Delphine Chanéac, Adrien Brody, Splice
Splice, the new film by Canadian director Vincenzo Natali, is a revitalizing standout in the long-suffering genre of sci-fi/horror. Instead of veering into predictable B-movie, torture-porn tendencies, Splice is a serious, insightful commentary on scientific and human ethics. It is also self-effacing, ghoulishly funny, and fearless in its willingness to be shocking and thought-provoking without insulting its audience.
Having said that, there are ten minutes in which the film walk this fine line without falling over the edge: a sex scene between Clive (Adrien Brody) and Dren (Delphine Chanéac), a humanoid clone. This particular scene caused a raucous uproar among viewers when I saw it in the theater, a reaction which I believed was both inappropriate and illuminating.
Some brief background before delving into this infamous scene: Dren is the creation of Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Mr. Brody), who are scientific partners as well as lovers. An experiment in mixing human and animal DNA to create a kind of amphibious-avian hybrid, Dren also has the ability to rapidly age; as a result, she has all of the features of a fully developed female midway through the film.
Needless to say, despite (or perhaps, because) of her strange, alien characteristics, which include a bald head, a tail, and wings, she is exotically beautiful. Apparently in her late-teenage stage, Dren has been crushing on Clive, drawing and hiding pictures of him, etc. Likewise, Clive has begun to show kindness and a hint of playful, innocent flirtatiousness towards Dren, especially after Elsa's maternal nature is gradually replaced by calculating, cold cruelty.
This pre-existing sexual tension between Clive and the blossoming Dren, as it culminates with Elsa's increasing heartlessness, peaks when Dren and Clive are alone in a barn. The seduction and sex which follows is in no way violent or cheaply graphic. Aside from the obvious fact that Clive is betraying Elsa, his lovemaking with Dren is actually quite innocent.
Although Clive is clearly reluctant, he also feels the need, perhaps out of guilt, to show Dren, who has a tragically short life span, the pleasures of a sexual experience. A more apparent interpretation which proves that this sexual encounter is more than a grade B movie spectacle is that it unearths deep, intricate aspects of Clive's character.
Throughout the film, it is suggested that Clive is “the submissive” and Elsa “the dominant” in their relationship, a dynamic which may hint that although he is an accomplished scientist, Clive still worries that he is nothing more than an overgrown nerd. Thus, his impulsive, impassioned sex with Dren makes him feel empowered and sexy (perhaps for the first time in his life), while also being an ideal and intimate scientific discovery.
It is understandably awkward when watching any sex scene in a movie theater. But when the audience collectively laughed, groaned, and shouted “That's so fucked up, man!” during this scene – a scene which reveals so much about the complexities of human desire – my theater-going experience was essentially ruined. Their reactions made me more uncomfortable than the sex itself.
As previously stated, the scene was not kinky at all; yet, in a matter of minutes, I felt very low, even ashamed, like I was sitting in an adult theater watching some X-rated detritus of a film. This furor went on for so long, even after the scene was over, that I seriously considered walking out and waiting for the DVD release.
I feared this audience uproar had tainted the film for me; that they had stripped Splice of its artistic, at times inspired, intentions, and I would always associate the film with the petty, tactless reactions of these spectators.