Directed by: Benedek Fliegauf.
Written By: Benedek Fliegauf.
Starring: Eva Green (Rebecca), Matt Smith (Thomas), Lesley Manville (Judith), Peter Wight (Ralph), István Lénárt (Henry), Hannah Murray (Monica), Ruby O. Fee (Rebecca - 9 years), Tristan Christopher (Thomas - 10), Jesse Hoffmann (Thomas - 5 years).
Note: I saw Womb nearly two years ago at TIFF – and this review was written a few days after seeing it. I see no indication that any changes in the movie have been made since then, but figured I should mention it anyway just in case the movie was re-edited from the very disappointing version I saw two years ago.
Womb is one of those movies whose concept is so good that you simply cannot believe that the end result doesn’t work. The film takes place in a small, beachfront town – although mainly in winter, where the place is even more desolate – and opens with a friendship between 9 year old Rebecca and 10 year old Tommy – a friendship that grew incredibly close until Rebecca and her family moved away. Now, more than a decade later, Rebecca returns, and finds Tommy still there – and the two are drawn back together almost immediately. The only sense we get that this is a sci-fi film, set in the near future, is Tommy mentioning something called “cyber-prostitution”, which involves clones. It is on their way to a protest against this, early in their renewed relationship, where Tommy is hit and killed by a car. And this is where the story really begins.
Rebecca (now played by Eva Green) has some of Tommy’s DNA, and decides that she wants to give birth to his clone, and raise him as her own son. But it’s clearly fairly early on that she has more than motherly feelings toward this new Tommy. Green does an excellent, and unsettlingly job, of staring at this child with a mixture of motherly and sexual feelings. On Tommy’s part, he doesn’t know the secret of his birth (which she hides for many reasons, including the fact that clones are viewed as second class citizens by everyone) – but he looks at Rebecca with that same mixture – something oddly sexual for child his age (and it gets truly creepy in one scene on the beach while the two are playing and Tommy essentially gets on top of his mother, and for lack of a better term dry humps her).
The movie raises disturbing questions about sexual ethics. Technically, although Green gave birth to this new Tommy, they are not actually related. But is she raising this child simply because she thinks the world will be a better place with this version of Tommy, or because she is trying to get her soul mate back. They movie ventures into truly disturbing territory in its final scenes – where new Tommy is now in his early 20s, and while Green must surely be in her mid-40s by then, she doesn’t look like she has aged that much. It is here where the mixed up feeling truly come out.
I realize now that I have made this movie sound a whole lot more interesting than it actually is (which is why I choose to see it at TIFF in the first place). The film is painfully slow, as director Benedek Fliegauf favors long unbroken shots of his characters in and around their abandoned beach house, essentially looking at each other. Yes, this looks carry a disturbing quality to them, but Fliegauf doesn’t seem to have much more on his mind for most of the running time then these looks, which he repeats far too often for them to be effective. He really seems to be treading water at times, waiting to get to his conclusion when he can really let loose. There are many places Fliegauf could have taken this film – and although he choose an interesting one in the sexual angle – there are other questions that are left unanswered – disturbing sequences like when Tommy 2.0 buries his surprising lifelike toy, even as it moves and makes sounds, suggests that Fliegauf may be making a case of nature vs. nurture – and that this new Tommy will be an entirely different person because of the way Rebecca raises him, compared to his original parents – a darker, more violent person perhaps. But there is no follow through on this, no follow through on Tommy’s original parents who are initially reluctant to agree then go away for 2 decades before showing up, and saying nothing.
There are striking images in the film, it raises such interesting questions and Green does a remarkable job of conveying her confused feelings toward her son/lover that I really wanted to like Womb. But the end result is a long, slow journey that takes for too long getting to where it’s going.