Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Godsend

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence including frightening images, a scene of sexuality and some thematic material

Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teens and Adults
Genre:
Drama, Suspense/Horror, Thriller
Length:
1 hr. 42 min.
Year of Release:
2004
USA Release:
______
Featuring: Robert De Niro, Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn, Cameron Bright, Jenny Levine
Director: Nick Hamm (The Hole; The Very Thought of You; Talk of Angels)
Producer: Michael Paseornek, Marc Butan, Sean O’Keefe, Cathy Schulman
Distributor: Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Lions Gate

Cloning: Is it right or wrong? Answer


Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “If someone you loved were taken from you, how far would you go to bring him or her back? This is the impossible question confronting grief-stricken Paul and Jessie Duncan (Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn) in the very graveyard where they are to bury their beloved eight year-old son, Adam (Cameron Bright). Into that moment of absolute despair steps Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro) with a calm, reasoned, and utterly incredible offer. He can bring their son back, alive.

He explains that Adam is dead but his cells live on. Wells would clone the boy, and Jessie could give birth to him once more, allowing Adam a second chance at life, and the family another chance at happiness. The cells however, will not be viable for long Wells tells Paul and Jessie and the couple has only a day to decide if they can accept this achingly tempting offer. Facing this immediate yet agonizing decision, the couple tries to consider the moral, ethical and legal repercussions of this action. Their love for their son triumphs over all arguments, and Paul and Jessie agree to give their boy the chance to live beyond his eighth birthday.

With echoes of a Faustian bargain, Dr. Wells’ offer comes with conditions: The process is illegal, so secrecy must be absolute. The new Adam will never see another doctor and the Duncan’s will sever ties with friends and family so that no curious eyes will ever see their little boy growing up again. To ensure the secret is kept, the family resettles in the idyllic town of Riverton, close to Dr. Wells’ impressive Godsend Fertility Clinic.

At Godsend, Jessie undergoes a relatively simple procedure—just like any woman undergoing in vitro fertilization. The expectant couple is made comfortable with a beautiful, well-appointed, and extremely large home. Paul returns to work with a plum job teaching biology at the local high school. The Duncan’s settle in, make friends and eagerly await the birth of their son.

Soon Jessie gives birth at Wells’ Godsend Fertility Clinic. The new Adam appears to be a perfect replica in every way, down to very the last cell. His life follows a comfortingly similar pattern until he passes his eighth birthday—and Adam, unaware that he has reached a milestone, literally begins living on borrowed time.

The Duncan’s placid life is shattered at first by Adam’s screams in the night. The boy, unconscious, is raced to the clinic where Wells diagnoses night terrors, a disturbing but benign sleep disorder that is not uncommon in children. Adam wakes the following morning, apparently fine, but with vague memories of what he describes as weird dreams.

Already gravely concerned for their son, it becomes obvious to Paul and Jessie that something is wrong. His dreams become visions that disturb him as much as his parents. Adam is seized by sporadic mood and personality changes that are shockingly different from the sweet and loving boy they knew through both of his lives.

Paul starts to reconsider his pact with Wells and thinks that maybe it is time to take Adam to an actual pediatrician rather than Wells who, while admittedly brilliant and responsible for Adam’s very life, is a geneticist, not a pediatrician. Paul also starts to question Wells’ motives, wondering if there could be a deeper or darker truth.

Adam spirals into the world of his visions, seemingly catching glimpses of another place and perhaps even another time. A palpable sense of menace seems to hang about the boy. As he lashes out at home and at school, this beautiful boy begins to seem dangerous. When a schoolmate drowns, Paul forces himself to consider the implication of what they have done and asks himself: how far did Wells really go? Were there darker forces at work as he “played God” with their son?

Paul uncovers the secrets of Dr. Well’s past. In a violent and dramatic confrontation, the full, sickening truth comes out.

From this moment on, the Duncan’s will have to come to terms with what they have done and what has been done to them.”

Review

As of today (May 1st), fully 82 out of 85 reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes have panned Godsend for everything from bad acting to bad writing. Although some have compared Godsend to The Bad Seed, they haven’t said why other than the movie has an evil child. In this case the child is named “Adam” and he comes in two flavors: God-made and man-made. Lost in the storm of critical fury is the movie’s suggestion that how Adam is conceived makes all the difference in the world, both for Adam and for his parents.

Here’s the scoop. “Godsend” is a cross between “The Bad Seed” and “The Sixth Sense.” In the former, there is an interesting conversation discussing evil in the context of nature vs. nurture: Does evil have its roots in human psychology or biology? On the other hand, “The Sixth Sense” is purely supernatural. The barriers between us and all those ghastly ghosts are not as solid as some think-they creep through every now and then. The question “Godsend” raises is a synthesis of those two: Does evil have a human or a supernatural origin?

The contending ideas in the movie are science and faith. This, I suspect, is the root cause of the nearly unanimous negative reviews. The movie treats a faith-based ideology more favorably than the scientific sacred cow of secularists. The characters played by Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos say things like “God be with you” and “Thank God” (twice). At one point, Adam asks Dr. Wells what “reservoir” means. Wells tells him it’s a man-made lake. Adam replies, “I thought God made everything.” The Word comes into play in an unusual fashion as well. Wells tells them “you have my word,” and later Paul asks Jessie, “Are his words gospel?”

