I don't know if you've ever played the game “Never Have I Ever”, but I can tell you that I definitely have not. The game has a simple premise: a group of players gathers in a circle, then the first player mentions a semi-embarrassing thing that they've done. Anyone who has also done that thing gets a pass and anyone who hasn't done that thing has to take a drink. (Or maybe it's reverse. I don't know. I've never played.) The idea is that everyone will get a good laugh at all the juicy (but hopefully harmless) secrets they're unearthing, but there's always going to be the risk that someone will admit to a secret that's embarrassing-embarrassing and not fun-embarrassing. That risk is why I've never played; I can't imagine a less fun situation than being pressured into revealing something that you had tried to keep hidden and then suddenly realizing that everyone has stopped laughing because now they know something they didn't want to know.
Womb is basically a game of Never Have I Ever that went wrong. The first forty minutes of make it look like a portentous romance, which is fine but not my thing. However, the movie dramatically shifts from "I can buy that these people's relationship resembles something that could be considered sexy" to "Oh, please God don't let them bone" once one half of the relationship dies and is replaced by a completely unacceptable substitute.
Womb starts out as a quaint portrait of two young children named Rebecca and Thomas who live near each other in the same small beach town. When Rebecca's family moves away their budding romance is put on pause, but as soon as she's old enough to control her own destiny she moves back to be with her childhood love. Thomas seems to accept her reappearance as normal, even though it really isn't, because who in the hell gets fixated on their first crush and then never moves on? That's stalker behavior.
Anyway, they rekindle their love, and this part drags on far too long because there's no obvious reason for their love except for “fate” - they have nothing in common and no chemistry together and also Thomas is a totally weird-looking dude so why him? However things pick up dramatically after Thomas is standing in the middle of a long flat road in broad daylight with nothing around for miles and a random car that he somehow didn't see coming somehow manages to hit him and kill him. Rebecca has pinned her whole life on this dude, so what is she supposed to do now?
Well, I'll tell you what she does: she goes to a cloning lab so she can recreate her sacred love. Once cloning is introduced as a plot point with absolutely no build up you start to get a sense that this heretofore sleepy movie is about to go batshit crazy. Is Rebecca just reincarnating her one true love on the general principle that this guy needs to exist somewhere on the Earth? Does she realize that a clone is not an exact duplicate, that environmental differences will push it's personality in new and unexpected directions? Is she hoping to recreate her mate so that they can resume their passionate love affair in a few decades once the mini-version is fully grown? Does she realize that it's still incest if a parent has sex with their child even if they don't share any genetic material?
Womb is fairly opaque on these issues – it presents Rebecca's behavior in a matter of fact manner without ever getting the audience into her head to help us understand her intentions, and it never openly argues in favor of one thesis or another. As such, I can only guess at it's intentions, but it seems to think it is building a thought experiment that will challenge it's audience's preconceptions about cloning. That's a noble enough goal, I suppose, but if that's what this movie is doing it isn't very good at it, because Rebecca's blatant craziness makes her a terrible test subject. Even if we're being charitable – even if we assume she isn't trying to raise her baby for sexual purposes (which maybe she is and maybe she isn't)– we still know that she's unhinged because anyone who would sit around for eighteen years waiting for a child to turn into a duplicate of their parent is obsessed in a very unhealthy and unreasonable manner.
If there had been a scene where Rebecca had seen her newborn baby and realized that she was dealing with a new life, not an old one, I might have weighed Womb's arguments carefully. If she had given birth to her dead lover's clone out of intense grief but later moved on with her life and found an acceptable partner to help raise her new son I could have at least understood where she was coming from. But no, she seems to live in a world where love is ruled by fate and where every person is only allotted one soulmate whom they have to obsess over for their entire life even if that soulmate is weird looking and bland and dead. Since I don't live in a world of fate and since I don't believe in that kind of romantic obsession I don't see any reason to think that this movie has much to say about my world. Which is why I felt that Womb was less of a philosophical exploration of a thorny topic and more of a giant billboard that screams “THE PEOPLE WHO MADE THIS MOVIE HAVE ALL THOUGHT IN GREAT DEPTH ABOUT HAVING SEX WITH THEIR MOMS”. There are a lot of embarrassing things I might have cop to if I ever had to play Never Have I Ever, but I can safely say that Never Have I Ever done that, so they are all alone on that one. Awwwkwwarrd.
Winner: The Cat