You’ve seen it in countless movies before – scientists with noble intentions create some kind of strange new creature, either subhuman or beyond human, and their attempts to control their own experiment fail miserably. It goes all the way back to Frankenstein. Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, the Sundance art film that’s become a big summer sci-fi flick, takes that familiar trope and takes it in directions you never thought you’d see on screen – and whether you wanted to is for you to decide.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star as Clive and Elsa, a pair of geneticists who have spliced together DNA from certain animals to create a whole new life form which looks a lot like something David Cronenberg would concoct, but they aren’t content to stop there. Introducing the human element, against orders and against the law, gives them an amazing breakthrough and a new creature to study. Naming her Dren, the couple struggles to understand who she is, what she is, and help her grow into maturity while keeping her hidden from the rest of the world. Of course, reaching maturity in isolation with no concept of how the world works leads Dren (Delphine Chaneac) to have some very strange thoughts and feelings about the only two people she knows, and that’s when things get really, really creepy.
Yes, it goes there.
“It’s so morally f**ed up,” Brody says about what happens in this film. “First of all, it’s not that far from scientific advancements that are being made in today’s world and possibly in the near future, which makes it an element of fear very tangible and based on reality. It deals with a screwed up family dynamic, which I thought was another layer for me as a character to deal with with two young, ambitious, successful people that one partner wants to have a child, the other doesn’t. Then we ultimately end up with that child, so to speak, and then there’s the attention going to the mother early on in the nurturing phase, and my character feels rejected, and then it slowly changes as the girl develops so that I get the attention. I think it pushes so many boundaries. There’s an intelligence to it. There’s a wonderful sense of humor, and it’s intense, it’s scary. I think it’s a remarkable achievement.”
That attention that Dren gives to Clive makes ‘screwed up family dynamic’ sound like an understatement. How did Brody handle going to this dark and twisted place? “A scenario like that for an actor is remarkable because it’s so wrong on so many levels, but you know what you’re making and there has to be a kind of enthusiasm for that,” he said. “It plays amazing. When I saw it, I was howling out of anxious laughter and my friends were as well because it’s so…f**ed. I don’t know another way to put it! It’s f**ked, and everybody there is f**ed. The whole situation is just, one layer after another, so screwed up. They’re tough because you’re approaching it like a very real moment, and you have to embrace that feeling and what comes of that and what lead your character to that place. It’s deep.”
Deeply disturbing, actually. However, going to unthinkable places wasn’t optional, according to Natali. “The raison d’etre of this movie was the sex,” he explains. “If you took the sexual component out of it, I wasn’t interested because then it was, in my mind, just another Frankenstein story. That’s the terrain that, hopefully, we’re exploring that hasn’t really been seen in a movie before, at least not in this way. While I wanted it to be shocking, I didn’t want it to be shocking simply to be shocking. I felt that this was sort of inevitable because, for one thing, when you make something like Dren, the prime directive of any organism is to procreate, so this is going to come into play. Even more than that, I felt that, while this is a science fiction film, its roots are really in ancient mythology because the whole notion of falling in love with something that’s not completely human is a notion that’s common to all cultures around the world. It was so exciting to think that perhaps, now that the technology exists, we’re going to start manufacturing these things. Scientists have appropriated the name ‘chimera’ to describe hybrid organisms, and of course that comes from Greek mythology.”
Overall, Splice delves into a lot of murky ethical waters in the science of the near future. One can’t help but think of that Patton Oswalt line – “Science! We’re all about coulda, not shoulda.” Brody’s not blind to how creepy this all can be. “I think there are obvious reasons why there are bioethics committees,” he notes. “There are a lot of groups that need to be considered here and a lot of ethical dilemmas with science and scientific research. That’s why I’m an actor, not a scientist, partially. At one point I even wanted to be a veterinarian, and it was just too difficult – the idea of dealing with those decisions, dealing with creatures that are suffering tremendously. It’s just too difficult. Some people are able to handle those decisions and that process.”
“It’s inevitable,” he says of the twisted road of Splice. “Technological and scientific advancements are happening at an alarming rate, and it’s inevitable, and you hope that things are considered. Clinton created a bioethics council. It’s on a level where there are a lot of very influential people considering all the interests who are weighing in on things. They’re not just some scientists in a lab doing whatever they want.”