Splice: Shelley’s Explorations Continued
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is potentially one of the most iconic pieces of literature ever written, at least in terms of the sheer number of adaptations it has seen across an array of mediums in the last century, including film, television, and other literature. Not all of these adaptations are direct, and many never even make reference to Shelley’s seminal work, but the thematic elements presented in Frankenstein are always present and prominent. One such modern variation is the 2010 film Splice, directed by Vincenzo Natali.
Natali’s film centers on two geneticists who have just created a new species of “spliced animal genetics” for their corporate employers who hope to use the new strain to invent new medically-altered enzymes which will assist in curing humans of various diseases and ailments (Newman). Clive and Elsa, however, are dismayed when they are told that their work will no longer involve creating new species but will instead focus on discovering the medical advantages of those they have already made. The two become indignant and, much like Victor, decide that they will build a creature if only to prove to themselves that it is possible; thus, they splice together a new combination of animal and human DNA, and nurture the embryo to birth.
The parallels to Victor and his creation don’t stop there. As the fetus grows, Elsa clearly begins to develop a genuine affection for her; she names the creature even after she and Clive have discussed that they will not do so in order to remain detached, becoming a sort of parental figure to the fetus just as Victor was to his creation. Despite this initial attachment, Elsa’s maternal feelings for her creation, now called “Dren,” are quickly put to the test as she becomes more and more difficult to control. Dren grows rapidly, and though she cannot speak, appears cognitive and a fast learner. She wants to leave the lab, to explore the world, and more importantly, she wants answers.
The narrative of parental-like responsibility and abandonment is strong in Frankenstein, and perhaps even stronger in Splice. Clive and Elsa, much like Victor, are impossibly unprepared to take on the monumental task of raising and educating a naive and impressionable sentient being, one which they themselves have created. What’s worse, they begin to fear Dren, and rather than nurturing her with love and gentleness begin to treat her with the hostility of fear. This sort of treatment is reminiscent of Victor’s first conversation with his creature, as he shouts at him “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?” (Shelley 103). This lamentation from Frankenstein’s monster illustrates the level of incompetency Victor has in regards to the treatment and even the life of his creation, eager to undergo the science and process but extremely cautious to accept any responsibility once he realizes that the creature is out of his control.
Though the similarities are undeniable, Splice takes this idea a step further and perhaps makes it even a bit more current, urging viewers to consider not only the sort of warped parent-child relationship which forms as a result of this creation, but also one of a blurred area of sexuality. Clive finds himself irresistibly drawn to the young Dren, who quickly matures into a beautiful young woman, albeit with wings and a tail. His navigation of this sensual space adds an additional layer to the already complex nature of the relationship between creature and creator, ultimately culminating in questionably consensual and potentially bestial intercourse.
The limitations and ethical restrictions of science is yet another theme that Splice shares with Shelley’s work. Early in the novel, Victor tells of his frustrations with the way he studies science in school, feeling his classes are too limited and that even his professors are inadequate since they refuse to push the boundaries of what is already known: “It was very different when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand; but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth” (Shelley 37).
Victor decides to build his creature partially out of pent up frustration that he cannot explore and expand his knowledge of the scientific world within the confinement of his academic setting. He longs for the power and limitless possibilities that accompany the potential of what he can accomplish, and in a way Clive and Elsa long for something very similar. Their decision to subvert the wishes of their employers and continue on with their own splicing research reveals the true nature of their scientific intent; they do not only wish to help people, though they may wish that as well. If they did, they would simply have continued to look for the medical benefits in those DNA which they had already discovered. What Clive and Elsa are searching for is something greater, the potential to create something more intriguing and powerful than they or anyone else could imagine, only, like Victor, they are completely unprepared to actually cope with the consequences of what such a discovery means.
Ultimately, it seems that both Shelley and Natali have a similar sort of view regarding the creation and progression of such ‘unnatural’ life. The end result is not merely scientific nor is it purely familial, but rather a combination of the two; in other words, the reactions and choices made after a creation has been born are as ethically important and ambiguous as the act of creation itself. As A.A. Doud summarizes in his review of Splice, “Real monsters aren’t born, naturally, or in a test tube. They’re raised.”
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008. Print.
Newman, Jonathan. “Old School Meets New Science Frankenstein Fiction: ‘Splice’ Delivers.” http://www.examiner.com/article/old-school-meets-new-science-frankenstein-fiction-splice-delivers
Dowd, A.A. “Even without the nuts and bolts, Spliceis clearly a Frankenstein story.” http://www.avclub.com/article/even-without-the-nuts-and-bolts-splice-is-clearly–200932
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