BODY DOUBLES

Brian D. Johnson March 10 1997

BODY DOUBLES

Brian D. Johnson March 10 1997

BODY DOUBLES

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

Now that science has figured out how to Xerox sheep, fears are running rampant that a brave new breed of human replicants is just around the corner. Big deal. Hollywood, where they have been treating people like sheep for ages, has already perfected the cloning business. Take, for example, the movie about the mad scientist who fabricates his offspring in the laboratory. Which movie? Take your pick.

Ever since the early Frankenstein flicks, the premise itself has been cloned over and over and over again.

The classic example of a gene-cloning movie is the 1978 thriller The Boys from Brazil, in which Gregory Peck is ludicrously miscast as Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi psychopath who incubates a brood of spoiled teenage boys with blue eyes and shocks of straight black hair from samples of skin and blood donated by Adolf Hitler before his death. Mengele’s goal is to resurrect the Third Reich with a Hitler clone. Laurence Oliver plays Lieberman, the Nazi hunter who tracks down the bad doctor. In a scene designed to lend the premise some plausibility, he listens to a scientist—a sane one—explain how he has cloned rabbits by injecting donor cells into eggs stripped of their genetic nucleus.

“And this can be done with humans?” asks the incredulous Lieberman. “It’s monstrous!” The scientist gives him a blank look. “Why?” he asks. “Wouldn’t you want to live in a world of Mozarts and Picassos? Of course it’s only a dream. Not only would you have to reproduce the genetic code of the donor, but the environmental background as well.”

Good thinking. Not every cloning flick is so fastidious—certainly not Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973), in which a dictator’s disem-

bodied nose held the blueprint for S£ Keaton times four in cloning a new world order. But Multiplicity; cloning scripts

most movies do portray ovum enare suddenly in demand gineering as an evil business,

leading to the propagation of a runaway species that could consume the planet. In the Frankenstein tradition, however, the scientists can have benign intentions. The Nobel laureate played by Peter OToole in Creator (1985) was just trying to make a facsimile of his dead wife to keep him company in his old age. And the dinosaur-incubating eggheads in Jurassic Park—which will be cloned in a blockbuster sequel this summer—just wanted to build a zoo.

There is, of course, an entire genre of sci-fi movies populated

by cybernetic clones—ranging from the replicants in Blade Runner to the Arnold Schwarzenegger gladiator in Terminator 2.

They are, basically, disposable people. Their flesh can be graphically gored, squished, punctured, cut and ripped, and for some reason the violence is supposed to seem less offensive because it is just machine flesh.

Aliens, meanwhile, are old hands at cloning people as hosts.

Movies ranging from Invasion of § the Body Snatchers (1956) to Species (1995) have taught us that soulless mutants may be lurking under the skin of even the most regular-looking folks.

Finally, there is the clone as household drone. In last year’s comedy Multiplicity, Michael Keaton played an overworked construction foreman who replicates himself with the help of a local geneticist. The first clone is a macho overachiever, the second an effeminate New Man, and the third (a clone of a clone) a blithering idiot. The film fared poorly at the box office, putting a damper on future projects in the same vein. But Dolly’s fame has changed all that—at the studios, cloning scripts are suddenly in demand.

But then cloning is what Hollywood is all about—call it the dubbing-down of mass culture. The movie industry thrives on duplicating the same formulas again and again, turning out sequels, remakes and knock-offs from an ever-shrinking gene pool of

creativity. It also clones its stars, replicating a single personality into common currency. Andy Warhol, pop art’s genius freak, figured it out in the 1960s with his serial silk screens of such icons as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and the Mona Lisa. Duplicating both the living and the dead, Warhol cloned the very tissue of celebrity, printing it up like sheets of counterfeit money. He was both mocking and minting Hollywood culture, and in case anyone missed the point, he also ran off silkscreened images of dollar bills.

In a globalized culture where a face can become an instant franchise—witness the proliferation of merchandise emblazoned with the Edvard Munch painting The Scream— cloning is a metaphor that has come full circle. In the typical horror fantasy, what draws the laboratory scientist to play God is a lust for immortality. In their own way, artists have always hoped to leave a mark that lasts beyond their death. But Hollywood has industrialized that desire. And if special-effects wizards have their way, the stars of the future could actually be clones—the digital kind. Director Robert Zemeckis, who brought John F. Kennedy back to life in Forrest Gump, has predicted that actors may soon be able to extend their careers indefinitely by banking computer clones of themselves in their prime. They could co-star with their younger selves in flashbacks, and be cast in movies long after their death.

But some stars might prefer to replicate themselves in the flesh. Madonna, for instance, could sidestep that whole messy business of finding a mate. She could conceive her own immaculate bundle of blond ambition—just like a virgin.