“I’m running out of time. I need to freeze time.”
So says scientist Quint (Henry Ian Cusick) in writer/director/producer Maurice Haeems’ feature debut Chimera, as he races against fate to save his young children from the same hereditary disease that took his wife Jessie (Karishma Ahluwalia). Given Quint’s pioneering work in multiple disciplines, it is surprising that he does not just invent a time machine – but the solution that he seeks to his children’s biologically programmed mortality is rooted in regenerative medicine and the self-healing powers of the Turritopsis jellyfish.
Aptly released in the same year that sees the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chimera retains the novel’s preoccupations with harvested corpses and scientific transgressions, while transplanting its ‘mad scientist’ to a near future of stem cell research, DNA editing, cryptobiosis and genetic hybridisation. In his desperate dash to create biological immortality, Quint will cut corners and break ethical codes, growing organs in genetically engineered pigs, experimenting with cryogenics, and even fertilising an egg within the stolen body of his comatose wife. Yet circling his groundbreaking work are others, more straightforwardly (even cartoonishly) villainous, willing to do far, far worse.
The hubristic quest for ‘immortal man’, as the departed Jessie observes in one of Quint’s many imaginary conversations with her, readily engenders ‘immoral man’. Quint’s monomaniacal obsession with securing his children’s future means that he steadfastly ignores them in the present, while they haunt the house and its perimeter like ghosts. The opening shot of Quint cutting off his own finger shows the scientist’s personal fragmentation and loosening grip on sanity, as does the cacophony of echoing voices that we constantly hear swirling around him. His is a hallucinatory descent into deep science – but we remain in sympathy with his benign motives, however awful their tragic ramifications.
Chimera is playing at Sci-Fi London on 1 May. Find tickets here.