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“We changed the rules!” bemoans scientist Clive Nicoli, suddenly aware that when a standard for ethics is tossed out the window, all sorts of Pandora’s evils can come creeping in the open sash. “We crossed a line; things got confused!”

“Confused about what?” asks his incredulous fellow scientist.

“Right and wrong,” Clive concludes.

Thus the movie “Splice” comes to its horrifying and panic-laden lesson. In the drive for scientific knowledge, personal fulfillment, achievement and, yes, even profit, forgoing the safeguards of ethics and morality permits the car to careen off the road.

“I just wish things could go back to the way they were,” Clive says.

But it’s too late for that, Clive. You let the genie out of the bottle when you decided to “play God,” when you defied traditional scientific ethics to splice together human and animal DNA to see what you would get.

What you got was a nightmare.

The film “Splice” is a thoughtful and powerful drama – not a horror or “slasher” movie, as some might suppose – that explores what happens when man decides he’s able to arrest from God the exclusive domain of manufacturing life.

Projecting just a few years – or maybe only days – into the future, “Splice” presents the story of genetic scientists Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, who have spliced together DNA from several animals to develop a unique, new life form, an ugly, slug-like critter that nonetheless produces medicinal proteins that science – and its big business benefactors – hope will provide new drugs, treatments and cures.

Clive and Elsa, however, soon discover that they have the ability to do the same with human DNA and seek permission to begin experiments.

“Moral outrage would be out of control,” objects their superior, correctly pointing to both social taboos against experiments on human embryos and ethical boundaries in science, both of which are even now hanging by a thin thread in the real world.

But Clive and Elsa want to push on, entranced by the knowledge that could be gained, by the cures for diseases and genetic disorders that could be found, if they could just toy with the human genome for a while.

“If God didn’t want us to explore his domain,” Clive reasons, “why did he give us a map?”

Failing to obtain permission, however, Clive and Elsa begin the experiments anyway – secretly and illegally.

This first ethical compromise soon leads to another and another, as the two god-like children play with the makings of life like toys in a sandbox. Not knowing or caring what will happen, Elsa in particular pushes on to make a new life in her own image, one that can be manipulated and controlled by “science.” But can it?

“No one is going to care about a few rules when they see what we’ve made,” Elsa insists.

The film presents a fantastic study on the juvenile, self-serving redrawing of moral boundaries by a society that has abandoned objective standards. Appealing one minute to philanthropy, the next minute to utilitarian ethics, the next to maternal instincts, then reverting to the cold rationales of science and reason, the character Elsa is able to manipulate what is “right” whenever she wants, to get whatever she wants.

In fact, Elsa’s arguments sound convincing, sound plausible through most of the film. Even while Clive insists the experiment should have boundaries, it should be terminated, it should be done within protocol, the audience can’t help but sympathize or even agree with Elsa – even as she repeatedly disregards any ethical guidelines by making up new ones. Elsa’s godless, drifting moral relativism is so convincing, in part, because our society speaks her language.

Unanchored to any absolute truth or any morality based on something greater than self-serving perspective, who’s to say what’s right and wrong?

Morality, however, can be neither relative nor arbitrary. There are consequences to our actions that are not relative. There are natural results of a disregard for human life that morality protects society from experiencing.

“Splice” pries into those consequences and makes its message clear: Horrors await the reckless experimentation on humans, as Clive and Elsa discover too late in the film’s brutal, terrifying and fatal final turn.

Outside the movie theater, however, real scientists forge ahead into unknown realms, but with a blatant disregard for the only omniscient being that can actually see the consequences of all actions without the lens of self-interest.

Without the protective guiderails of God, then, navigating instead only on a narcissistic gauge of right and wrong, on what are scientific ethics founded? On what grounds will a real Clive have to convince a real Elsa not to rush headlong into unforeseen consequences?

Without the protections of morality, Pandora’s children – both in “Splice” and in the real world – are left with only horrifying answers to the question posed in the film’s final line: “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Content advisory:

  • Alert! Despite the film’s sound moral stance on human life, “Splice” takes a vulgar turn on sexuality that can only be described as pornographic. Frontal female nudity, bestiality, a clothed sex scene, a rape scene and an explicit, nude sex scene go beyond what should be rated “R”. The movie merited a far stronger rating and will offend most viewers. Frankly, despite the positive worldview, I regret having seen this film, if only for the pornographic imagery.
  • The film contains several instances of strong profanity, most of which was unwarranted and only made the main characters seem more like juvenile delinquents than elite scientists. Characters in “Splice” also show disregard for the holiness of the name Jesus.
  • The film completely ignores religion (save for the quote from Clive mentioned above) and has no overt occult content.
  • The film’s finale does contains some horror-movie violence and gore. Again, the film also contains a highly disturbing rape scene.

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