Dissecting the many metaphors of “Splice.”

Dissecting the many metaphors of “Splice.” (photo)

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NOTE: This piece contains SPOILERS.

The trailers sold “Splice” as a science-gone-wrong monster movie. The June 4th opening suggested dumb summer horror. But director Vincenzo Natali’s film is a lot smarter than its marketing or release date suggest.

Maybe too smart for its own good — it received a grade of D from audiences in Cinemascore’s exit polls, according to this week’s box office report from Entertainment Weekly. Though the film does deliver some solid scares, impressive creature effects and its fair share of gore, “Splice” is more than a simple genre retread. Natali and co-writers Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor layered their screenplay with all sorts of clever metaphors. Here’s three I caught; I’ll look to you, commenters, to tell us which others I missed:

06072010_splice2.jpgMad Science as Parenting: “Splice”‘s plot involves a pair of married scientists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), on the cusp of a major breakthrough in the field of gene splicing. As the film begins, they’re reveling in the successful creation of Fred and Ginger, two sacks of fidgety flesh filled with valuable proteins ready for harvest. Though Fred’s easily one of the most repulsive looking creatures you’ll see in a movie theater this year, Elsa can’t help but dote on him. “He’s so cute!” she brags. And why shouldn’t she? Fred’s her baby, and parents always think their ugly babies are adorable.

Clive and Elsa don’t have any kids; the creepy crawlies “born” in their laboratory are their offspring, and “Splice”‘s parenting metaphors get even more pronounced with the arrival of their latest bundle of joy (and occasional terror), Dren. She’s the result of the scientists’ addition of human DNA to Fred and Ginger’s genetic stew. Since Clive and Elsa’s bosses haven’t approved the morally and economically questionable experiment that creates Dren, the pair have to take care of her themselves in secret. And while Dren, with her alien, hairless head, stubby raptor arms, and triple-jointed chicken legs, is a pretty unique looking baby, the problems Clive and Elsa face raising her are, for the most part, pretty typical: difficulty feeding a finicky eater, comforting it when it’s scared, dealing with its tantrums, and reinforcing its boundaries.

And the allegory doesn’t stop with the way Clive and Elsa deal with Dren; it also applies to how they deal with each other. Like most parents, Clive and Elsa’s relationship is changed by the addition of their little “miracle.” Again, the issues are familiar: They stop having sex and sleeping. They argue more. They disagree over the best ways to teach and discipline. They worry they’re screwing everything up and ruining their child’s life. In this context, you could read the film’s ending in a couple different ways: maybe they do mess up Dren, and suffer the consequences for it. Or maybe children are just inherently little monsters who ruin their parents’ lives. Either way, married couples considering babies of their own should keep their distance from this movie on date night. It’s like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting (The Worst).”

06022010_splice3.jpgMonster Killing as Abortion: If the whole film is a thinly veiled metaphor for parenting, it makes sense that these parents might, in a moment of panic, consider terminating their scientifically engineered pregnancy. Which is exactly what happens after Clive begins to regret letting Elsa fertilize an egg with their splice-y DNA.

Natali, Bryant, and Taylor’s choice of dialogue is deliberate and unmistakable. When they first fix their eyes on Dren, Elsa asks, “What is it?” Clive responds, “A mistake.” Putting his foot down after a series of acquiescences to Elsa, he announces that his intent to kill their creation. “Do you have to do this?” pleads Elsa. “You don’t have to,” Clive replies. “I’ll take care of this.” The gender reversal going on in that moment mirrors the increasingly ambiguous gender roles of certain characters later in the film.

Mad Science as Filmmaking: “Splice”‘s title refers to Clive and Elsa’s genetic experimentation, of course, but the word “splice” also refers to the act of film editing. With that in mind — and considering the fact that the film’s credit sequence ends with the words “Splice, By Vincenzo Natali” followed immediately by a birth sequence from the point of view of a newborn — we can look at the entire film as an allegory for the act of filmmaking. For a director, a film is their baby. They create it, develop it, watch it grow, and then send it off into the world. Whatever it does, it still has their name attached to it and it’s still their responsibility.

It’s also possible to read the film as a metaphor for indie filmmakers struggling against the constraints of a system that values commerce over art. Like a lot of independents, Clive and Elsa have their dreams and ambitions — in their case, creating a human/animal hybrid — but are forced to put them on the back burner out of financial concerns. The corporation that own the patents on their work could represent Hollywood studio execs. The push and pull between the scientists and their financiers, who admire their ideas but care more about delivering results to their stockholders, is like the dance between any director and the folks holding his or her purse strings. The scene where Clive and Elsa introduce Fred and Ginger to their company’s stockholders represents a disastrous test screening. Like the Michael Ciminos of the world, Clive and Elsa let their ambition get the best of them, and they begin to lose control of the creation, and their minds.

06072010_splice3.jpgMonster movies like “Splice” are traditionally cautionary tales about the perils of science run amok. Applied to the idea that Clive and Elsa are artistically adventurous filmmakers, that implies a belief that too much experimentation in a movie can be dangerous. That seems like a strange point for a filmmaker to make, and yet the end of “Splice,” in which Dren goes on a rather clichéd kill-spree in a foggy forest, essentially reinforces it. Though much of the movie boldly creates a creature that an audience can sympathize with and even, at times, root for against her human “parents,” the film’s decidedly formulaic ending reverts to a simpler, more mainstream style of filmmaking.

“Splice”‘s most frequently repeatedly line is “What’s the worst that could happen?” In this case, it might be other studios getting scared away from making horror films as creative as “Splice” by that D from Cinemascore. I’d hate to imagine future horror movies, spliced together from the worst and most obvious bits from existing material, appealing only to our basest needs and containing none of this film’s intelligence. Maybe genetic engineers shouldn’t take so many risks. But filmmakers definitely should.

[Photos: “Splice,” Warner Brothers, 2010]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.