Parasite Eve [Parasaito Ivu] (1997)

This is a fairly strange film, which takes some bleeding edge biological speculations and spins them off wildly into the stratosphere of weird ideas.

It was made for TV, a year before Ringu launched the current J-Horror fad, and it was an adaptation of a popular Japanese horror novel.  The book then inspired a graphic novel and ultimately, a series of videogames which went in their own strange direction which has little to do with any of the previous versions.

And let’s make sure we made that clear:  this movie is not based on the videogame of the same name.

The underlying idea here is borrowed from the biological theories of Lynn Margulis, who believed that certain parts of the cell, notably the mitochondria, were originally separate organisms.  Mitochondria, she argued, were once something similar to Typhus, and were absorbed by early bacteria and then took on a symbiotic role, producing energy for the cell.  However, the movie sees this as more of a parasitic relationship, and brings in the example of the relationship between snails and certain bugs, which help the animal – until the point where the parasite deliberately gets them eaten.

So, one of the characters asks, does that mean that parasites in our bodies could do the same thing?

And this is what then happens, when a research scientist’s attempts to keep his dead wife “alive” lead him to culturing live cells from her liver, but which is actually part of a secret plan by the mitochondria to take over the world.

I have to confess that, like many in the scientific community, I am somewhat skeptical of the underlying theory.  Certainly, Lynn tried to expand it to explain as many different cellular features as she could, and not just those that had their own separate DNA.  This often leads to the all too common intellectual error of trying to explain everything with your latest theory (seems to me there’s some old saw about everything looking like a nail to a man with a hammer).

The film also tries to tie all this into the separate notion of the Mitochondrial Eve, which argues from mutations in the DNA that we all descended from a single woman 50,000 years ago.  It really doesn’t have much to do with all this except for giving us a name for the creature the hero creates, and, of course, of some vague comments about how this was one of the major steps in the mitochondria’s secret program going back millions of years.

Whoa.

Now, the irony here is that there have been some interesting suggestions lately that which codon you use to represent an Amino acid Base affects the rate (and even the way) in which it is expressed and that this might be a regulatory mechanism controling protein production.  If true, this could make nonsense of years of DNA “clock” studies.

This is actually quite a beautiful movie.  There’s a lot of nicely creepy imagery filled with fog and mist (inside a research lab) and of shadowy hallways, where danger seems to lurk around every ill lit corner (in a big hospital).

Okay, it doesn’t fit, but you have to admit it gives it all a wonderfully spooky atmosphere.

It does take its time getting to the interesting bits.  Unlike a lot of reviewers, I didn’t particularly mind, but I suspect that, as with any subtitled film, the experience can differ considerably for different viewers.  The creature effects are quite well done, particularly for a Television production, although, yes, they went way overboard with the digitally added flames at the end of the film.  Way, way overboard.

All in all, I found it an enjoyable bit of nonsense, a tad pretentious, yes, but with a lot of interesting moments, even the ones where it went way over the top.

And lets face it, there’s something truly disturbing about a naked girl with no nipples.

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