Godsend suffers from bad editing. In one pivotal scene, the action changes place and time so dramatically, it seems that an entire chapter was accidentally left at a bus stop. Nonetheless, the basic story, and the issues it raises, make Godsend a thoughtful, if not fully realized, example of bio-future science fiction. It also works pretty well as a gothic thriller.

Paul and Jessie Duncan share a rich life with their young son, Adam. Paul is a dedicated teacher, Jessie a respected photographer. They dote on Adam, who loves them and basks in their care. In a freak accident, Adam is killed and his parents are plunged into unendurable despair. Seemingly out of nowhere, Dr. Richard Wells, a research physician who was once Jessie's professor, approaches them with a Faustian bargain. What he proposes is illegal, unethical and perhaps immoral. He will bring their son back to them via human cloning. He has never actually done the procedure on a human but he is positive that it will work. Against all odds, he convinces Paul and Jessie to take a chance with their dead son's legacy.

A science-fiction thriller only works if it has one foot planted firmly in the real and the possible. If it can be reasonably imagined, it is science-fiction in the best sense: a film that helps explore the technical, ethical and spiritual frontiers of the future. If not, it becomes fluff and nonsense. A treatment of human cloning, and the ethical questions it raises, is certainly timely. Recently a company called Genetic Savings and Clone (Gene Banking and Cloning of Exceptional Pets) publicly offered to clone a favorite cat or dog for a mere $50 thousand. Can children be far behind? Today Lassie, tomorrow a real lassie.

Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of President Bush's newly created Council on Bioethics, articulates the dilemma of technology that moves faster than morality. Kass told the Council, "[I]n the realm of bioethics, the evils we face, if indeed they are evils, are intertwined with the goods we so keenly seek: cures for disease, relief of suffering, preservation of life. Distinguishing good and bad thus intermixed is often extremely difficult."

It is this intertwining of good and evil that provides the central themes of Godsend. The ethical catalyst is the time factor. While Adam's DNA can be preserved almost indefinitely, his cells will remain viable for only seventy-two hours. Paul and Jessie must make a moral decision with no time for reflection. Dr. Wells insists that the entire procedure be kept secret, so they are unable to solicit any advice from friends or clergy. They must act while they are incapacitated with grief.

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What keeps the plot viable is the fact that most recent medical advances have been debated on moral grounds. Cardiovascular surgeons were denounced for playing God when they began to transplant whole hearts. Likewise, in vitro fertilization was widely derided at first and is now commonly accepted. Those who cry foul over stem cell research and human cloning may one day be dismissed as anachronistic relics. But maybe not. We only discover the moral implications of new science when we try it out. One is reminded of the 1960s when "enlightened" thinkers encouraged us to experiment with mind-altering drugs. Don't worry, they assured us. Chemistry is the next frontier for human progress. Those of us who took their advice found out that our old-fashioned parents and their quaint morals were right after all. Oops! The "experts" were incompetent at best and devilish at worst.

Thus, bioethics must also imagine the possibility of human treachery. Several years ago women who had contracted with a sperm bank received a shocking surprise. They had listed the physical characteristics they wanted in their offspring: height, coloring, etc. as well as intellect, and artistic and musical ability. Anonymity was protected by a double-blind security protocol. They were then impregnated with sperm guaranteed to closely match their genetic shopping list. Later they found out that a director of the sperm bank had fathered their children, along with scores of others. Was it a sneaky semi-ethical trick, was it polygamy or was it rape?

The possibilities for human treachery in something as morally delicate as human cloning make one shudder. What if some researcher wants to play an egotistical trick, or use his subject for covert research? Such are the issues addressed in Godsend.

To his credit, director Nick Hamm forgoes the usual computer generated tricks, and the lightning fast editing that now pass for cinematography. Instead he relies on atmosphere and craftsmanship. Godsend provides plenty of made-you-jump moments, but Hamm has deliberately steered clear of the splatter genre.

Despite its laudable intentions, Godsend is less than equal to its challenges. Greg Kinnear is believable as the father, and Cameron Bright makes a frightening clone-gone-wrong son. But former model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is unable to evoke the range of emotions called for in this horrifying scenario. Robert DiNiro sadly lacks his usual range. As soon as he appears on screen, one's heart cries, BAD GUY ON DECK! The script is long on the Big Issues, but comes up short in compelling dialogue. It needed a couple more drafts.