This is the tension that the movie intends to create. In a formal sense, the movie fails because it seems to the average reviewer that the director couldn’t make up his mind whether he was making a psychological drama or a supernatural horror film. Strictly speaking, one has to admit that the movie doesn’t work. The supernatural elements are wholly unexplained until the very end. Thus, what the viewer thought was a movie problematizing the ethics of cloning turns into a struggle between two other ideas. You see how people can get confused.

Still, from a Christian perspective, I’m reminded of the quotation from Ecclesiastes that Andrew Niccol cited in “Gattaca”:

“Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13 NIV).

What the movie tries to make straight is God-ordained fate.

The crucible moment of ideological conflict occurs in a church where Paul knocks Wells against the table on which the Bible rests, toppling a candle. The camera captures the moment when the flames lick at the Bible and the church slowly catches on fire. Interestingly, fire is the method that Wells’s son also used to kill people. Like father, like son, as the saying goes. It is this scene on which reviewers base their characterization of Wells as the devil. This doesn’t make sense without also connecting the concept to Wells’s child and, by extension, to the overarching themes of spirituality and science.

Those Christians who are particularly sensitive probably should not see this movie, and there is one scene of partial nudity that occurs between the married couple. Except for those caveats, almost all other Christians might find the interplay of the two belief systems interesting.

There are some movies that are pure entertainment and there are others that try to portray ideas in visual terms. When the latter fail, they fail spectacularly, obscuring their original intention. “Godsend” is such a movie, but there is much in it to appreciate. Although some reviewers didn’t like Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos’s performances, I thought they were convincing as distraught parents and as a loving married couple.

Language: 5 “s” words, 1 slang term for sex (“do you”), 2 d*mns, 1 *ss, 1 cr*p, 1 h*ll, 8 uses of “G-d*mn,” 3 of “Oh G*d,” 2 each of “G*d,” “Oh my G*d” and “Swear to G*d” and 1 use each of “J*sus” and “My G*d” as exclamations.

If you are interested in idea-movies, then “Godsend” is worth seeing. With a line here and a supernatural deletion everywhere else, it could easily have been made into an interesting Christian movie highlighting the moral and spiritual questions that cloning raises. With the recent success of “The Passion,” you wonder how long it will take Hollywood to catch on that Christians will go in droves to see genuinely Christian films.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate


Cloning: Is it right or wrong? Answer


Movie Critics
…scary scenes are neatly crafted—even subtle, by genre standards—but horror fans will always be able to tell when something bad is about to happen…
—Margaret A. McGurk, The Cincinnati Enquirer
Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—…I was not “confused” by what the director was trying to do. As a filmmaker myself, I believe that you should say what you can as concisely as possible, artistic value notwithstanding. I think about 10 minutes could have been cut from the movie here and there to give it a more cohesive feel to it. I think Greg Kinnear’s acting was fairly decent, and the rest did fine as well. But “bad acting”? I’m a bit baffled by that judgment, to be quite honest.

The sex scene was between a husband and wife, so I wasn’t offended by that. The content of the film itself was pushing an “R” rating, but I don’t believe it should have been “R.” 13-year olds, however, shouldn’t see this film unless their parents feel they are quite mature.
My Ratings: [Average/3½]
—Doug Stuart, age 23

Comments from young people
Negative—Wow. I saw the trailers for this film while it ran in theaters, and I was planning on seeing it and everything. It looks very interesting and had the likings of a good thriller. I missed the run in theaters, and I recently ordered it OnDemand. I viewed it with high hopes, and I was given a boring, short, and predictable film. There are no high points in this film. There is no atmosphere over the film, and it’s anything but scary. The acting is dull, and the plot (though it could have been a great one) was executed very poorly.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/1½]
—Dylan, age 13
Positive—This film can make you consider human life from a more serious perspective. While death is a necessary part of life, it is extremely hard to deal with and can have traumatic effects. While the overall story has some interesting twists and some shocking moments, the majority of the film is a drama that contains some spooky scenes and an occasional “jump.” The essence of the film is simple, and although secular, has a healthy point. Cloning, playing the role of God, and tampering with the balance of human life, are wrong.

This is not a family film, but I would recommend it for teens and adults. It contains some murder, but nothing graphic or violent.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
—Steve, age 17
Negative—I love a good horror flick. And I love a good psychological thriller. But Godsend failed on both accounts. It wasn’t scary enough to be a horror flick (I know a movie succeeds in scaring me when I think about it when I go to bed every night for a week), and it wasn’t intelligent enough to be a psychological thriller. You know how at the end of the Sixth Sense, everything strange about the movie came together, everything clicked, and everyone had motives which were revealed by the end? This isn’t like that. Why is the doctor’s son so evil? How is it, exactly, that cloning transmits memories? Why the random reference to the coat later on? There were overlooked details that bothered me, too: like how a murder seemed to go without much of any investigation, for example. It’s a bundle of half-explanations and inexplicable connections that don’t seem to have much relevance. I can only pray that the ending was just a really dissatisfying resolution and wasn’t a set up for a sequel.
My Ratings: [Average/2]
—Brianna Chan, age 17
Neutral—This movie was a little bit evil. The son makes up a friend, named Zachary Clark, but could Zachary be real? This movie says G*d Da**it basically 12 times. This movie is good if you’re looking for a good thriller. I recommend it because I am a fan of horror movies. My advice is to not let kids under 11 see this.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Alex Durden, age 11