Clone (2010): Bringing loved ones back from the dead

January 13, 2014

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) Cloning is a frequent theme in contemporary cinema. We have blogged about some of these previously (The 6th Day and Godsend). The 2010 movie Clone (aka Womb in other parts of the world) is an interesting addition to the collection. In particular, this film offers some insight into how generational relationships might be affected by cloning.

Rebecca (Eva Green) gives birth to a clone of her former partner Tommy

Rebecca (Eva Green) gives birth to a clone of her former partner Tommy

Plot summary: Rebecca and Tommy are close friends as children, before her mother’s job requires Rebecca to move to Japan. Having completed a degree, the adult Rebecca (Eva Green) returns. She and Tommy (Matt Smith) renew their friendship and quickly become lovers.

On the way to conducting an act of civil disobedience at the nearby cloning facility, Tommy is killed in a car crash. Rather than pursuing his campaign against the cloners, Rebecca turns to their services and becomes the surrogate mother for a clone of Tommy.

Although cloning is becoming more established in their society, prevailing attitudes against “copies” means that Rebecca keeps the details about her son’s origins a secret. When, however, the truth is leaked Rebecca and Tommy move to a more remote location. The younger Tommy only comes to know he is a clone towards the end of the film.

Reflections: Clone is a fairly slow moving and low-key movie, more arthouse than blockbuster. It is somewhat reminiscent in tone to Blueprint, which has some similar themes. If you are looking for clips to launch a discussion about the ethics of cloning, the most useful section runs from about 00:50:00 to 00:53:30. Two scenes, running consecutively, nicely encapsulate some of the tensions. In the first, Rebecca comes across Tommy and his friend Eric talking to a girl Dima about her rabbit. Rebecca extends Dima an invitation to come to their house, which the girl declines. As Dima walks away, Tommy and Eric compare notes, to see if they could detect the weird smell that “copies” are supposed to have.

In the follow-up scene, a group of mothers are chastising Rebecca for having offered to let Dima come to her house, because she is a copy. As one of the women puts it, Dima is a “Victim of artificial incest”, since she is a clone of her own grandmother.

As an alternative, you might use a section starting at 00:38:00. It is just after the original Tommy has died, and Rebecca raises the possibility of cloning him with Tommy’s mum (she is horrified by the notion, but Tommy’s father later provides the necessary material for the process).

There are a number of trailers for the film on YouTube. There are actually significant differences between the trailer for the UK version Clone (here) and the US trailer for Womb (here, and below).  The latter is a much better taster to whet the appetite regarding the the ethical issues in the film.

The film is unsettling. In particular the sexual tension between Rebecca and both versions of Tommy (the photo and video above both capture something of this). Towards the end of the film, when the clone discovers the truth about his identity, he and Rebecca have sex. Is this incest (as the earlier observer had suggested regarding the generational confusion surrounding Dima)? It is not a loving act on Tommy’s part. Shortly afterwards he leaves.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – a bioethical feast

December 31, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, now available on DVD, was one of the blockbuster releases in the summer of 2011. A prequel to the classic series of films (5 cinema releases between 1968 and 1973, TV spin-off and Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of the main Planet of the Apes), the new movie tries to offer a plausible mechanisms for the evolution of apes into a dominant global force.

(Warning: contains spoilers!) The new film is a veritable gold-mine for discussion of ethical topics, it would make as excellent vehicle for an engaging “film night”. In terms of bioethical issues, the film touches on all of the following:

  • Research ethics – there are lots of examples where aspects of the conduct of research are raised (some of which are picked out specifically in the list below). The motivations for doing research are touched upon at several points in the film – these include financial gain, fame and a desire to do good, both for mankind in general and specifically for the benefit of a relative in need. GenSys boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) is the embodiment of profit as a driver for research whereas Will Rodman (James Franco) represents more noble aspirations. A discussion of the ethics of research funding could follow naturally. Read the rest of this entry »

Do you know a good film on…?

