Unheralded 'Womb' braves difficult material with pinpoint focus
Womb Olive Films
Director: Benedek Fliegauf
Screenplay: Benedek Fliegauf
Starring: Eva Green, Matt Smith, Ruby O. Fee, Tristan Christopher, Lesley Manville, Peter
Wight and Hannah Murray
Rated R / 1 hour, 51 minutes
(out of four)
**Critic's note: Though this review is by no means spoilery, the basic premise of Womb may be
best experienced knowing nothing about it at all. I don't think it's of any great concern either
way, but this movie in particular might be a nice one to go into blind. Just a thought.**
The very nature of science fiction allows it to tackle (and anticipate) existential concerns in ways
other genres rarely can. It is uniquely qualified to address anxieties and preoccupations of the
current time and place (one of the reasons great sci-fi is often so much more prescient than, say,
ripped-from-the-headlines drama) and probe them for all their possibilities. It thinks and
speculates, opening up for discussion any and all implications we haven't yet had the
opportunity to confront.
Questions and speculation are almost always more interesting than answers, and in this regard
the genre is, again, at an advantage - questions are its bread and butter. A good sci-fi film offers
one interpretation of what is often an abstract idea. In hindsight, it's never necessary to judge a
film based on what it got "right" or what it forecasted correctly (though that's always an
interesting bonus), but rather on its thought and curiosity.
Which brings us to the fascinating and frightening concept at the core of Benedek Fliegauf's
Womb. Human cloning has been around as a plot device forever. But now that we're facing it as
not only a real possibility, but an inevitable part of our future - a brave new world, if you will
(ha, ha) - the subject takes on a greater relevance. In fact, in the case of this film and certain
others covering similar material, there's an eerie sense of realism and normalcy undercutting the
fact that they're dealing strictly in hypotheticals.
Over the last few years, we've seen cloning pop up a bit more as a serious dramatic subject as
the issue has gained traction in popular culture. Films have ranged from the dreadful (Godsend)
to the transcendent (Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go, the best film of 2010). Duncan Jones'
Moon comes to mind as another strong example.
Womb is in the same tonal category as Never Let Me Go, and in fact there are some interesting
visual parallels between the two - including certain images strangely reminiscent of one another,
something I assume is a coincidence because the films would have been in production at around
the same time.
It seems most films that deal with cloning in one way or another
come to pretty troubling conclusions; Womb is no exception. Its conceit is centered around
human folly and the paradoxes/dilemmas that result from it, painting a disquieting portrait of
obsession and isolation that borders on a kind of madness. The film has its own slices of social
commentary, but gradually draws itself more and more inward - a reflection of the two central
characters, a mother and son, who are nudged into a life on the outskirts of civilization. The run-down house where they make their home is right on the beach, but it might as well be the edge of
But then, I must confess, when I said it was a mother and son, I was being just a bit withholding.
Because Womb's extra layer is something of an inverted Greek tragedy twist. You see, before
being mother and son, Rebecca (The Magnificent Eva Green) and Tommy (current Dr. Who star
Matt Smith) were brief childhood sweethearts (played by Ruby O. Fee and Tristan Christopher),
reuniting years later before Tommy died in a freak accident.
Rebecca, at a loss following Tommy's death after such a brief reunion, decides to handle her loss
by . . . well, by not accepting it. Resisting it. By which I mean having his DNA cloned,
impregnating herself, giving birth to her former lover and raising him into adulthood. Without
the new Tommy's knowledge, of course. Unconsummated incestuous complications ensue.
Fliegauf presents this all with chilly precision, composing overcast, sparsely populated shots and
taking his time with each one. He separates us so completely from the world that made cloning
possible that at a certain point Womb seems to exist outside the bounds of time altogether - and
for all intents and purposes, outside the bounds of reality.
I also like some of the details he drops into the narrative - the way others describe clones (or
"copies") as having a particular smell. ("You can always tell when they're a copy.") It changes
the cloning concept from a purely scientific/theoretical idea into something elemental, something
I've heard complaints about the film's pacing - described as "sluggish," "glacial" or, for the
really lazy critic, "too slow" - but for me its rhythms work exceptionally well. The film uses all
the time it needs to invite us in and force us (or at least ask us) to contemplate the strangeness
and sadness of Rebecca as a person, a mother and a lover. We realize early on that this is a
woman in a severe state of arrested development. Far from the more easily palatable "passionate
lover who takes her love too far," this character is isolated from the moment we first see her,
from childhood to adulthood (if there is, for her, such a transition at all).
The idea of her love for Tommy is just that - an idea, something that got stuck in her head at an
early age and that she has never actually been able to experience except as a romantic
idealization. Womb, then, is a film about her trying to realize what was never much more than a
concept. It's only fitting that she never looks happy or satisfied in either of her roles, mother or
lover. Rebecca's ultimate creation is not a genetic miracle, but her own unsatisfying fantasy.