Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Frankenstein's Offspring: Practicing Science and Parenthood in Natali's Splice

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Frankenstein's Offspring: Practicing Science and Parenthood in Natali's Splice

Article excerpt

In 'Biohorror/Biotech' Eugene Thacker distinguishes the traditional form of body horror, which he links to Gothic works such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) as a narrative of science gone awfully wrong, from a contemporary technoscientific version he refers to as 'biohorror', arguing that in this form science has gone awfully right: 'biohorror suggests that the monsters and abjections of technoscience are the product of a set of techniques and technologies that simply work too well' (113f.). Whereas Shelley discusses Victor Frankenstein's failed moral values and descent into madness and elicits horror from the human body threatened by science, biohorror uses the 'synergy between the biological and technical domains' to move beyond the limits of the body and create an 'effortless un-doing and refiguring of the body's boundaries' (114). As one of the most influential cultural depictions of body horror, Frankenstein has provided the seed for an ever-changing, modern myth continually reshaped into different cultural and historical moments. Frankenstein's madness, scientific hubris and complete ignorance of ethical standards have become part of the cultural imagination and response to the radical scientific insights and social developments of the Industrial Revolution. Carol Dougherty acknowledges an idea by Clifford Geertz, when she argues that myths have a double function: 'myths provide a common body of material that is not only important to think about but also "good to think with"' (13). Within Shelley's narrative one finds the mythical building blocks that have been reshaped into biohorror to explore twenty-first century technoscientific progress and questions of post-humanism.

One recent example of the modern Frankenstein myth - the mad scientist at work, playing god and creating another being - is Vincenzo Natali's 2009 film Splice (Canada/France/US), a film that makes use of the original's body horror template and shifts the mythology into biohorror. Its form needs to be understood not as a divergence from the original source material, but rather through Chris Baldick's contention that the 'series of adaptations, allusions, accretions, analogues, parodies, and plain misreadings which follows upon Mary Shelley's novel is not just a supplementary component of the myth; it is the myth' (4). Reading the film as mythopoeisis allows us to investigate what happens to its ideological content when an author uses the existing 'host of associations, connotations, and interpretive baggage' (Dougherty 13) that surrounds the myth and reinterprets it according to the cultural needs specific to its contemporary audience.

That Splice is an adaptation of the Frankenstein myth is so obvious that there is virtually no review of the film that does not at some point mention the connection, as does Natali himself in interviews and commentaries:

I think that Splice fundamentally is a creature movie for adults because it pays homage to all the things that one would expect from a Frankenstein kind of story but it deals with aspects of the relationship that the creators and their creation have, that I think most movies don't ever deal with. ('Behind')

In an interview with sftv.com Natali strengthens the bond with Frankenstein when he admits that the 'emotional quotient' of the story is what fascinated him about the Frankenstein myth in the first place. Splice, Natali says, 'hopefully breaks new ground ... with the emotional relationship with the creature to a degree that we haven't seen outside of Mary Shelley's original novel' (Captain). Interpreting Shelley's story as dealing with familial issues, Natali concentrates on the father/son relationship, downplaying other aspects such as the creature's origin in death (Baldick 3), the self-duplication of the creator (Small 15) or the romantic heroism of the artist/creator (Haynes 94).1

Before beginning the analysis, a short summary of the film might be in order. Splice tells the story of two genetic engineers, who are also a couple, and their experiment of creating a human-animal hybrid through DNA re-sequencing. …

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