September 10, 2011
Scottish Council on Human Bioethics logo

The SCHB has developed a database of films with bioethical themes

At BioethicsBytes we are sometimes asked if we know a good movie or documentary on a particular ethical topic. On many occasions we do, but our strategy here has generally been only to list items when we are specifically recommending a clip or a certain use of a film, rather than producing an overall list.

I am delighted therefore that the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics has just released a resource where they have a longer list of potential films and TV programmes organised by theme. The list can be accessed via this link. Remember to check back here afterwards to see if we’ve discussed the film on more detail.

Forensic uses of DNA

December 10, 2010

For the past three years we have been asking second year students to produce a short film on a bioethical topic as an assessed activity. This task allows the students to demonstrate their knowledge in creative ways. I have finally got around to posting some of their films on our own YouTube channel. The first of these focusses on the use of DNA in forensics and as well as the students’ own CSI-style story it also features an interview with Alec Jeffreys. More videos will be posted shortly.

The 6th Day – an insight into human cloning?

July 24, 2009

[This is a first BioethicBytes post from guest reviewer, Robert Cane – welcome Rob]


(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) 2000 film The 6th Day takes its name from the Book of Genesis  ‘God created man in His own image, and behold, it was very good… And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.’ (Genesis 1:27,31), which is quoted during the opening credits.  In the near future as depicted in the film, animal cloning is ubiquitous, but, following a disastrous failed experiment, human cloning (beyond the cloning of organs) is strictly forbidden.

Adam Gibson (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a commercial pilot who, along with his business partner Hank Morgan, is hired to provide transport for tycoon Michael Drucker. Drucker is the money behind Replacement Technologies, the company which, with access to the genetic code of almost every biological being, provides everything from new super foods to the cloning of recently deceased family pets.

At the last minute, Adam switches places and lets Hank do the flying for their first assignment for Drucker. Instead, Adam goes to the mall where he briefly considers having his family’s dead dog cloned before buying his daughter a life-size doll. Upon returning home for his surprise birthday party, Adam discovers that his family and friends have already begun the celebrations with an exact replica of him (a clone) in attendance.

From this point on, Adam must run for his life as the people behind the illegal creation of his clone attempt to kill him in order to erase any evidence of their crime. As the film progresses, Adam discovers that Drucker is running an illicit human cloning operation alongside scientist Dr. Weir and must destroy it to save his own life. Amidst a slurry of repetitive but passable action sequences in which Drucker’s henchmen are killed and cloned again and again, there are sporadic, but important, references to the many ethical questions surrounding cloning.

Although most of the film fails to rise above the level of an average Schwarzenegger action adventure and its action scenes are certainly nothing out of the ordinary, the 6th Day does make frequent attempts to engage with interesting ethical issues, and, even if a solid, but ultimately uninspiring action film does not appeal to you, many sections of it may be useful for facilitating discussions regarding cloning. Read the rest of this entry »

Could human reproductive cloning be a “Godsend”?

November 24, 2008

The ficticious "Godsend Institute", from which the film takes its name

The fictitious "Godsend Institute", from which the film takes its name

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) The film Godsend stars Robert De Niro as a maverick fertility expert who has perfected a technique for human reproductive cloning. Following the death of their son Adam, on the day after his eighth birthday, Dr Richard Wells (De Niro) offers his services to the Duncan family telling them “you can have him back” (00:11:27). Although Godsend’s convoluted plot is entertaining, it must be noted that the science is both inaccurate and misleading. Nevertheless, there are a number of clips that highlight some of the bioethical issues, not only around human reproductive cloning, but also in terms of the links between what is legal, what is moral, and what science can do.

Read the rest of this entry »

WIT: A window on tensions in clinical trials

June 12, 2008

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) Adapted from Margaret Edson’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Wit tells the tragic story of Professor Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson). Vivian, a ruthless scholar of 17th Century English poetry, is diagnosed with advanced stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer. Dr Harvey Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd), Vivian’s consultant physician and leading figure in this area of medical research, explains that the most effective treatment option she has is an aggressive experimental chemotherapy at the full dose.

