Evolution begins with a lengthy sequence underwater that involves pensive, ambient music and finally a shot of a boy, Nicholas (Max Brebant), swimming. He swims deeper to glance at coral but swims back to the surface after seeing a dead boy’s body with a starfish on his stomach. He runs home to tell his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) about what he saw and she dismisses his sighting to a lapse of proper vision due to the depths and complexity of the sea. Nicholas later swims to search for the dead boy, but he cuts his hand and is chastised for his search.
Nicholas lives with his mother along with other boys of the same age who also live with their mothers. No grown men or infant girls are to be seen and their absence is never alluded to. For meals, the boys eat a disgusting blend of sea life. Every evening the boys take a liquid medicine that is colored black, seeming more so like poison. Nicholas asks why he has to take medicine and is told by his mother that his body is both changing and weakening; the medicine will keep him strong.
Apart from their seaside town is a hospital where boys can be sent to be operated on. It is mentioned that the boys can suffer from a disease, although what this disease is and what its ailments are left unspoken. Nicholas is sent to this hospital for sterilization or punishment shortly after cutting his hand and brutalizing a starfish. The visual motif of the starfish is recurring, even within the hospital in the shape of the operating table’s lamp among other instances. When Nicholas surreptitiously wanders the hospital, he finds a room that contains shelves full of jars that appear to contain fetuses with birth defects- part human, part marine life.
All of the nurses seem bereft of emotion when apathetically viewing a video of childbirth by Caesarean section. However, the nurse assigned to Nicholas, Stella (Roxane Duran), is caring; her smooth features with flowing red hair are reminiscent of depictions of the Madonna or Boticelli’s Venus.
Lucile Hadžihalilović’s Evolution is as cryptic as any well-crafted abstract painting. Its images are both immensely beautiful and eerie. There are many possible interpretations to be obtained from her film, but the film itself suggests certain themes in way much like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Evolution could be a haunting allegory about the continuation of the human race, as suggested by its title, or it could be equally viewed as a body horror film with perhaps a sinister underlying. Hadžihalilović exploits the fact that what horrifies and mystifies us often pertains to ourselves: the birthing process, our controversial ideas of the origin of creation, and alterations or differences in one’s body whether by genetic or created means.