Genetics and Cinema

The Genetically Engineered Body: A Cinematic Context

Sophia Vackimes

At the beginning of the twentieth century, two main technologies with quite diverse tactics and therefore aesthetics sought preeminence in replacing missing body parts. One was the mechanical solution, exemplified by titanium arms, legs, pacemakers, etc; and the other was the organic, genetic engineering solution. The first has found a great number of visual outlets in science fiction films, and in artworks ranging from cinematic masterpieces such as Metropolis; the second, not yet heroic deals with the body as capable of regenerating, or being perfected via genetic modification. It is here that the main concerns of Sophia Vackimes' project lay, in the realm of the genetically engineered body.

The genetic recombination of traits has become a tour de force in the scientific world, if now on discursive terms, eventually in reality, and filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, John Frankenheimer, and Andrew Niccol, comment on these scientific propositions. The nature of their comments varies from one artist to another, but gravitate from the utopian to the dystopian. For example, sometimes the exchange of one body part for another, beautified by the prowess of engineering and quasi photo-shop perfect surgery, seems to bear no great consequence to the question “What is human?" At other times the changes in human nature as these artists perceive them are quite dramatic, even horrifying. What are these films saying about the relationship between society and science? This project looked to answer these questions.