If Godsend had been made 50 years ago in black and white, it would be exactly the kind of thing I enjoy watching late on Saturday nights when there’s nothing else on TV. That’s because it’s full of the same campy plot devices and characters that make those old films so great—a mad scientist, a “monster” (the product of science gone wrong), non-stop “Don’t open that door!” suspense, and a musical score that’s always ready to jump up and scare you even if nothing else will. Like many sci-fi and horror films of the 1950s and 1960s, Godsend is also a cautionary tale, not so much about cloning—which is Godsend’s main subject—but about what happens when the power to do such “godlike” acts falls into the wrong hands. In an era where technology borders on the miraculous, this is truly a parable for our times.
However, viewers today are a lot more sophisticated than they were in the 1950s. They’re not as apt to buy in to the faulty premises and dubious science that make those old films so laughable today. The intermittent titters I heard emanating from the audience during scenes that were supposed to make them cover their eyes in horror was ample evidence of that. Unfortunately, such devices are exactly what the makers of this film expect us to take seriously. And it just doesn’t work.
That is not to say Godsend is completely without suspense. Similar to films like The Omen, The Shining, and Village of the Damned, this thriller gets most of its mileage out of “creepy kid shots”—close-ups of the child/clone Adam (played brilliantly by nine-year-old newcomer, and fellow Canadian, Cameron Bright) as he tries to sort out who or what is messing with his head. It also includes its fair share of “Gotcha!” moments that usually don’t amount to anything but still give viewers a healthy shot of adrenalin.
Godsend also raises some important questions about science, free will, and the conflict between moral choices and human ability. For example, at a high point in the film, Adam’s father (Greg Kinnear) confronts Dr. Wells (Robert DeNiro), who cloned Adam, with the gravity of what he has done. Dr. Wells defends himself, saying, “If I’m not supposed to do this, then why is it that I can?” Interestingly, this confrontation happens in a church. And when it’s over, the entire building goes up in flames, as if to signify that our ability to completely control the reproduction process through cloning means we won’t be needing God’s services anymore, thank you very much.
The problem is, Dr. Wells’ defense is essentially a copout. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. I could go out and kill someone anytime I want, but does that make it right? Of course not. We can’t assume God condones such activities just because he doesn’t stop us from doing them. In addition to blessing us with tremendous abilities in science, technology, the arts, and so forth, God also gave us the power of reason and an inherent sense of right and wrong with which to regulate those abilities. Thus, it is up to us, not God, to decide what we should and should not do. God isn’t about to step in like an overprotective parent and make such decisions for us. If he did, how could we ever grow and mature? However, like a good parent, God does provide us with wisdom and guidance—if we are willing to listen to it. But in the end, how we use that information is up to us. God respects our powers of self-determination that much.
Adam’s parents, Paul and Jessie Duncan, are slightly more willing than Dr. Wells to face up to the moral consequences of their choices. However, like him, their ability to do so is clouded over by grief. Like a child whose pet has just died, Adam’s mother (Rebecca Romjin Stamos) cries that she doesn’t want another child; she wants Adam! And, like a child, her reasons are pretty much self-centered. She feels pain, and she believes getting “another” Adam will make that pain go away. But there’s something sick about the idea of parents who are willing to go to such lengths just to restore their peace of mind, to believe a lie so strongly that eventually they have difficulty discerning it from the truth. I felt incredibly sorry for “Adam 2” during most of this film. Not only was he battling for his soul as a result of a sinister interference in the cloning process, he also had to carry the emotional burden of two painfully needy adults whose real problem wasn’t so much the loss of their first son as their inability to face up to their own emotional deficits. Thankfully, the filmmakers had enough sense to show that such denial of the truth will jump up and bite us sooner or later.
At the same time, I am fairly certain that the choice the Duncans face in this film is one that many couples will be facing in the not-too-distant future. Films like this are useful when it comes to helping us think about how we would respond under identical circumstances. It may begin with pets. That is, perhaps little Jimmy really will be able to get his old dog back through the power of cloning. But let’s be honest: If the ability to clone humans does become widely available (as I suspect it will), do you really think we will be able to keep ourselves from opening this “Pandora’s Box”? Like the Duncans, I suspect many other grieving parents will be unable to resist the temptation to “replace” the child they lost rather than walk through the grieving process. And their judgment will be similarly clouded. I can’t help but think of the emotional and psychological consequences for these cloned children. Think of the identity crisis they will go through when they discover they are nothing more than a “replacement.” No matter how much their parents dote on them, they will know their parents don’t really love them; they merely love the memory of the child that was lost.
Early on in the film, Paul, who is a high school biology teacher, is considering a move from the tough inner-city school in which he works to a better paying job in the suburbs. He realizes it is a good opportunity for his family, but he feels such a strong loyalty to his students that taking the job would be akin to selling out. Jessie disagrees. She wants to move out to the suburbs, because she doesn’t like the thought of raising Adam in the city. In what is supposed to be a heartwarming scene, she tells Paul she respects his ethics, but when it comes to your children, sometimes ethics have to take a back seat. Yikes. Fortunately, the rest of this film is a powerful refutation of such fallacious moral reasoning.