Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s latest vehicle brings us to a rather well-realized, not-too-distant future ("sooner than you think" according to an ominous caption) in which human cloning is possible but forbidden by "sixth-day laws" (so called after the sixth day of creation week in Genesis 1, the day when God created man).
Adam Gibson (Schwarzeneggar) is an old-fashioned sort who still shaves with a real razor and isn’t sure he approves even of cloning pets (legal under the "sixth-day" laws, even though cats and dogs were also created on the sixth day). But Adam lives in a world of simulated experiences — a world in which corporations like "RePet" can quickly synthesize an exact replica of your beloved animal (memories and all); in which little girls like his own daughter pine for commerically available artificial friends that grow real hair and talk; and in which a grown man like his friend Hank (Michael Rapaport) can come home to a holographic Virtual Woman in a slinky dress that she’s only too willing to slip out of. Before long, Adam finds that not only has his dog been cloned without his knowledge, so has he himself.
Is all this simulated reality a service or a trap? Is it better for a child to learn about death the hard way, or to come home to a recreated pet in every way identical to the original? When does technology amount to playing God? Is it moral to clone human body parts? To clone human beings? Does a clone have rights? Does it have a soul?
The 6th Day doesn’t really pretend to settle any of these questions; but the fact that it raises them at all is surely worth something. And its answers, while half-baked, are more or less on the money. "Who decides who lives and who dies?" Adam challenges the villain (Tony Goldwyn). "You?"
Goldwyn shrugs. "Do you have a better suggestion?"
"How about God?"
Goldwyn rolls his eyes. "Oh, you’re one of those. I suppose you think science is intrinsically evil too."
"No, I don’t think science is intrinsically evil. But I think you are."
Indeed. Goldwyn’s chief scientist (Robert Duvall, believe it or not) discovers for himself the dehumanizing effects of Goldwyn’s cloning ethic when it is turned against him (just as Duvall himself turned it against his own late wife, cloning her against her will). And then there’s a nice scene toward the end in which Goldwyn himself finds his own philosophy turned against him from a surprising quarter.
But of course The 6th Day isn’t really about philosophy or morals; it’s about action — much of it jarring in a PG‑13 movie. Five years ago this film would have been shot and released as an R-rated thriller akin to Total Recall, but lately Hollywood has realized that PG-13 movies make more money; and with Arnold’s box-office stock slipping, Columbia isn’t taking any chances. The movie has been cut to within a hairsbreadth of an R rating, but thematically it probably belongs in the more restrictive category; partly because of trashy elements like the Virtual Woman ("If all your senses tell you there’s a hot woman sitting on your lap," Hank confides in Adam, "then there’s a hot woman sitting on your lap"), but also for the violence.
Adam kills a lot of people along the way — some of them more than once, as cloned assailants are brought back to harass them again. "Give me a break, I’ve been killed twice in two hours," one bad guy complains. In an early scene Adam gleefully runs over a man in his car and throws a woman from the moving vehicle. Later the same man and woman attack him again, resulting in the man’s leg being blown out from under him and the woman’s hand being shattered (an event that turns out to be a plot point, as Adam snatches up a severed thumb for repeated use of its fingerprint in security scanning devices). The aplomb with which the ostensibly ordinary family man Adam immediately takes to all this violence is disconcerting; as if Arnie were forgetting that his character isn’t a veteran action star.
The car-chase scene also features the creepy "artificial friend" Adam buys for his daughter: a truly revolting creation that isn’t readily identifiable either as a special effect or as an actor under latex. The fact that Adam has doubts about getting his daughter a cloned dog, yet cheerfully brings home this monstrosity, is one of the movie’s biggest mysteries.
In fact, it’s about the only mystery, considering that the supposed "which is the real Adam?" dilemma is so obvious from the very first shot that I didn’t immediately realize there was meant to be a "twist" and thought it was intended as rather straightforward storytelling. Despite this — and a rather weak post-climax denouement — The 6th Day remains a watchable action vehicle with some thoughtful futuristic touches and an attempt to grapple with larger issues.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.