The 6th Day
Screenplay : Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Arnold Schwarzenegger (Adam Gibson), Tony Goldwyn (Drucker), Robert Duvall (Dr. Graham Weir), Michael Rapaport (Hank), Sarah Wynter (Talia), Wendy Crewson (Natalie Gibson), Rodney Rowland (Wile E. Coyote)
The 6th Day is a science-fiction action extravaganza with some interesting ideas. The movie never really explores those ideas in any substantial depth, but they make for a good backbone to support an Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle.
Like Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall (1990), The 6th Day recognizes that there are certain expectations that must be fulfilled when Schwarzenegger is involved, and director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrrow Never Dies) obliges without letting them overwhelm the film. He lets Schwarzenegger deliver several of his patented pun-inflected quips after disposing of the bad guys, and there are more than enough high-paced action sequences to allow those who don't want to think to put their brain on autopilot and enjoy the ride. Yet, I couldn't help but sense that somewhere in there, screenwriters Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley were exploring a meaningful subject that may face us someday.
That subject is human cloning. The story takes place in the not-too-distant future, as a title card at the beginning tells us, "Much sooner than you think." The title refers to the Biblical passage in Genesis that God created man in His own image on the sixth day. Thus, in the imagined near future, cloning has become a perfected science, yet there are "sixth day" laws banning human cloning. Of course, just because there are laws banning it doesn't mean that it isn't happening.
Schwarzenegger plays Adam Gibson, a helicopter pilot and family man who gets caught up in a web of conspiracy when he finds out that he has been cloned. In trying to figure out how and when he was cloned, Adam stumbles into the lair of Drucker (Tony Goldwyn), an extremely powerful businessman who has been building his own human cloning lab while trying to gain influence in the government to get the sixth day laws changed. He is a wicked capitalist who wants to corner the market on creating people--the ultimate form of playing God.
With the use of human cloning, the narrative of The 6th Day plays with a number of film and story conventions. First of all, just because someone is killed, doesn't mean he or she is out of the narrative. In fact, several characters die numerous times, but they are simply resurrected within hours via human cloning. Because all their thoughts, memories, and knowledge can be either scanned directly from their brain within a few hours of death or, if prerecorded, taken from a storage device called a synchording, the new clone is an exact replica both physically and cerebrally. Dr. Graham Weir (Robert Duvall), Drucker's chief scientist whose wife is dying of a terminal disease, maintains a huge tank in his laboratory in which he has grown dozens of fully formed, but characteristic-less human bodies that only need to be injected with the DNA and synchording information in order to immediately grow into a clone.
Another twist in the narrative expectations is that there is no guarantee that a character is not a clone. Because the clones are exact replicas with all the same memories and knowledge, there is no way to determine if a person is the real deal (well, there is one way, but that's not revealed until near the end). Thus, some characters are revealed to be clones when we were led to believe they were real. This turns into a crisis of identity for Adam (much like the crisis of memory in Total Recall) because there are two of him. So, which one is the original and which one is the clone? We think we know, but how can we be sure? At one point, this is posed to the Adam we have been following in the narrative, and he declares with assurance, "I know who I am." But, can he know who he is when there is another human form out there who would say the exact same thing?
The 6th Day is surprisingly good at consistently complicating the notion of human identity without letting it bog down the narrative. It even manages to take a few detours in the story, most notably the story of Dr. Weir and his dying wife. This subplot is probably the most effective part of the film, as it puts the idea of human cloning into an entirely new and tragic perspective from the rest of the story.
Otherwise, The 6th Day is a more-than-competent action film with plenty of special effects and chase sequences, both in cars and in helicopters that can also turn into jets. The near-futuristic production design is solid throughout, incorporating the everyday feel of life in the year 2000 with technical flourishes here and there, especially in the form of larger-than-life holograms and media-related appliances (the refrigerator informs you when you are low on milk, and you can order a new carton by simply pressing a button). The movie has fun with some of its futuristic inventions, notably a company called RePet, which offers to clone your deceased pet within a few hours so that you will never know it was gone, and virtual girlfriends that meet a man's every selfish desire.
The story consistently offers enough twists and turns to maintain interest, despite the somewhat overlong running time. Schwarzenegger's acting skills have not improved notably, but that hardly detracts from the movie. Goldwyn is effective as the capitalist with a God-complex, and Duvall gives the story a human face in the scenes with his dying wife. It is moments like these that let us know The 6th Day is about more than just exploiting a controversial scientific development for sci-fi kicks. There are plenty of kicks to be had, but you might just leave the theater thinking a bit, as well.
©2000 James Kendrick