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While it is not in the same league artistically, Godsend joins the canon of bio-future films like Gattica and Alien Resurrection. It accepts that the human race will continue to reach for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We will build our Tower of Babel—and deal with the outcome later.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why do we develop technology faster than our ability to use it ethically?

  2. What are some other examples of technology that was developed for good but has been used for evil purposes?

  3. Is human cloning simply an extension of fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization or is it something altogether different?

  4. As with many modern ethical dilemmas, the Bible does not specifically address human cloning—or insect cloning for that matter. How do we learn from Scripture when it's not explicit on a question?

  5. What would you have done in Paul and Jessie Duncan shoes, given that choice? Why?

Related Elsewhere:

A ready-to-download, Bible-based discussion guide is available for this movie at ChristianBibleStudies.com. Use this guide after the movie to help you and your small group better connect your faith to pop culture.

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Godsend is psychologically frightening. Because it deals with the death of a young boy, and imagines his cloned rebirth fraught with horror, it is inappropriate for younger children. A lovemaking scene between the parents is sensual though not explicit.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 05/06/04

What would you do if you were given an opportunity to bring back a loved one from the dead? In Godsend, Paul and Jessie (Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a couple traumatized by the loss of their eight-year-old son, are given an opportunity to restore their child to life. Their hope lies in the hands of a secretive doctor (Robert DeNiro) who meddles in the technology of cloning. Entangled in troubling questions of morality, legality, and spirituality, Paul and Jessie make a choice that leads to devastating consequences.

The consequences are also devastating for the audience, according to mainstream critics. Religious press critics agree.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "While the questions raised are thought-provoking, the only thing the movie itself provokes in viewers is the urge to check their watches. Unfortunately, after an intelligent setup, the story's philosophical pretensions quickly give way to spooky atmospherics and standard ghost-story devices which detract from the central moral dilemma posed."

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Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "It is hard to pinpoint exactly where this film begins to fall apart, but fall apart it does. By the end of the film, the story has gotten so ludicrous it is hard to muster any interest over what the outcome might be. And even then, we're still disappointed."

Stefan Ulstein (Christianity Today Movies) says, "Despite its laudable intentions, Godsend is less than equal to its challenges. The script is long on the Big Issues, but comes up short in compelling dialogue. It needed a couple more drafts."

Tom Neven (Plugged In) agrees, calling it "a tense, if slightly derivative, thriller. Unfortunately, it bears all the earmarks of having been focus-grouped into inferiority. About 10 minutes from the end it swerves in a direction not warranted by what has preceded, and it feels as if an entire chapter has been ripped from a book." He adds, "Godsend cheats when it comes to answering the overarching moral question. Based on previews, I originally feared that it might trivialize the morality of human cloning by having the result be a monster, thus relieving the filmmakers of having to address whether human cloning is evil in and of itself. But they did worse: such moral questions are made irrelevant."

Michael Karounos (Christian Spotlight) says, "If you are interested in idea-movies, then Godsend is worth seeing. With a line here and a supernatural deletion everywhere else, it could easily have been made into an interesting Christian movie highlighting the moral and spiritual questions that cloning raises. With the recent success of The Passion, you wonder how long it will take Hollywood to catch on that Christians will go in droves to see genuinely Christian films."

from Film Forum, 05/13/04

The paranormal thriller Godsend deals with the strange behavior of a cloned child. Andrew Coffin (World) writes, "The first part of the film, showing the family and how they react to the tragedy, is promising, raising important questions about the ethics and the possibilities of cloning. But after the movie's second birthday party, it becomes just another horror movie. And an inept one at that, with two major cop-outs in the story line, including one that erases the movie's very premise."

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Kevin Miller (Relevant) says, "If Godsend had been made 50 years ago in black and white, it would be exactly the kind of thing I enjoy watching late on Saturday nights when there's nothing else on TV. However, viewers today are a lot more sophisticated than they were in the 1950s. They're not as apt to buy in to the faulty premises and dubious science that make those old films so laughable today."

Related Elsewhere:

A ready-to-download Movie Discussion Guide related to this movie is available at ChristianityTodayMoviesStore.com. Use this guide after the movie to help you and your small group better connect your faith to pop culture.

Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for violence including frightening images, a scene of sexuality and some thematic material)
Directed By
Frank M. Calo, Nick Hamm
Run Time
1 hour 42 minutes
Robert De Niro, Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn
Theatre Release
April 30, 2004 by Lions Gate
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