SIFF 2011: WOMB
We first meet Rebecca and Tommy at the age of 9 on a snowy beach, where the children strike up an almost instant, preternatural mutual fascination. Something like sex is very much on Rebecca's mind when it comes to Tommy and the two are for a time inseparable. Twelve years later, they grow up, and meet, and seem to take up from where they last left off with the benefit of being able to consummate some of the feelings they had as children. Both characters are very earnest, she very serious and intense, and him intense in a kind of way that's playful but maybe a little dangerous. There's an anarchic streak to him that perhaps appeals to her serious, deliberative nature.
Rebecca is so serious, and so intense, and purposeful in her actions, that it seems like she takes very little time after Tommy dies in an accident to propose to his parents (Peter Wight, Lesley Manville) that they use his DNA to clone him. Tommy's mother balks at first, saying that she and her husband raised their son to accept what the world has given them. Rebecca, ever the reasonable one, says that science has given them a chance to have Tommy back in their lives. When Green speaks, with those piercing, beautiful eyes and that calm, "everything is just fine" voice, you have a hard time disagreeing. I'm sure I would.
We learn later that even though Rebecca is certain this is the right thing to do, society at large is still not keen on cloning, as we learn in a tense encounter between Rebecca and some of the other mothers in the seaside community where she lives. They assure her that there must certainly be some perfectly nice clones, or "copies," around, but they just don't want them around their children. I'm not sure the movie makes a convincing case for why the clones are ostracized but it is presented as a very bad thing.
So far, I've described a woman raising a boy who is for all genetic intents and purposes her former lover as her son. There's nothing wrong here, I think, with trying to carry on the memory of the one you loved and who loved you back. But from the way she talks to him, the way she maintains physical contact a little too long, it's clear that Rebecca's feelings for Tommy aren't wholly maternal. I was convinced in a couple of scenes where Rebecca meets potential contenders for her son's attention that this woman might be capable of violence.
When he grows into a young man (again, played by Smith), you can feel the creeping sensation that she's biding her time, waiting for the right opportunity for something to happen. These are the most squirm-inducing moments in the film, made more so when Tommy's girlfriend, Monica (Hannah Murray) joins them in their cramped little house by the sea.
I watched these characters and to a certain extent I sympathized with them, Rebecca included. At the same time, there's always the knowledge that Womb can't end well for its characters, that there will ultimately be some kind of reckoning for Rebecca's actions and intentions. I'm not sure the final scene is exactly that, but it's not a dishonest route for the story to take.
Womb is screening as part of the 37th Seattle International Film Festival. You can find out more about the fest and its lineup on SIFF site.