Clones: short sci-fi sketch on the nature of identity

Rafael Bolliger, “Clones” (2015)

In amongst a busy schedule making films, TV films and TV series, and lending his voice to videogames, Dutch actor Rutger Hauer found the time to star in a 12-minute science fiction short film “Clones” as Dr Richards, a senior medic overseeing a risky brain operation. Set in the future, on a far distant space station, the film revolves around Mr Freeman (DeObia Oparei), a distinguished mathematician / quantum physicist about to undergo surgery to remove a brain tumour. He first has to undergo a pre-operation procedure in which his brain is scanned so that his memories can be stored in back-up, in case the operation does not proceed in the way it should. During the procedure, Freeman expresses doubts to Dr Richards and assistant nurse Sophie (Stephanie Németh-Parker) that he will be the same man after the surgery even when his memories are restored to him from the back-up storage unit as his work in quantum physics has demonstrated to him that his identity cannot be easily captured in memories. Dr Richards then expresses an opposed view – that our identities do depend on our memories – and the three continue with the procedure.

As we might expect, problems arise during the procedure and it appears that Freeman dies during the continued transfer of his memories. While Sophie is upset at Freeman’s apparent death, Richards assures her that Freeman has survived in his memories.

The film has a grungy, gritty look – the room where the pre-operation procedure takes place hardly looks as though it was designed to cheer up the medics and their support staff working there, let alone the patients facing operations with a high risk of failure and death – and one wonders why Freeman didn’t ask his questions of Richards much, much earlier during the consultation process. With a very minimal setting, the emphasis is all on the actors and their body language, and the three do good work with the sketchy script they have. Hauer gives Richards the impression of a surgeon with a hidden maniacal agenda all his own in capturing people’s memories and implanting them into human clones; perhaps Richards has a plan to control valuable information needed for survival through these clones. Having played a replicant whose identity was dependent on its memories in “Blade Runner” and who exercised free will in rebelling against its maker (and killing him), Hauer no doubt saw rich irony in playing a role similar to Roy Batty’s maker Eldon Tyrell.

The film raises an important philosophical question going as far back as John Locke (1632 – 1704) and his theory of mind, which holds that the mind is shaped by its experiences and memories. It does not attempt to either prove or disprove Locke’s theory but instead leaves an open-ended conclusion that calls into question intellectual arrogance that presumes to know or have the answers to questions of existence and identity.