Professor Vivian Bearing

Professor Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson)  

She cautiously consents to the therapy and embarks on a degrading regime of eight cycles, which no other patient has completed before. With a fearless determination, Vivian does everything the doctors ask of her, and as such illustrates the central ethical issue observed in this film; the conflict of interest witnessed between clinical therapy and clinical research. Throughout, this is entangled with clinical incompetence, issues of informed consent, end of life decisions and Vivian’s frustration with the hospitals insensitive mechanistic approach to their patients, having been asked repeatedly “How are you feeling today?” (00:04:10 – 00:05:25) Read the rest of this entry »

Faking it for real – A Paper Mask (Collee, 1987)

April 22, 2008


  Paul McGann plays Martin Harris/Dr Simon Hennessey in Paper Mask (1990, [VHS], High Fliers Video Distribution)

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) In his novel A Paper Mask John Collee explores the issue of bogus doctors – that is, people who fraudulently gain employment as doctors and practice medicine within conventional hospital settings or as general practitioners without formal qualifications. Through the actions of his character Matthew Harris, a hospital porter who adopts the identity of Dr Simon Hennessey following the latter’s death, he offers an account of the basis of medical expertise which jarrs sharply with a conventional view of the importance of formal medical education.

Author John Collee is both a doctor and writer of TV medical scripts (see Henry III, W.A. “Going Beyond Brand Names”, Time, Monday 3rd April 1989, pg. 2), including the screenplay for the 1990 film Paper Mask. While both book and film may be considered quite ‘lightweight’ they nevertheless succinctly highlight some of the less frequently discussed bioethical issues implicit in medical practice, though also provide an interesting set of observations on the true nature of medical skill and its acquisition. Read the rest of this entry »

Choosing our children? – GATTACA

August 29, 2007

(Warning: contains plot spoliers!)  Produced more that a decade ago, GATTACA remains one of the most thought-provoking cinematic visions of a world where current breakthroughs in genetics have been taken to one possible extreme.  The premise of the film is neatly summarised in the trailer (which is included as an extra feature on the DVD):
Genetics – what can it mean?  The ability to perfect the physical and mental characteristics of every unborn child.  In the not too distant future, our DNA will determine everything about us.  A minute drop of blood, saliva or a single hair determines where you can work, who you should marry, what you are capable of achieving.  In a society where success is determined by science, divided by the standards of perfection, one man’s only chance is to hide his own identity by borrowing someone else’s.”

From a young age, Vincent, the central character of the story (played by Ethan Hawke), has longed to be an astronaut.  Unfortunately for Vincent, however, he was conceived by his parents in the traditional manner and has inherited with their genes significant risk factors for a number of diseases, notably a 99% risk of heart disease.  In a society where most children are conceived in vitro and screened for inheritable diseases, physical characteristics and other ‘potentially prejudicial conditions’, Vincent has no chance of passing the selection process to enter the GATTACA academy and fulfil his dream to go into space; he is ‘a utero, a faith-birth, an In-valid’.  As he bemoans in the voiceover “I’ll never understand what possessed my mother to put her faith in God’s hands rather than those of her local geneticist” (9:04), adding later “It didn’t matter how much I lied on my resume, my real resume was in my cells.  Why should anybody invest all that money to train me, when there are a thousand applicants with a far cleaner profile?” (15:12).

