Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|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|
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.
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