I’m not sure why Subject Two didn’t have more of an impact on me. I stayed moderately interested the whole way, there is nothing in it irritatingly ambiguous or incomprehensible, the ending isn’t a letdown, and it raises certain unusual issues that are interesting to think about, yet my reaction to the film as a whole is something of a shrug.
It’s a Frankenstein-style mad scientist movie, though more a matter of bringing the dead back to life than building a person out of parts. The mad scientist kills his assistant over and over, each time tweaking the method by which he restores him to life, trying to eliminate unwanted side effects. The improvements also make him harder to kill each subsequent time.
(The way he keeps coming back every time he’s killed put me in mind of when Chris kills Saddam in Hell in South Park and is surprised to see him back moments later: “Well where’d you expect me to go, Detroit?”)
One of my movie pet peeves that’s present in this film—I mentioned this when I wrote about Roger Dodger as well—is that the characters don’t say any more to each other than the filmmaker wants the audience to know. (The flip side of this is when characters in a movie say more than they would in real life, because the filmmaker can’t think of any other way to convey this information to the audience.) You’d think the assistant would want to know everything there is to know about the scientist, the methodology, the history of his former experiments, etc., but he asks only minimal questions and doesn’t press the matter when the scientist isn’t very forthcoming. Similarly, you’d think the scientist would be very interested in the “What’s it like to be dead?”-type questions, but when he asks and gets only vague and mysterious terse responses, he doesn’t push it.
It maybe allows the film to maintain a certain air of suspense or mystery, but to me it’s far-fetched that they wouldn’t be conversing about these things at great length and in great detail.
When the scientist finds that he cannot prevent the rejuvenated assistant from experiencing excessive pain, the next round he eliminates his capacity to experience physical sensations like that at all. Which has two consequences for the assistant, arguably contradictory ones.
One, there are indications it renders him something of a psychopath whose emotions and moral sense are deadened, as if losing physical pain and pleasure also means losing emotional pain and pleasure. (No doubt one angle the filmmaker is encouraging one to think about here is the way the scientist’s behavior has been disturbingly amoral all along, and now his experiments have created someone who if anything surpasses him in that regard.) But two, he is portrayed as experiencing great anguish at losing the physical sensations he’s lost.
So he ends up with a robotic or zombielike indifference to pain (such as when he places his hand on a hot stove) and to antisocial behavior (as when he murders in a cold and calculating manner), but he’s still sufficiently alive emotionally to lament his fate, and to wonder whether his journey toward immortality is actually a journey toward Hell.
Maybe not an out-and-out psychological impossibility, but there does seem to me to be some tension there.
But the movie does indeed make one think about what cost would and would not be worth it to be resuscitated in a cryonic fashion, and whether being unable to die can be more of a curse than a blessing.
Like I say, though, I just don’t feel Subject Two hit me in any deep way, and I’m not entirely sure why. It held my interest all the way, and I don’t assess it as a weak movie, but I have the sense that a decent Twilight Zone episode could have covered this same ground in a way that somehow connected better with me.