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The 6th Day

The 6th Day: Arnie’s back, and his clone is, too!

Arnold Schwartzenegger hasn’t had a big box office hit since the fantastic True Lies in 1995. Eraser was a competent action movie that sank without a trace, and End Of Days was simply a turkey of mythical proportions. Can The 6th Day revive his flagging career as an all action hero? You betcha.

The 6th Day takes its title not from last year’s film about seeing dead people, but from the Bible, and the story of creation: on the sixth day, God created Man. The film is set in the near future, at a time when animal cloning is not just common, but commercialized. Human cloning has been attempted, but scientists have deemed it too difficult a problem. In addition to that, a series of so-called “sixth day” laws have been passed, making it illegal even to try.

Of course, there is a group of people who have gone ahead and done it anyway.

Schwartzenegger plays Adam Gibson, a helicopter pilot who runs an adventure skiing business. He and his partner Hank (Michael Rapaport) fly people up to the tops of mountains to let them enjoy the fresh snow up there. The story effectively starts when his partner covers for Gibson’s absence one day, and flies billionaire businessman Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn) up to the hills. Drucker runs a business empire built on animal cloning technology, and has many enemies. At the top of the mountain, anti-cloning extremists assassinate him, and everyone else on board the helicopter, too.

Drucker’s company (being big and corporate and therefore not entirely trustworthy and above board) owns the technology to create fully grown human clones, and to give them a complete set of memories. They make a clone of Drucker, and, thinking that Gibson (Arnie) was flying the chopper, one of him, too. So now there are two Gibsons wandering about, neither aware that anything unusual is going on. When the company discovers their mistake, they send a team of experts to kill one of them–it doesn’t really matter which–and so destroy the evidence.

Of course, this doesn’t go according to plan.

From here, the story takes off at a rocking good pace. Racing against the team of corporate thugs chasing him, Gibson works to uncover the truth about human cloning, and to figure out how to get his normal life back. There are car chases, gun fights (featuring some pretty cool tracer bullet effects), and a healthy dose of humour. There are relatively few stunts for stunts’ sake (which I think is a good thing), but the set pieces, especially the final confrontation with the bad guy, are tense and well staged.

As an action movie, it works on every level. Interestingly enough, though, it also works as a damn good science fiction film. Not even a “sci-fi” pseudo-western filled with spaceships and blasters and swaggering heroes, but a genuine exploration of scientific ideas and their consequences.

Okay, so the cloning technology they use is far fetched, perhaps even ridiculous–or so I thought at first. Then I looked at it a little harder, and I wasn’t so sure any more. They create fully grown “blanks,” which are featureless humanoid shapes. Then they infuse the blank with the genetic material of the cloning subject, and force the final development, causing the clone to adopt its ultimate shape and characteristics. Given that humans are all 99-point-something percent genetically identical, and assuming that we will sooner or later have a complete map of the human genome, and the ability to edit a cell’s DNA, can someone please explain to me why this is impossible?

(The idea of taking a snapshot of someone’s memories and mental state through a retinal scan stands up to much less scrutiny, but I’ll let that one slide for now…)

But once you take this development as your basic premiss, the plot sticks to it absolutely: if this is the case, what are the logical consequences? The script doesn’t feel obliged to explain in great pseudo-scientific detail why it all works, or how some equally implausible technology can solve all of the characters’ problems, defeat evil, and generally bring about world peace. What it does do is examine the situation it has created within the context it has laid out. You have an identical clone, with all your memories, who really does think that he is you. How do you react to him? How does he react to you? How do you feel when he kisses your wife, and she thinks that he is you?

All the while I was watching this film, I was thinking that it could have been made on a much smaller budget, with hardly any special effects, and a cheaper, unknown cast, and it still would have been a good film. It has a good plot. It has a good script. It even has a sub-plot, for goodness? sake! Schwartzenegger action movies don’t have sub-plots! (It features Robert Duvall as the scientist behind the human cloning technology, and his dying wife. His wife doesn’t want to be cloned and brought back to life after her death. How does he deal with that? Does he respect her decision, even when he knows that he could have her back, exactly the way she was before, when even she wouldn’t know any different?)

I said it in my review of End Of Days, and I’ll say it again here: Arnold Schwartzenegger isn’t an actor, he’s a movie star. Robert Duvall steals the whole film, in my opinion. But is says a lot for Arnie as a movie star and as co-producer of this film, that he allows the show to be stolen. He knows that he’s the box office draw, so he can afford to allow the director (Roger Spottiswoode, whose recent credits include the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies) to focus on the significant talents of the supporting cast.

This is actually quite a mature film. Cloning as a theme has been done plenty of times before, and recently in films like Multiplicity and Alien Resurrection, but the philosophical consequences were secondary to either the comedy or the action. Total Recall, also featuring Arnie, made a half-hearted attempt at examining the issue of identity in a world where memories can be bought and sold and forged. The 6th Day takes a deeper look at these themes. It comes closer to capturing some of the paranoia of Philip K. Dick’s work, but the author whose stories it reminds me of most is John Varley. Varley has a series of tales, set on the moon and nearby space settlements where cloning and memory replacement–effectively backing yourself up–is an everyday thing, and perfectly normal. Being an action movie, it’s hard to do full justice to these ideas, but at least The 6th Day tries. For that reason alone, it deserves a look.

The fact that Arnie kicks ass, and is great fun to watch, is just a bonus. Highly recommended!