For generations, bringing a child into this world was considered a normal thing. “Normal” can be seen as an understatement. So, let’s go with the word “mandatory.” Every cis-gendered heterosexual man was required to marry a cis-gendered heterosexual woman so that they could give birth to a child who would carry on that cycle. However, since the amount of attention given to brainwashing people into producing kids was significantly more than the effort put into housing, education (to be specific, sex education and gender studies), healthcare, the environment, and a fair justice system, the number of dysfunctional humans kept increasing while everything else started to degrade. Thankfully, in recent years, a minuscule number of humans have understood the futility of this cyclical process and have chosen to break it by not contributing to the troubling population rise. “Clock” shows the horrors of taking such a stance in a society that sees a childless mother as an abomination.
Alexis Jacknow ominously opens her film with the death by suicide of a woman in a park. The shot of an IUD-like object with weird markings on it hints at the fact that something sinister is at play. Then, the narrative shifts to Ella Patel, who is a famous interior designer. She’s happily married to Aidan Patel. But she has a strained relationship with her father, Joseph, and the time she spends with her friends—which are composed of mothers or women who are expecting—is quite discomforting for her. And the reason is obvious: Ella isn’t a mother, despite being married.
Eventually, the mounting pressure gets to her, and she admits herself to a biotech firm (which associates itself with the symbol of infinity) that’s supposed to “fix” a woman’s biological clock, thereby generating one’s need to have a baby. The place is practically run by Dr. Elizabeth Simmons, who claims to be an expert in combining hormonal treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy, and she promises she’s going to transform Ella in a matter of 10 days.
Through Ella’s journey, Jacknow essentially gives a masterclass on the battles for bodily autonomy that women wage on a daily basis. I seriously think viewers should sit down with a notepad to jot down what Jacknow is talking about because there’s a lot. As indicated by the title, the main focus is on this metaphorical body clock that everyone has, which will tell when a person should or shouldn’t have a baby. The only man who keeps bringing this up is Ella’s father, as the concept of the body clock is almost entirely championed by the women in Ella’s friend circle, thereby showing the damaging effects of internalized misogyny.
The reason behind Joseph pushing Ella to have a child and Ella’s reluctance towards becoming a mother is linked to their Jewishness is incredibly thought-provoking. On the one hand, Joseph thinks that it’s important to progress their bloodline so that there are more of them to show that they’ve fought anti-Semitism and will continue to do so. On the other hand, Ella thinks that bringing a child into a world that’s still anti-Semitic and bigoted against minorities is irresponsible. In addition to all that, Jacknow comments on IVF, both from the perspective of cis-straight women and cis-lesbian women and what it means for either party. So, yes, it’s a lot.
Jacknow doesn’t shy away from how overwhelming the subject matter of “Clock” is. Along with cinematographer Martim Viam, editor Alexandra Amick, composer Stephen Lukach, the sound designers, the VFX department, production designer Kristin Gibler, and the practical effects department, Jacknow creates an atmosphere that immediately puts the audience in Ella’s shoes. The constantly ticking clock is a blunt but very effective tool that is either looming over Ella visually or through sound. There’s frequent use of chicken eggs to signify fertility and unborn children, which can also seem on the nose.
But that’s when Jacknow and her team throw all that light metaphor out of the window and go hard by swinging a baby, still connected to Ella with the umbilical cord, like a pendulum. That’s one-upped by a scene involving the rupturing of someone’s amniotic sac and a disoriented Ella, which is gross enough to make you puke. Now, while I’ve no doubt about the potency of the imagery centered around Ella’s tumultuous journey, I’m conflicted about the murky look of the film. Yes, there’s a spoiler-y story-based reason for it, which makes a lot of sense. However, the haziness in the saturated and desaturated modes almost dulls the impact of the final revelation. I say “almost” because Dianna Agron’s stomach-churning performance is too powerful to be held back by anything. She perfectly portrays Ella’s devolution from a strong, independent woman to this thing who is barely alive because of the pressure put on her by society and “science.” It’s actually her commitment to this role that makes the themes stand out. Without Agron, those themes would’ve been noticeable, but they wouldn’t have been palpable.
The whole point of “Clock” is to deeply move those who do not understand the perspective of a woman who is going through hell for no reason. If the viewer just walks away with the aforementioned notes, they’ll forget about them as soon as the ink dries. But if those notes have a face that’s as impressionable as Agron’s, then they’ll remember and, hopefully, act on them. The rest of the cast is great. Melora Hardin, as the scheming Dr. Simmons, is aptly untrustworthy. Saul Rubinek, as Joseph channels every annoying and lovable dad in existence. Jay Ali, as Aidan Patel, is the husband that everybody wants. However, with all due respect, Agron stands head and shoulders above everyone else, which in all probability, is totally intentional.
At the end of “Clock,” Jacknow chooses a frame that’s so ambiguous and yet incredibly symbolic. It’s like she’s saying that if you’re given the opportunity to go back in time and stop the fish that crawled out of the sea, thereby preventing the advent of humankind, would you take it? There’s a staggering amount of evidence that shows that humans have degraded everything they’ve touched, segregated, and oppressed their own, and are continuing to push each other to the edge of insanity. So, the answer is pretty obvious, and we all know that humanity is a mistake. However, since time travel doesn’t exist, we’ve got to take care of the present and the future. We can begin that process by minding our own business instead of telling women what they should do with their lives, especially when it comes to the topic of pregnancy. With all that said, please do watch “Clock” and form your own opinions, and let us know what you think of it.