicine. The company they work for is opposed to this idea, due to the moral and ethical boundaries that will be pushed to the limit. So they decide to conduct the experiments on their own, in secret. What they create changes their lives forever, and it deals with issues of parenthood, love, discipline and the morality of creating a brand new species that threatens to leave their controlled environment. To give away more of the plot would rob the viewer of some entertaining twists and surprises.
     This film was a big hit at the festivals lately, yet it barely made an impact to this past weekend's box office. Part of the problem is the marketing of the film. If you watch the trailer, it seems to be a Species-like horror movie about a genetically-altered creature wreaking havoc across the land. Although there are disturbing scenes of violence and medical procedures, the film should be taken as more of a Frankenstein-esque tale of a creator's love and personal moral questioning of the ethics of creating a fully-functioning human-like creature in a science lab, and then watching it discover the outside world. Should they treat their creation like a child? Like an animal? In Adrien Brody's character's case, he treats it like a lover at one point in the film. This is where Splice will polarize many of it's potential viewers. It raises the question of loving something that isn't quite human and isn't quite animal. The film's insightful about it's characters psychological motivations and the possibility that the creators are the ones that are the freaks, not the creature itself. It's creepy, it's intelligent, and it raises questions in the viewer's minds about the societal implications of working with DNA and the motivations and choices of parenthood.     (B)

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