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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Splice

Adrien Brody leads suspenseful, thought-provoking film

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From the medieval Jewish legend of the golem, later reanimated by Mary Shelley as Frankenstein’s monster, comes the idea that humans might have the power to create life in something like our own image. Usually, the story suggests that our image is flawed, distorted by arrogant self-regard and a heedless lack of wisdom. Playing God is dangerous.

The rapid advance in genetic engineering gives new urgency to the old legend. In Splice, a couple of biochemists, Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley), travel the road of those rabbis and Dr. Frankenstein while conducting experiments for a pharmaceutical giant. The corporate titan wants to isolate a protein that could cure Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, even cancer. Its executives are happy to pay for the creation of new creatures whose biological material can be harvested for the next generation of profitable wonder drugs. But Elsa, with her reluctant boyfriend Clive in tow, crosses the line when they splice human with animal DNA.

Pushing the frontiers of science is their rationalization. Elsa in particular speaks of boldly going where no one has ever ventured. What Splice shows so well is that human motivation is a complex mechanism with many hidden springs.

The human-animal hybrid that results from their experiment is a remarkable thing. Dren, as Elsa names her, grows to maturity as rapidly as most animals. She is hairless, with a long tail and three-toed feet, but otherwise resembles an exotic human. She cannot speak, and emits birdlike squawks, but can understand our language and communicate through arranging Scrabble chips.

The mind of Dren in unknowable, but the psychology of her “parents” is fascinating. Elsa, who has resisted Clive’s interest in having a child together, becomes very maternal with Dren, caring for her in sickness, teaching her, even dressing her up and showing her how to apply eyeliner—things of which her callous ideologue mother disapproved. The disturbing pull of sexual attraction begins to lure Clive down the dark forest path of incest and bestiality as Dren matures. The biochemistry couple raises Dren in the abandoned farm of Elsa’s childhood, with its Victorian Gothic house haunted by ill memory.

One thing is apparent even before the most dangerous problems manifest themselves: Dren is hard to kill.

Canadian director and co-writer Vincenzo Natali (Cube) has crafted a suspenseful, thought-provoking, grim tale where science fiction meets the thrill of horror. Visually imaginative, well paced and lacking the slack screenplay, flabby production and cheesy pyrotechnics of Hollywood, Splice is entertaining, smart and chilling. Delphine Chaneac’s wordless performance as Dren is a remarkable bit of acting. Like Frankenstein’s monster seeing his reflection, her eyes flash with the realization that she is not like everyone else.

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