“You wouldn’t believe what the
fuckin’ mutants would do for an arm and a leg.”
—Contact, explaining the facts of improved life to Dr. Goode
As many countries worldwide struggle to keep a handle on
health-care costs and regulate medical research to prevent Dr. Frankensteins
from opening “Bodies ‘R’ Us” clinics, Anais Granofsky’s The Limb Salesman should find sympathetic audiences in every corner of the planet.
Set in the future, but draped in the past (Diana
Abbatangelo’s production design revels in antiques, fabric and decades-old
baubles) the film achieves much as social commentary even as its fantastic plot
moves unevenly forward.
As Dr. Goode, the deeply troubled DNA wizard, Peter
Stebbings gives a convincing performance of the nightmare-haunted surgeon who
gradually falls in love with his legless patient Clara (Ingrid Veninger) whose
full recovery allows her to walk full steam ahead into an O. Henry plot twist that
could be a futuristic remake of The Gift of the Magi.
Surrounding the tormented lovers in a house that
personifies isolation, are the incorrigible family matriarch Lolly (Jackie
Burroughs, equally adept as lush, dancer and conniver), her wicked son Abe
(Clark Johnson, appropriately nasty, but foiled by a script that lets Clara, the
ultimate “wife replacement” toddle off seconds before the revenge-seeking
“grunts” circle their wagons) and his son Charles (Charles Officer), onsite
overseer of the family’s employee-filling water mine—the most precious commodity
of the New World. (Eerily similar to real life in Alang, India—cross-reference below.)
In order to procure the necessary “parts,” Dr. Goode treks
to Junction where his contact (Julian Richings, who greedily savours this manic
role, resplendent in leather) cooks up a pair of gams in his human tissue lab
but not before discovering that the good doctor’s heart is not his own. No
problem. Contact suggests that “you find a freak generic mutant and help
yourself” because “the heart is one organ you can’t grow in a Petrie dish”
(something about having a soul …). (Real life mutants are only too common, cross-reference below.) Some of his lines are spoken while, literally, on top
of the physician-for-hire, which only serve to muddy the relationship pot.
Writers Granofsky and Veninger do best when shading the
contemporary metaphors of cue jumping, two-tier service delivery, exploitation
of labour and incest with situations that make this production not “just another
fairy tale.” They are aided by John Welsman’s score, particularly the baroque
violin that pulls us back further in time even as the Chopin Ballade signals “dinner is served.”
But—finally—that’s the flaw: with such a rich buffet of
eras, ideas and commentaries, it’s difficult to decide what this film’s really
about, yet it’s a cinematic meal that has much to enjoy.
Not least of which is the unforgettable scene when Dr.
Goode awakens, bare, alone with only his own steady pulse for company. Stebbings soars through the moment with chilling authority. JWR