Rating: 2/5The movie Womb is somberly enraptured with the idea of tragic love. Writer-director Benedek Fliegauf shoots the misty waterfront locale where the bulk of the film takes place with an achingly tenderness, taking in every bit of its gauzy beauty with a bland attentiveness. It’s as if he believes that training his camera on the landscape long enough, intently enough, will inevitably extract poetry from what’s going on. In truth, he only winds up emphasizing how dramatically and emotionally inert he’s made the film. When making a film that is deliberately, defiantly slow, it takes either a lot of nerve or a profound lack of self-awareness to include a moment in which two people intently watch a snail inch across a counter. I honestly don’t know which description suits Fliegauf better.
Eva Green plays Rebecca, a woman who returns to the island community where she briefly spent some time living with her grandfather when she was a young girl (played at that age by Ruby O. Fee, convincingly resembling the older actress enough that she may already be penciled in to appear in whatever Bond movie arrives in the winter of 2022). When there, she befriended a boy named Tommy (Tristan Christopher) and they had the sort of innocent romance that can only happen before entering the double digits: a bond forged with pillow fights, mutual dances with the rushing tide and an unashamed open-heartedness. Upon her homecoming, Rebecca finds the boy, now grown into a man who prefers to be called Thomas (Matt Smith). The two immediately reestablish their connection, a childhood romance made mature. They’re not together long, however, before tragedy occurs and Rebecca again finds herself without her beloved friend.
At this point, Womb enters into the realm of gentle, understated science fiction. In the society that the characters inhabit, human cloning has become commonplace enough that Rebecca quickly seizes on it as a means of bringing Thomas back. Someone needs to carry the fetus and Rebecca, basically alone in her conviction that this is the best route, chooses to do so. Thusly, she becomes the mother to an exactly duplicate of the person she once loved deeply, raising him to manhood, which of course means restoring him to be the person for whom she harbors a deep physical attraction. This is, it perhaps goes without saying, a somewhat complicated situation.
To his credit, Fliegauf is trying to follow in the tracks of the most thought-provoking science fiction, using futuristic concepts to explore the enduring ethical challenges that face humanity. The subject matter could easily become overly sensationalistic or otherwise nastily reliant on mere shock to grab the audience. Instead, the story tries to move thoughtfully through all the complications that would naturally arise if the easiest salve for grief was replication that, by its very methodology, redefined biological relationships as we now know them. That he doesn’t succeed in making this exploration riveting or even all that satisfying might mean the finished product is lacking, but it doesn’t wholly tarnish the worthwhile ambition of the effort.
Let’s face it, though, intentions matter less than execution, and Womb is too often a languid slog. An astonishing amount of the dialogue is delivered in hushed tones, as if diminished volume is enough to impart profundity on a work. The characters are largely ciphers, set forth to do little more than play their part in the dramatized moral dilemmas. Even an intellectual exercise needs to have some life in it to justify the time it’s given.