Chimera: a single organism composed of cells with distinct genotypes.
“Chimera”: also the title of this film and it’s putting the “Sci” back in Sci-Fi!
“Chimera” is the feature debut of writer and director, Maurice Haeems, and stars Henry Ian Cusick, Kathleen Quinlan, and Karishma Ahluwalia. Quint (Cusick), a brilliant scientist driven mad by his obsession, is racing to cure the deadly genetic disease that took his wife and now threatens his two children. He is seeking to decode the DNA of the immortal Turritopsis jellyfish and must turn to unorthodox methods (including freezing his two children alive) to further his research.
If you’re looking for a film to pop in on a Sunday afternoon (like I was, when I screened this), then “Chimera” is not the right choice. “Chimera” is incredibly dense in composition, heavy in subject matter, and I’m fairly certain you need a degree to watch it. Which I love. Science Fiction is one of my all-time favorite film genres because it can be so vast. It can explore the fantastical and be bright, sometimes even campy. But the realm of scientific exploration in film can also stretch to the very limits of our mind and capabilities, it can create panics and dangers and mysteries. “Chimera” falls into the latter category, to be sure. This is not accessible science fiction, it’s a thinker. A deep thinker. The film does not bother with doing much showing or telling, no one is holding your hand here. “Chimera” intentionally throws you into the deep end so that you are as off-kilter and shocked by discovery as each of the characters. Which makes for a fine film experience.
“Chimera” does a decent job in its exploration of madness. Quint is the deranged doctor with a heart of gold who flows seamlessly between father, obsessive researcher, and a broken man plagued by visions. A favorite device in “Chimera” is a symphonic overlay of voices. Voices from the past? Voices from the present? Voices from the future? Ghostly or grounded? Who knows. It’s disorienting, regrettably, to the point of being distracting. I’m all for choices in film that throw me off my game, but they need to make sense. This also contributed greatly to the film’s largest problem: pacing.
Create a frantic thread. But don’t go so far off in the weeds that not only do I get lost, but I’m unable to find you before the end of the film.
“If God had intended for us to be immortal, he would have given us more durable bodies…
If God had intended for us to be mortal, he would not have given us such curious minds.”
“Chimera” does something really interesting. The premise of the film is built around the hotly debated issue of stem cell research. Quint represents science and progress; looking ahead to curing his children, creating the first biologically immortal human, and looking to long-term cures for disease. The apparition of his wife is the sociopolitical/religious side of the discussion. Raising moral questions and keeping the issue deeply rooted in human emotion. This is a wonderful way to present it. Because it allows for conversation. The issue is rolled out through this back and forth between man and wife, each representing a different side but each hearing the other. It shows a very real moral conundrum that raises the stakes for the film and challenges the viewer. Well done.
Regrettably, “Chimera” does overplay its hand slightly and that cheapens the film. As even-handed as the interaction between Quint and his wife may be, the film has a very distinct leaning that becomes glaringly obvious. Which is unfortunate because the tight balance and question of morality made for a far more interesting film.
In the third act, things get a little heavy-handed. Not just heavy-handed, but a final message is crammed in that leaves a bitter taste and, sadly, negates a great deal of the good work “Chimera” had done. A romantic interest is awkwardly introduced into the situation and we get some punch-you-in-the-throat obvious undertones of Eve, monstrous womanhood, and a not subtle attack on the issue of women’s health. There’s some pretty heavy signaling here and it’s a shame. The jealous woman is a tired trope. Wicked womanhood and the “Eve” figure is tired. The women’s reproductive health commentary is a big ugly stick that bloodies up what had been a very elegant film. It’s really a shame, I could have shaved off the last 20 minutes and had a much better, more compelling movie.
Don’t walk away with the impression that I disliked this movie. There’s no denying that it is very good. Stylishly done and thought-provoking. “Chimera” was a joy to watch and has wonderful potential, it was just disappointing to see small choices cloud the overall greatness of the film. Nevertheless, I can give it a solid recommendation.
“Chimera” is making its rounds through the film festival circuit. You can find out more information about the film at www.chimerathemovie.com.
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.