Unwilling to accept the fate determined by his genes, Vincent resorts to extreme measures.  Via a secretive middle-man he is put in touch with Jerome (Jude Law), who was genetically selected by his parents and, as such, is  ‘a Valid, a vitro, a made-man’. Jerome may have the genetic credentials to succeed, but he has been involved on a car accident and is now confined to a wheelchair. He is willing to sell his genetic identity to Vincent; “You could go anywhere with this guy’s helix tucked under your arm” enthuses the agent (23:35).  So it is that Vincent becomes ‘a borrowed ladder, a de-gene-rate’ – somebody who pays for blood and urine, skin cells and hair from a Valid in order to cheat the ID tests and routine screening at the workplace and masquerade as a different genetic persona. 

GATTACA offers huge potential for teaching.  The whole film could be shown to students, but most of the interesting science and bioethics really occurs in the first half hour.  The best single clip for conveying the main issues involves Vincent’s parents going to the genetic service to order their second child (10:35 to 12:37, starting “Like most parents…”), although you may elect to start viewing from 9:04 and include Vincent’s discussion of his own birth.

The consultation at the clinic hints at the science that has been employed, but also raises nicely some of the issues concerning whether or not this would be a good development.  The parents seem willing to have diseases screened out, even to specify the gender, eye colour, hair and skin tone of their new child but wonder aloud whether it might be good to leave a few things to chance.  At this point they are put firmly in their place by the genetic counsellor, “you want to give your child the best possible start. Believe me, we have enough imperfections built in already, yout child doesn’t need any additional burdens” (11:55).

A second clip that may be worth including runs from 15:12 to 16:01, the section where Vincent discusses his genetic ‘resume’ and then goes on to highlight how, despite genetic discrimination being illegal, all sorts of secret testing could be undertaken if you refused to take an official screening.

What are some of the issues raised by the film?  One important one, of course, is whether the science might ever deliver a society of this kind.  This question has become increasingly important in the time since the film was made as a succession of real-life cases of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) have moved the boundary concerning legally-permitted uses of PGD.

In reality, the particular technology used in the film could provide genetic selection, but not genetic enhancement. With conception still involving fertilisation of the mother’s eggs using the father’s sperm you can only choose from the range of genetic options that are represented within the genomes of the two parents.  To its credit, the film does actually make this point when the genetic counsellor explains “Keep in mind this child is still you, simply the best of you.  You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result” (11:58).

The technological limitations of the methods used in the film in no way invalidates discussion of the possible ethical consequences of this kind of screening, not least because other genetic breakthroughs may allow broader and more overt selection than is currently possible. 

The issue of discrimination based upon the results of genetic testing is already a genuine concern. In the UK, there is currently a voluntary moratorium on the use of gene test information by insurance companies, but this is due to be reviewed in 2011 and worries have been expressed by, for example, the cancer charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer and by the GeneWatch organisation that the current ban will not be secured. The depicition in the film of a kindergarten unwilling to take young Vincent as a pupil because the insurance won’t cover him is not necessarily far-fetched.

Being able to eradicate certain inherited diseases is clearly an appealing proposition; the key question, however, concerns the cost to individuals and to society that may be required to achieve such a goal.  It is also illuminating to consider the case of Jerome who, of course, had the right genes but his interaction with the environment (in this case, collision with a car) has rendered him unacceptable to a perfection-orientated society.   It reminds us that despite even the most strident models of genetic determinism,  our genes alone will never be enough to entirely define who we are as people.

GATTACA is repeated regularly on satellite movie channels.  It was shown on Channel 4 on September 4th 2005 (TRILT identifier: 001B88FE), and is available as an off-air recording from the BUFVC.

If you like BioethicsBytes…

June 5, 2007

If you have been using the BioethicsBytes website to find out information about multimedia resources for teaching about bioethics, you may also like to take a look at the Literature, Film and Genetics site. Although their “about us” section is not currently very informative, it is fair to say that the site does exactly what it says on the tin. There are reviews and ratings of a variety of books and films where genetic themes are raised.  The material in their database can be browsed by Author/Director, Fiction (i.e. book), Film, Topic (Adaptation, Biological Determinism,… [through to]…, Vivisection and Young Adult).  There is also an interesting section on Criticisms, listing publications by their team.