July 14th, 2009 17:59:00
FANTASIA'S Cerebral Sci-Fi Spotlight Series kicks off July Tuesday 14th with Kanji Nakajima's THE CLONE RETURNS HOME, a reflective, Tarkovsky-esque odyssey through the painful memories of a deceased astronaut's clone.
The film was executive produced by Wim Wenders, whose own road movies are called to mind here (as well as others he's produced, like Chris Petit's RADIO ON); it is fantastically picturesque, with expert use of sound and silence, and coloured by a distinct Japanese sensibility of yearning and melancholy.
The astronaut Kohei is encouraged by his employers to have a clone made in the event of an accident or early death, as a type of company insurance. Their meetings take place in a giant government science lab, a faceless world of grey concrete that recalls the early films of David Cronenberg, like STEREO and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE. Without consulting his wife, the astronaut consents to clone regeneration, and soon after, his decision is put to the test when he does indeed die in an accident beyond the earth's atmosphere, and - in a beautiful sequence involving the layering of X-rays, the assembling of bones, the generation of tissue - the clone awakens into his new life.
His wife is less than thrilled about the idea of her husband being replaced by a clone, but knowing that it was her husband's wish, she is open minded about meeting it. But the clone - although made from Kohei's DNA and virtually identical in every way - has no memory of his wife. Instead, his memories have halted at about age eight, when his identical twin brother Noboru died in a drowning accident caused in part by Kohei's own carelessness. A painful memory that the original Kohei had managed to repress.
The moral dilemma is obvious: is a clone really the same you? Kohei already knows that one cannot replace the other; as a child he would try to pretend that he, Kohei, had died in the river, and that Noboru had lived, trying to placate his grief-stricken mother. He already knows that he himself was left with an empty space inside, even though he could look in the mirror and see the exact image of his brother every day.
And what of the soul? If there is such a thing, surely the clone doesn't have one. But a controversial scientist who works in the bowels of the laboratory (doing research for the government as some form of sentence for a biological crime committed years earlier) believes in 'resonance' - that the soul of the dead original clings to the clone, like a type of haunting. A type of haunting that can be likened to the repression of memory.
When the clone is revived, he is confused and guilt-ridden. He sees visions of his 'original' self, floating in the sky. Guided by his floating self (the resonance), he escapes from the lab to find the source of these painful memories. The clone revisits the place of the drowning accident and finds not Noboru's body but his own, in astronaut gear - but he addresses it as Noboru, and picks him up and carries him on his back, like a guilty burden. But he finds the baggage debilitating.
The lab eventually gives up on finding him and makes a second clone of Kohei. But when the second clone finds out he has a 'twin' out there somewhere, he too goes on a journey to find him. After all, armed with Kohei's DNA, he knows exactly where the previous clone would have gone. The film is layered with twins, doubles, dopplegangers, clones - people who mirror eachother . But just as the first clone is different from Kohei, the second clone is different from the first. Each struggles - as do the scientists in the cloning lab - to isolate what it is that creates an identity. To have the same face is not enough, and neither is to be infused with the same biological makeup. Or even to be implanted with the same memories. Because we grow distant from our memories, we lose our connectedness to them over time, and they become stories, more than experiences. What made the first clone unique was that his regression in memory enabled these painful memories to be fresh; he was able to experience the crippling trauma, and to recognize that losing his identical twin felt like losing himself.
As a point of comparison, the focus of Jean Rollin's LA NUIT DES TRAQUEES is a group of people who are being held in an experimental research facility. What these people have in common is their total loss of memory, requiring that their object of attention be directly in front of them at all times lest it be immediately forgotten. it questions the possibility of an eternal present, of an existence without memory. The person who has no memory is seen as vulnerable, which stresses our past as essential to what we are now. Our personalities are reinforced by the things we have lived through, and to have no past, or to have none that we can recall is to be somehow less human.
So much of what forms human connectivity is based on memory. If these characters - be they the clones in THE CLONE RETURNS HOME, or the characters in LA NUIT DES TRAQUEES - have limited or lost memories of experiences from their own lives, it decreases their inability to bond with one another, or to feel at all rooted or connected to the world that surrounds them. The wandering clone is a perfect, poignant metaphor for our own emotional scavenging and deflation.
THE CLONE RETURNS HOME plays:
July 14th, 2009
J.A. De Seve
July 14th, 2009
J.A. De Seve
July 15th, 2009
J.A. De Seve
July 18th, 2009
More info, trailer etc on the film page HERE