Splice: the "evilutionary biologist" as female

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splice-poster.jpgThe 2010 movie Splice is one of the most recent additions to the Mad Scientist canon. Specifically, main characters Elsa and Clive (yep) are "Evilutionary Biologists," splicing together DNA from many different animals, making new creatures in the name of pharmaceutical advancement. Their success with Fred and Ginger, a pair of flesh-covered slug-like creatures who manufacture a protein desired by the company the scientists work for, leads Clive and Elsa to the inevitable question: what if we added human DNA?

They go through with it, and the result is a creature Elsa names Dren who looks more and more human as it—she—grows. During every stage, from deciding to try the splice, to growing an embryo, to keeping the result alive, Elsa is the one pushing Clive to agree to it. She has quintessential mad scientist lines such as "Scientists push boundaries—at least the important ones do."

Elsa follows in the footsteps of other creators of monstrosity such as Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau. Although in some respects Elsa's character fits a stereotypical women's role (she is the one raising the creature, she lets emotion cloud her judgment), having a female mad scientist is pretty rare. There is a dearth of complex roles for women in mainstream cinema, and Elsa's character definitely fits that description. That's why the last act of the film is so disappointing. Dren transforms from female to male, then rapes and impregnates Elsa. The plot twist of having a scientist's creation turn against its creator is a common one. Having this revenge take the form of rape essentializes Elsa's character and uses her biology to punish her and end the movie with the oh-so-tired pregnancy cliffhanger.

Even though I think the film ultimately fails Elsa, it does pave the way for exploration of more female characters who choose to create life outside the womb. Elsa, most likely due to an abusive childhood, does not want to have children. But Dren is clearly a substitute child, not in the least because Elsa uses her own DNA to create Dren. Clive thinks the reason Elsa created Dren and used her own DNA was as a way to have a child that she didn't need to worry about screwing up, since it would be born already a monster.

Critical readings of other "evilutionary biologist" texts, in which the scientist is male, often position the character's actions as an attempt for the male to take over reproduction since his body cannot produce a child. When the scientist is a female who is capable of reproduction but chooses a monstrous creation, it moves the focus back to the science and the heady obsession of creating that spark of life in the lab.

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