Splice is four-fifths of a superior science-fiction movie. Then something goes wrong. In the paragraphs below, I’m going to talk about precisely what goes wrong, so if you haven’t seen Splice yet, you should head down to your local second-run movie theatre and watch it before reading further.
Perhaps we can better identify what’s wrong with the ending of Splice by comparing the movie with its most obvious antecedent, David Cronenberg’s The Fly. As you’ll recall, at the end of The Fly, the direly mutated Jeff Goldblum kidnaps Geena Davis from the doctor’s office to prevent her from aborting their baby. He takes her back to his lab and spells out his nutty plan to use the teleporter to combine himself, her, and their unborn child into a single being. Then his rotting flesh sloughs away and he turns into an animatronic monster.
I can understand why Cronenberg chose to do this. If you go to see a monster movie called The Fly, you expect to see a giant fly – not an actor swathed in lumpy latex. The problem is, we’re not only watching a monster movie, we’re also watching a movie about the relationship of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. It’s the relationship that makes the movie interesting. And suddenly, right at the climax of the film, one of the two main actors disappears and is replaced with a slime-covered puppet.
This is a problem with The Fly. But it’s not that big a problem, because A) it happens a minute or two before the end of the movie, at a point of maximum tension, so we don’t have time to think about it, and B) in the puppet’s final scene, when it helps Geena Davis aim the shotgun at its own head, we’re willing to believe that the puppet is Jeff Goldblum. It’s a leap, but we can project our feelings about Goldblum’s character onto this pathetic creature.
At the end of Splice, a similar transformation occurs. The actress who plays Dren, the most sympathetic character and one-third of the romantic-incestuous triangle at the dramatic core of the movie, disappears, and is replaced with a totally different actor. [Correction - see update, below.]
At this point, I stopped caring. I felt gypped. Intellectually I can acknowledge that this spiny naked guy leaping through the trees is supposed to be Dren. But I can’t transfer my affections to him because he’s obviously not Dren. He’s some guy I’ve never seen before, and his fate doesn’t interest me.
Why is it easier for me to identify with puppet-Goldblum than with pseudo-Dren? I suspect it’s precisely because a puppet isn’t a person. It’s a thing – an empty vessel. Its eyes give us nothing, they’re only glassy orbs, and we can imagine that we see Goldblum’s busy mind at work behind them. But pseudo-Dren is very obviously a person. His eyes look back at us, and we say, “Who’s this dude?”
The ending might have worked better if they’d somehow retained Delphine Chanéac, the actress who plays Dren, to portray her post-transformation self. Still, I can’t help but think that the whole ending is a wrong turn. Splice sets up a fascinating, twisted relationship among its three lead characters, but the relationship is blown to bits before we get a chance to explore it.
Update, August 22 2010: A few weeks ago, Niky posted in the comments that the male Dren was actually played by Delphine Chanéac. I had trouble believing this, but today was the first chance I’ve had to do a little more in-depth Googling – and it seems Niky is right. Here’s an interview with Delphine where she confirms it; the relevant discussion starts around 2:41.
Obviously, this revelation undermines the premise of my complaint about the ending. Therefore, I withdraw my objection: Splice is a perfect movie.