Three-Parent Babies: re-awakening fears of genetic engineering in film

Here in the UK we’re famous for a great many things: the Royal Family, the birth of the Industrial Revolution, sports personalities, Authors. But in recent months we’ve laid to claim to something rather sinister.

As of February this year, it became official that the UK was to become the first ever nation to legalise Three-parent IVF– the controversial scientific procedure by which an embryo is conceived from the DNA of two mothers and a father. Essentially, a modification of IVF, it requires that the nucleus of an egg with defective mitochondria be inserted into a healthy donor egg before eventual fertilisation from a sperm.  To this effect, it is acknowledged for taking fertility treatment a step further by potentially preventing the outbreak mitochondrial diseases such as diabetes, deafness and heart/ liver conditions.

three parent babies

But doesn’t such progressive medicine ultimately point in the direction of genetic engineering and god playing? The Catholic Church certainly seems to think so- they’ve argued that the procedure dilutes parenthood. Elsewhere it’s feared that children born via TPIVF may encounter psychological trauma in later life as they struggle to come to terms with their three person parentage. It raises the question: where do we draw the line between what is scientifically and morally right?

Perhaps cinema is best placed to answer question? Lets be honest, genetic engineering in film is nothing new. From Star Trek to Star Wars, The 6th Day (2000) to Nutty Professor (1996), the implications of  modern genetics and biotechnology have been widely tackled and intuitively explored.

Here’s a list of 5 films to boldly address such themes:

The Boys from Brazil (1978)

Boys from Brazil

A 70’s Mystery/Suspense flick which sees young American, Barry Kohler (Steven Guttenberg), making a chance encounter with Third Reich War Criminals, where he discovers evidence of biological engineering taking place.

It features cloning, Nazi eugenics, delusions of grandeur, and promises great performances from the likes Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier. Crucially, it marks  director, Schaffner’s , second Sci-Fi film after Planet of the Apes (1968), and on the time of its release, scooped 3 academy award nominations.

Gattaca (1997)


Ethan Hawke meets Uma Thurman in this late 90’s Sci-Fi about a genetically deficient man who takes on the identity of  a superior being in order to embark on a mission into outer space.

This is a world where class and social rank walk hand in hand with biology; where good breeding gives way to great jobs and promising opportunities. To rise above society, protagonist, Vincent must learn to alter his DNA.

Plague (1979)

Plague 1978

What happens when genetic engineering goes wrong? In Plague it spells doom for humanity!

This Canadian flick, also from the 70’s,  imagines a deadly bacteria escaping from a science lab and engulfing a city. As the authorities struggle to bring it under control, it spreads like wildfire, turning its chief host into a fugitive on the run.

In it’s exploration of infectious diseases it awakens the Black Death, Small Pox and more recently HIV.

Sleeper (1973)


The first comedy in our list and a Woody Allen classic.

Sleeper is a before and after story of a health food store owner who is frozen and awoken 200 years later to discover a haphazardly run police state.

Beneath it’s slapstick laughs and absurdist logic, you’ll find fears of cryopreservation, and cloning. Shortly after it’s release it won The Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation, while in 2000 it was voted the 30th greatest comedy of all time by Total Film Magazine

Blade Runner (1982)

Talent Names -

The Quintessential American Neo-Noir Dystopian Sci-Fi film, directed by Ridley Scott and starring the fantastic Harrison Ford.

It’s main focus? Genetically engineered replicants, undetectable to the human eye, and created principally for menial labour on space colonies. Those replicants which defy this rule and occupy earth are hunted by special police operatives called Blade Runners.

Harrison Ford, as chief Blade Runner, leads us on a cat-mouse chase to track down a group of escaped replicants on the run.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s