The number fifty-two seems to pop up in a lot of things (like seven and thirteen). There are fifty-two weeks in a year. There are fifty-two playing cards (less the jokers) in a standard deck (and also part of the name of one of the more frustrating games that can be played with them – Fifty-Two Pickup). Okay, maybe there aren’t all that many significant instances of fifty-two in our world, but it stands out for me (and I’m sure almost every other comic book fan) for one reason: Fifty-two is the number of Earths in the DC Comics universe (for the time being). What this means is that there are multiple variations of all of DC’s characters in some form or another, and the concept as a whole is referred to as a multiverse. My understanding is that this idea was developed in the Sixties as a way to integrate characters from the beginnings of superhero-dom with their modern counterparts/reimaginings as well as further distinguishing themselves from each other. Of course, the whole thing became a morass of continuity where the history of some characters (Hawkman, I’m looking at you) became so convoluted, a casual reader couldn’t tell if they were coming or going (a lot like X-Men continuity, especially in the Eighties and Nineties, though they and their publisher are a discussion for some other time).
The DC multiverse was condensed into one unified universe in the epic Crisis On Infinite Earths, and for a long time this was the status quo at DC. The occasional “off-model” permutation of a character would be explored here or there in single issues and/or miniseries under the Elseworlds banner. About three or so years ago, however, the muckety mucks at DC decided to bring back the multiverse, and so they relaunched all of their titles under the heading of the New 52. For a great many readers (myself included) their books quickly fell into confusion again, with some characters continuing exactly as they left off, some starting over entirely new, and some kind of in the middle. They managed to do in a vastly condensed period what it took their predecessors decades to do (i.e. muddy the waters), and while there are a few books worth reading, I personally prefer Marvel out of the Big Two. So what has any of this got to do with Paul Hunt and Lamar Card’s The Clones? Well, as you may have already guessed, part of the film’s plot has to do with the aforementioned “untouchable number.” I hesitate to state the connection outright, though all things considered, telling you every last inch of this film’s plot really wouldn’t hurt a thing in the long run.
Dr. Gerald Appleby (Michael Greene) narrowly escapes from his laboratory after an accident is manufactured by unseen forces. Coming back around the front of the facility, he spies someone stealing his car. Giving chase, Gerry discovers that someone who looks just like him has quickly and easily installed himself in the doctor’s life. Things get more complicated when CID agents Nemo (Gregory Sierra) and Tom Sawyer (Otis Young) are called in to “get” the real Appleby.
You’d think with a synopsis like that, the film’s story would be loaded with contrivances and twists, especially considering the narration at the beginning warning the viewer about the likelihood of human cloning within the next ten to twenty-five years. The ground work is laid out for a stimulating movie, either physically or mentally. Nonetheless, there is little to no consideration of the ethics or moral implications of the process. There is little to no consideration for the struggle Gerry needs to go through to try and get his life back. There is little to no consideration that he had much of a life to begin with outside of some idyllic boating shots with his wife Penny (Susan Hunt). In fact, Gerry, as a character, is by and large a cipher. We know next to nothing about him other than he is a scientist and he is married. We learn nothing about him throughout the course of the film. He could just as easily be a member of the audience watching the film, and that, to my mind, is what the film gets right. By making the main character as inoffensively bland and blank as possible and thrusting him through a series of chase scenes (which consume the vast majority of the film’s run time), the audience is given the opportunity to put itself in Gerry’s place as they root for this man who has been unjustly persecuted for no other reason than that he is now an encumbrance. In effect, the audience becomes a double for Gerry.
Like so many Paranoia/Conspiracy films of this time, the focus is on the plight of one man against a nefarious agency or agencies with fiendish machinations afoot right under the noses of the population at large. Of course, this is emphasized in Gerry’s dealings with everyone he comes into contact with from his boss to his wife and damn near all other characters in between. Not only are these characters not to be trusted, but it is made plain quite swiftly that this is so. A further clue/touch is added by having one of the main villains (Stanley Adams) speak with a German accent (I’m unsure if he had one naturally, but if he did, he didn’t try to cover it up here, and it’s a plus either way). Stylistically, the paranoia angle is reinforced via Dutch angled compositions, slow motion usage, fisheye POV shots, smash cut editing, and the use (or non-use) of diegetic sound in the action scenes. It is in this way that The Clones turns in on itself as these films tend to do. Visuals of this sort are so removed from the reality the audience knows, there is little to no sense that can be derived, even in more traditional scenes (take the sequence of the hippies speaking gibberish to Gerry, if you doubt me). By subverting the audience’s inclination to make sense of what it sees, it forces multiple readings into existence (like, say, fifty-two Earths in a multiverse). The whole film may be taken as a Conspiracy film with psychedelic imagery. It may be taken as a Psychedelic film with conspiratorial leanings. It may be taken as a quasi-incompetent (or quasi-successful, depending on your perspective) piece of experimental filmmaking. It may be taken as Gerry’s descent into madness. It may be taken as the seams of Gerry’s domestic life being pulled apart. For as much as the film claims that it’s about cloning, that’s only a tangential piece of the pie. I think the film is a bit more insidious than that. You can think about it for hours and come up with a plethora of ideas, or you can think about it for five minutes and write it all off. Honestly, I think of it both ways at different times, and I’m fine with that. Or maybe I only think of it one way, and the clone of me who just stole my car thinks of it the other way.
MVT: The main idea of the film is intriguing. I’m kind of surprised we don’t see very many films with this premise these days (I know of one or two in the past year or so, but outside of some very basic information, I know nothing about them), as I think it’s a treasure trove waiting to be mined.
Make Or Break: The finale is great, and there is a fantastic accentuation of dead bodies as bags of meat which is both striking and blackly comic in this environ.