If you were presented with the opportunity to bring your dear departed loved one back from the dead, would you seize it, despite the questionable morality of the act? Would your love run deep enough for you to able to make that decision and then live with it afterwards when things get complicated? These are couple of the central questions being examined in Benedek Fliegauf’s 2010 drama film, Womb, starring Eva Green and Matt Smith.
The plot of the film revolves around a woman played by Eva Green, who after years of separation finally gets reacquainted with her first childhood love, only to almost immediately see him die in a freak accident. In the midst of her soul crushing grief and depression, as one does, she decides to bring her dead lover back by cloning him rather than letting go and moving onwards with her life. And not only is she going to clone him, she’s going to be the person who carries the clone to term inside her own womb, and then raise the clone/son to adulthood as its mother. Suffice to say, things get a bit complicated when the clone grows older and the relationship between the clone and the mother start to show signs of, amongst other things, facets of incestuous subtext, with the gloom of the British isles setting the atmospheric backdrop and tone for this unusual sci-fi tale.
The film is at its core a fascinating story of human relationships, complexities of life in the progressively muddy world of moral ethics when it comes to the possibilities of advanced technology, and lastly, of love and the depths you go for that love, with a very slight science fiction tint to it that allows you to examine the various themes with the appropriate amount of emotional detachment. It’s not an easy film to watch, as the subject matter is challenging, the pacing is very slow and the tone more than a bit depressive and gloomy. But if you persevere, it will reward you.
I’m going to get a bit sidetracked for a moment before diving deeper into the film, because this is something I personally found intriguing, but it’s admittedly pretty small and not particularly important facet of the film or the story in itself, but it offers some nice little world building and depth to the story that I honestly wasn’t expecting to find in the picture. Beyond the somewhat titillating prospects of incest and the twisted portrayal of motherhood, which I’ll address more in-depth in just a second, in the story there exists this vague and lingering, seemingly insignificant subplot (that doesn’t even get resolved) about the thinly veiled, quite sinister small scale discrimination that you can find in all small villages and towns to everything that is deemed not “normal”, that in this case is projected towards the clones that exist in this fictional world. It doesn’t get much play, but I really like how it manages to imply there existing this great ideological divide with people over the entire cloning process that seems to be widely available for the public. People in mourning find the prospect of cloning their loved ones as highly comforting, where as others are just disgusted by the very thought of the process. It’s particularly great the way these same people are shown projecting their hate towards the clones with the typical mundane discriminatory ways that prejudice and racism works in real life. For example there’s this scene where the little clone boy is holding a birthday party, but all the kids they’ve invited over fail to arrive. It’s just crushing to witness the boy’s confusion, as you the viewer quickly realize the reason for it is that the small town community has figured out the boy is a clone, and they’ve immediately started to shun the clone by refusing to let other kids to play with him anymore. Exclusion hurts worse than words ever could, especially to a child who fails to understand the context and does not realize why his friends suddenly have abandoned him. It’s quite horrible.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the way you can analyze it, as the film invites you to make your own interpretations as to what it really is about. You can take it as it is as a weird Sci-fi story, of course, but you’d be losing much of the excitement of figuring out the symbolism and hidden meanings that you can decipher from the story. Perhaps the most obvious way to examine the film is the motherhood point of view, where you could see the entire story being, really, a large and twisted allegory for what (single) mothers go through when their child matures into an adult and they are confronted with the depressing and scary notion that, as the child embarks to its own independent life, the parent is basically getting abandoned in a sense. This is heavily signified in the plot when the clone (still completely oblivious of his true origins) brings home his girlfriend from school and Eva Green starts to experience severe melancholy, fear and jealously when she is confronted with the fact that she is being replaced with another, more younger and (subjectively speaking, from her POV) more beautiful woman. It’s fascinating to see this particular emotional fear manifest itself in the later half of the film, where Eva appears to almost be paralyzed and rendered inert as she internally struggles with the idea of “losing” her son. It’s as if she was starting to live almost a sort of half-life when she had to confront the idea that the most significant part of her life was about to metaphorically be ripped away from her loving bosom. The fact that her son also happens to also be the clone of her lover just twists the knife harder, as it adds another sordid level to the subtext. All in all it’s a powerful metaphor for the looming emptiness parents encounter once their children are about to leave the nest and the conflict that comes from the inherently possessive nature of parenthood and the obvious need to let go and let them reach adulthood and gain independence.
The another way to look at the story is that as a whole, it represents the sensation of undying love of youth and how malleable the perception of that love is with time. When you are still young and your passions run strong, you think love is eternal, and it will never change. You’re so naive and optimistic that bringing back your loved one through cloning seems not only romantic, but also almost like destiny demands it. You were meant to be together, after all. So how could your young, passionate love not endure the tests of time, the tolls of resurrection and such trials as your lover being rendered a tabula rasa, with no memories of your shared past? Surely love conquers all. But as you grow older, and hopefully wiser and more mature, you start to see the fragility and limits of love that didn’t appear to be there before. As Eva Green’s character matures as a person and you start to see her love change with age and changing circumstances of the mother/son dynamic, the love even ends up taking almost a fatalistic tone, which has its own compelling connotations. This entire way to look at the film lends itself to many interesting questions begging an answer. Is love unbreakable? Does your love triumph in the end, even if one of you does not remember the circumstances that gave birth to the love in the first place, i.e. is love fate, predestined? Does it really even matter if your one-sided love is strong enough? Would it really be enough for you just to be next to your beloved even if he could not respond to your feelings the same way, or even be aware of the true nature of those feelings? What does it mean to the child that grows up from such an union and then one day finds the truth? And so on and so on.
Before I wrap this up, there is one small pet peeve I have. The more I think about the more I find myself disproportionally annoyed by the alternative United Kingdom DVD title that calls the film Clone. It’s just a crap title, completely forgettable and sterile. I wonder what the logic behind the change was. Did Womb make it sound too feminine, lewd or chick flick-y? To me, Womb is the perfect fit for the type of story Fliegauf’s telling. It has way better thematic connotations and it better captures the unusual tone and the underlying maternal subtext of the subject matter. Plus it doesn’t spoil the story immediately.