Director: Benedek Fliegauf
Runtime: 111 minutes
The exploration of human cloning is not a new thing in the realm of science fiction; for decades, films have tackled the subject, with mostly action-oriented results. Womb, the first English-language film from Hungarian director Benedek Flieghauf, approaches human cloning in a different, more cerebral way; by stripping away all the sci-fi (read: CGI futuristic) jazz that other movies traditionally throw in. Womb tells a very human story about the psychological difficulties that arise once cloning has already taken place. But while it approaches the idea with a fresh take, and with two very good performances at its center, Womb ultimately suffers from too much of a slow burn and a lack of characterization. Sometimes you need more than a mood to grab you.
Rebecca (Eva Green) has been in love with Thomas (Matt Smith) ever since they met as children. After returning to her home all grown up the two reconnect and fall for each other all over again. The good times are cut short, however, when a freak accident takes Thomas away from Rebecca. Not content with saying goodbye, and desperate to see her beloved again, Rebecca decides to clone him. However this isn’t as simple as other science fiction films have always made it out to be; Rebecca eventually gives birth to Thomas, but as a baby and essentially becomes the new Thomas’ mother leading to all sorts of complications as he grows up and begins to resemble Rebecca’s lost love more and more.
Deliberately slow-paced and running at almost two hours, the movie spends the first half just building up the relationship between Rebecca and Thomas first as children and then as adults. But unfortunately these scenes as a whole just aren’t that interesting and that has to do with the fact that the characters themselves have absolutely nothing to them. As children, the two just run around and act like kids, with no real basis for the two even falling for one another. And when Rebecca reconnects with Thomas as an adult, she has somehow gotten even creepier and comes off mentally unhinged, while Thomas has become an insufferable activist who seems to lack any personality as well. Without any feelings one way or another for the two main characters, it makes Womb almost unbearable to sit through at the beginning.
But once the cloning gets introduced, that’s when Womb picks up and becomes fascinating on a psychological level. The relationship between Rebecca and Clone Thomas (I guess we’ll call him that) has an aura of uneasiness to it the entire time; with Clone Thomas both being her son and sharing the DNA of her dead lover, Rebecca balances being his mother and being attracted to him. This as well as their isolation from most of the outside world (the movie has maybe seven characters, tops) creates a bond between the two that straddles the line between paternal and sexual, which in and of itself showcases a huge moral question surrounding cloning: if you give birth to a clone without your DNA, does it still count as incest to be attracted to them?
Green and Smith make the paternal and sexual relationship work thanks to their wonderful, if unsettling, performances. Green is especially great here, playing it very understated with just a hint of creepy obsession (although her character never seems to age, something that got distracting as Clone Thomas got older). Smith essentially plays dual roles, and while Thomas is insufferable, Clone Thomas a bit more empathetic and interesting and he balances both successfully.
Womb doesn’t completely fall flat on its face; the themes being explored are fascinating on a psychological level and the minimalist take on the story is a welcome change from the way other films have tackled human cloning. The way they explore the complicated relationship between Rebecca and Clone Thomas leads to some sweet moments as well as some that are unsettling that will undoubtedly catch unsuspecting viewers off-guard. But Womb‘s dreadfully slow pace and lack of characterization (despite Green and Smith’s good performances) end up derailing the movie, making it a chore to sit through at times, especially the first half. But ultimately Womb is worth sticking it out as it has a promising original concept. I just wish it had a little bit more to latch on to.
Womb opens March 30th in New York City, with more cities to follow.
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