So when the woman saw that the tree was good for
food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that
the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she
took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to
her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then
the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that
they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.
Canadian director Vincenzo Natali’s contribution to the cautionary Frankenstein sci-fi genre ventures into the sexual realm as few other such films have. Sarah Polley plays Elsa, and Adrien Brody is Clive, two hotshot geneticists working for a corporation with the acronym N.E.R.D. They have created two creatures that promise huge breakthroughs in genetic engineering, but when they are told by their bosses that further experiments are to be stopped so that the team can concentrate on developing practical applications, they secretly rebel.
Or rather, Elsa rebels. Like many films of this genre, the plot follows that of the story of the Fall of Humanity in Genesis 3. It is Eve, I mean Elsa, who leads the more reluctant Clive to go on with their experiment and use some of their own human DNA. Clive objects that this is breaking the rules, but Elsa persists, arguing for the greater benefits that will result—and she agrees to abort the creature before it has developed very far. When they succeed in impregnating an ovum and a being is created and develops, there are a couple of moments when Clive reaches for the button that will terminate the creature—that is when my companion leaned over and whispered, “Adam and Eve and the apple.” An infant being with the upper part of the body resembling a human but the lower portion including a tail and legs more like a kangaroo’s develops. Again, Clive argues for termination, but Elsa refuses, her maternal instincts now arising. Meanwhile, all this extra-curricular experimentation has taken their minds, tired from lack of sleep, off the original experiment, so that they fail to notice that one of their original, more primitive creatures undergoes a sex change. When the corporation introduces Elsa and Clive to a large gathering of scientists, the creatures, both now aggressive males, instead of copulating in public, tear each other apart in a violent struggle that splashes blood over a good part of the audience.
Chastened, the pair still maintain their secret experiment, with their new creature, which Elsa dubs Dren (Nerd spelled backwards), rapidly growing and displaying an intelligence great enough to form words using Scrabble-like tiles with printed letters. With the company expanding into the storage area where they have hidden Dren, they are soon forced to move her to the old family farm that Elsa has inherited. How things spin out of control, leading not just to the explicitly photographed sexual encounter between a grown-up Dren (Delphine Chaneac) and Clive, but to far more tragic events makes for riveting viewing. There are plenty of ethical issues concerning our thirst for knowledge and the possible results of crossing forbidden boundaries (and whether there should be such).
Might contain spoilers.
1. How is this film similar to other tales of caution against human experimentation with Nature? Compare it with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the earlier Jewish tales of the Golem. Note the film’s somberness, not just of the music, but also of the use of color; and even outside, do we ever see the sun shine?
2. Why do you think the filmmakers continue to follow the biblical pattern of making the woman the source of the rebellion?
3. At what points could they have stopped? How can anti-abortion advocates use such a film as this? What do you think the pair should have done? Do you think there is an inherent conflict between the thirst for knowledge and obedience to God or ethical rules? What is the danger in developing such rules? For example, what about the objections of biblical literalists to the use of anesthesia in the early 19th century because woman, according to Genesis was supposed to suffer at childbirth because of Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden?
4. At one time or another both scientists tell Dren that they love her: how does the creature respond? What does this suggest about the nature of such artificially created life? What do the drawings that Dren made reveal about her 5. How did the audience react to the sex scene? The one I was a part of laughed a good deal: why do you think this occurred?
6.What do you think should be the rules in regard to real life experiments in genetics and genetic engineering?
7. What do you think of the consequences of Elsa and Clive’s rebellion (other than laying the grounds for a possible sequel)?