Now that my outlines are completed and I have my thesis squared away for the final project, over the last week, I have been watching movies, reading articles, and snooping through Netflix documentaries for anything that might be applicable—when the eyes are too sore from reading and need to focus on something at a distance. One of my past professors suggested I watch the film Splice, and my current professor suggested the film Contagion. I have watched both, and found the connection between them—Frankenstein and Zombies.
Thank you to both Jolene and Mark for your film suggestions. I feel that making the connection I have made has been like getting over one of those big-ass wall that soldiers in basic training camps need to negotiate.
So Splice. This is a 2009 Canadian film directed by Vencenzo Natali, and starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, and David Hewlett.
Definitely dealing with the Frankenstein theme in this film, the scientists splice together genetic materials, and then add some human DNA in—just for funsies. I really questioned that, but the film makers wanted to incorporate the mad scientist element (I assume), and one of the hallmarks of the mad scientist is curiosity BEFORE ethics. Or…it’s okay for someone like ME to do this since I know better than anyone else in the room, so the rules don’t apply to me. Sarah Polley—women can also be mad scientists—is the Victor Frankenstein archetype. And the creature that emerges from the manipulation of genes is called “Dren”.
First, the scientist “Elsa” is not evil. She’s an overly curious, rash, and unethical narcissist—but not evil. And she doesn’t reject the creature immediately and without cause. In fact, she befriends the creature and comes to love it.
Second, the creature “Dren” is not ugly. Admittedly, it is rather unusual looking, but not hideous. And it starts as a female and then changes to male afterward. In fact, Dren is constantly evolving throughout its early life—what I assume is its childhood. It spends its young stages as a female, but reaches maturity (I think maturity) as a male which is, hmmmm, a whole other paper.
The creature develops rapidly over a few weeks. The young Dren is delightful, shy, a bit spoiled, kinda cute, and extremely intelligent. She has a long tail with a single retractable poisonous barb. She also has amphibious lungs, and retractable wings. The “teenage” level Dren becomes temperamental, easily bored, highly intelligent and rebellious, with a strangely beautiful face, and a fully developed female body. And wide, fairy-like wings. She is also sexually precocious now, flirtatious, and aware of her own physical beauty. She seduces Elsa’s spouse Clive, and of course, Elsa finds them together.
This part of the movie is not just AWKWARD but bizarre. Dren is not a woman, so what was this? Bestiality? A bit of pedophilia, since she’s only a few weeks old? Whatever, it is extremely off-putting, and the most foolishly gratuitous, implausible part of the movie. Clive is Elsa’s scientist partner, and has been—to that point—the sole voice of reason. I found it utterly ridiculous that he has so little control of himself that he would engage in sexual intercourse with the specimen of his own study simply because the sexually provocative but sexually innocent Dren made a pass at him and tried to kiss him a couple of times. Good grief!! If that’s all it takes for this guy, he best never go out in public again—and hang up his unbiased scientist spurs—because it is he and not Dren who is the responsible party. Utterly daft, and just plain “dirty.” Shame on the film-makers’ embarrassing lack of creativity.
After Dren has her disturbing encounter with Clive, she becomes more and more aggressive toward Elsa and finally she tries to kill her. Clive intervenes, and hits Dren on the head with a shovel. (The male violator evolves from sexually to physically violent. No end of clichés in this film.) Elsa and Clive believe they have killed Dren, and so bury her, and begin to destroy all evidence of her life. But Dren once more evolves. This time she emerges as a powerful, winged creature…and male. He is now extremely dangerous and violent. And he can speak. (Hmmm. As a female, Dren had no voice, but as a male, can speak. Did the film-makers do this crap on purpose? Like I said, another paper.) After incapacitating Clive, he rapes Elsa. (A moment’s pause and nod to Sophocles.) Clive revives in time to run Dren through with a sharp metal something, but is stung by Dren’s poisonous barb. Clive dies quickly, and Elsa crushes Dren’s head with a huge rock. This time, she makes sure Dren is completely dead. But now Elsa is pregnant, so SEQUEL!! Good heavens, I hope not! This film is not Oscar-worthy, but it certainly does have a strong Frankenstein component.
While most of the terrible violence in Splice takes place off screen, there’s still an overwhelming “yuck factor” in this movie that draws me back to the first Frankenstein films I watched, namely, the 1931 Frankenstein and the 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Grave robbing, the dismemberment and sewing together of body parts, gallons of liquids and semi-liquids, lotsa blood and guts, gelatinous masses of goo everywhere. Watching Robert De Niro and Kenneth Brannagh as the creature is “birthed” from collected amniotic fluid (retch), one can almost smell the stench of decomposition and the rotting filth of the place. It’s intensely sensual—but in the most disturbing, grotesque way imaginable. Most importantly, the creature is a thing that must never be seen by decent “good” people, because it represents the moral heart of Humankind—it must be hidden at all costs, relegated permanently as “other.” People hide their shameful sins, and go to the greatest of all lengths to prevent anyone from probing into their private secrets. To look upon this “other” could lead to the spread of this knowledge, like…a plague.
Which brings me to the other film I watched—Contagion. This 2011 film directed by Steven Soderbergh, stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law. A certain bat came in contact with a certain pig on a certain Asian farm with lax health codes. A virus emerged and mutated, and was passed to the hands of a farmer, then to the hands of a butcher, then to the hands of an agriculture executive who contacted all sorts of people, then got on a plane, and returned home to her family in the States. And it spread by touch, and then became airborne.
The government moved in, and the efforts to control the contagion was soon, as expected, fully militarized. Yet, it’s not about the military strong-arming helpless citizens into compliance, and forcing people to accept their fate with blind obedience. It’s not about scientists lying and hiding the truth after playing God with a substance that ultimately escaped them and then turned on humankind. Actually, this film depicts human government, scientists, and military behaving in a positive way. The scientists of the world have organized themselves to beat this contagion with their governments’ full support, while it is left to the poor soldiers to try to maintain some semblance of order in the cities—and people, including them, are dropping like flies. No one is safe from this thing, and even one of the lead scientists dies. Trying to contain it and trying to cure it—this is the theme of this film. Basically, this film unites humankind as the great “WE” in that we are all bone and blood and mortal. Even if the disease doesn’t kill us personally, it kills our life by killing everything we love and hold dear—a theme also explored by the film in those immune few. Like the survivors of the zombie apocalypse. There is a difference between living life and barely existing.
This film also explores what we as humans choose to put our faith in. Do we believe or do we deny? And if we deny, do we lie? Do we cheat for our own reasons? This is another theme explored in the film. Greed is certainly a weakness of mortal flesh that craves and mindlessly desires. We are all flawed humans, susceptible to the corruption of our imperfect bodies, either by what invades us or by what we willingly take into ourselves. This film, and ones like it, explore the fragile flesh of Humankind. By contrasting the themes in Frankenstein and the Zombie genre, a link emerges: the uncontrollable flesh can sometimes be controlled by the heart…sometimes. The moral heart and the craving flesh are always at enmity with one another—and I say always because the flesh is mortal and the heart desires life.
I have just watched the so-called zombie comedies: Zombie Land and Shaun of the Dead. Very tongue in cheek, but not what I’d call comedies. Or maybe my sense of humor is not twisted enough to appreciate them as such. But interesting. More to follow.