Hollywood's take on human heredity

Over the past 100 years, films have simultaneously mistrusted and marveled in the possibility of genomic improvement

David A. Kirby
Feb 8, 2007
"The very essence of the devil is no more than a tiresome collection of genes." So claims Dr. Moreau in the 1996 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. With his white muumuu, rosemary-like beaded necklace and domed "Pope-mobile," Marlon Brando's Moreau suggests the image of a secular priest worshipping at a genetic altar. Over the last one hundred years, each new generation of filmmakers has confronted contemporary social concerns about the manipulation of human heredity. Despite recent scientific advances, science fiction films from most decades, including The Island of Dr. Moreau, have surprisingly utilized the same themes and visual motifs in their representations of human heredity and genomic modification: Our genes encode both the dark and delightful sides of human nature, and any steps towards genomic improvement should inspire both wonder and wariness.From its earliest days, science fiction films implicitly accepted notions that human nature, both good...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?