A pre-teen girl meets her true love in a chilly seaside village. When they’re in their twenties, they meet again in the same spot, and immediately re-connect. But then he’s killed in a fluke-ish accident while on an eco-terrorist mission, so the woman decides that rather than lose the man of her dreams yet again, she’ll take advantage of new technology and have him cloned. The twist? She’s planning to give birth to her lover, then raise him from babyhood to boyhood to manhood in order to get her soulmate back. Is this oh so very romantic, or incredibly appalling?
Writer-director Benedek Filegauf seems undecided about his own premise in Womb, and that, combined with the film’s sleepy pace and deep quietude, makes the movie a lot more aloof than he might’ve intended. Eva Green and Doctor Who’s Matt Smith have a good rapport as the central couple—though Smith is prone to freaky, off-putting outbursts—and some of the film’s moments are achingly poignant, such as when Green sits in a bathtub with Smith’s clone, trying to recreate one of her fondest girlhood memories. But then Filegauf adds a Never Let Me Go/A.I.-ish subplot about how clones are ostracized, and while that serves a narrative purpose—giving Green further reason to isolate herself and her boy—it moves Womb further away from the study of nostalgic obsession it initially seems to be.
Womb starts to improve in its last third, when Smith grows up and becomes his own man, complete with a girlfriend (Hannah Murray of Skins). But even here, Filegauf’s preoccupation with forbidding beachscapes, long silences, and bizarre moments of sexual tension keep the story’s emotions at arm’s length. Womb is a thoughtful movie in many ways—and an artful one, too—but the big questions it’s asking about what makes us who we are keep taking a back seat to Filegauf’s painstakingly precise mood-setting. It’s a fascinating film to think about, but far too cool to touch.