Womb (Director: Benedek Fliegauf): I love films which take a science fiction premise or setting and then show us real characters reacting to that premise or setting. Womb promised to be an interesting exploration of some of the more delicate ethical issues around the issue of human cloning, and it didn’t hurt that it featured the lovely Eva Green.
We first meet Rebecca and Tommy as children. Rebecca is staying with her grandfather who lives in a beachfront house on a remote-looking island. She meets Tommy on the beach one day and they bond instantly. What’s more, they’re just at that age where they’re beginning to feel romantic attraction, and it seems that there is a very primal force drawing them together. But then Rebecca leaves to live with her mother who’s taken a job in Japan, and the two don’t even get to say a proper goodbye. Fast forward 12 years, and now the adult Rebecca returns to the island looking for Tommy. When she finds him, the mutual attraction is still there and soon they’re a couple. But it seems that within only a few days, tragedy strikes when Tommy is killed by a car. Here’s where the sci-fi kicks in. Against his parents’ wishes, Rebecca has herself impregnated with some of Tommy’s genetic material and nine months later gives birth to his clone. As she raises this child alone, the creepiness gradually increases until 20 years later, when it suddenly goes off the charts.
This intriguing premise is sadly mishandled by Hungarian-born Fliegauf, who chose to work in English, not his first language. As a result, the script is clumsy, even though there is barely enough dialogue to begin with. When Tommy 2 learns the truth about his origins, he’s left to exclaim, “Why did you do it? Why did you do this thing?” There are long stretches of silence in the film, and there is not a single normal conversation between any of the characters. Nor do we really know what’s going on inside any of their heads. Eva Green’s blazing eyes and pre-Raphaelite beauty do not equal a character. The film is all mood, a collection of atmospheric shots but not a real story. Rebecca’s obsession with reconnecting with her true love just isn’t that interesting when it takes 30 years to resolve. Characters living in isolation in a beach house with no discernible friends, family or livelihoods just make the story feel more artificial. To make matters worse, I found the grown-up Tommy insufferable. He’s practically autistic; certainly childish and a bit primitive. When he returns as a clone, he’s still obnoxious. I couldn’t see the coldly intellectual Rebecca having any attraction to this farmhand. His behaviour becomes even worse when he gets a girlfriend and “mom” withdraws into depression. Rebecca’s way of telling him the truth is both anachronistic and cowardly. She gives him Tommy 1’s 20-year-old laptop with pictures of Tommy 1 with his (real) parents and video of himself at political protests. I snickered when he was able to get the old machine up and running instantly and navigate through the files.
Although Fliegauf does succeed in thoroughly grossing out the audience by the end, I still didn’t care about the characters. Though the relationship isn’t technically incest, it seems even worse, since Rebecca has been cultivating this child for so long only to consummate a sexual relationship with him. It’s a shame that this rather interesting idea failed so spectacularly in the execution. The film never convinces us that Tommy and Rebecca were really much of a couple to begin with, and we never learn much about either of them as individuals either. There is no real setting; the almost-abandoned beach feels as artificial as if the two of them are on the moon. Tommy’s parents conveniently disappear and when his mother reappears 20 years later, she leaves without saying a word. Rebecca comes across as cold and silent, Tommy as stunted and unlikeable. There is the germ of a good film here. Maybe we could clone that and try again.
Here is the Q&A with director Benedek Fliegauf from after the screening.