Academic journal article Film & History

I, Clone: How Cloning Is (Mis)Portrayed in Contemporary Cinema

Academic journal article Film & History

I, Clone: How Cloning Is (Mis)Portrayed in Contemporary Cinema

Article excerpt

As author Ray Bradbury notes, the science -fiction genre "may be one of the last places in our society where the philosopher can roam just as freely as he chooses." Science fiction allows philosophical ideas - often abstract or imaginative in nature - to be presented in concrete, albeit fictional, form and thus made more accessible. Even films meant as pure entertainment can position authences to reflect on existential questions rarely encountered elsewhere: What does it mean to be human? Can there be other intelligent beings, either in this world or out of it, who are not human? Is it possible for technology to prolong human life or abolish death altogether? What impact might answers to these questions have on our conception of ethics and moral responsibility? Science fiction allows us to contemplate a variety of possible answers, before we are obliged to confront the questions in the real world.

Time travel, artificial intelligence, alternate realities . . . these are some of the standard plot devices in many science fiction films. Another equally favored source of dramatic fodder is cloning: the artificial reproduction of a human being with the same genetic identity as one who is already alive or has lived. Hollywood is fascinated with cloning across all film genres, from comedy (Multiplicity, 1996, dir. Harold Ramis), to action (The 6th Day, 2000, dir. Roger Spottiswoode), to somewhat more serious attempts (The Island, 2005, dir. Michael Bay; Star Trek: Nemesis, 2002, dir. Stuart Baird; and, in an extension of the cloning principle, Surrogates 2009, dir. Jonathan Mosto w). All such depictions of cloning, however, miss the mark to various extents. While such films are not intended to be educational or scientifically accurate, there are interesting philosophical presuppositions that underlie how they characterize cloning and the nature of clones and, by extension, the nature of the se fand what it means to be "fully human." For example, The 6th Day presumes that a self-conscious human mind can be downloaded to a storage device, and then uploaded into the brain of a cloned body such that the exact same person wakes up in a physically identical body. The Island paints a Soylent Green -inspired future in which clones are ethically maltreated by serving as mere organ banks for their progenitors, presuming that cloning may involve the use and abuse of beings who are unquestionably persons deserving moral recognition. Star Trek: Nemesis raises a standard objection that clones will suffer from an apparent lack of freedom or self-esteem if they perceive themselves to be a mere "shadow" or "echo" of their progenitors.

This essay will examine these philosophical presuppositions regarding cloning as depicted in such films, highlighting issues which present real metaphysical and ethical challenges to the prospect of cloning fully-grown human persons. Understanding these challenges, and their filmic portrayals, may help map the moral landscape of cloning, particularly popular misconceptions, which are fueled, in part, by such cinematic representations. While Hollywood films sometimes get aspects of cloning right, more often than not the trend is to gloss over pertinent questions and oversimplify the metaphysical and ethical issues at hand in the name of entertainment value.

Death and Survival

Who wouldn't want to live forever if offered the opportunity? Some, perhaps, but most - denied the chance for eternal life in an ageless body - seek a measure of immortality by other means. Medicine offers continually advancing ways to stave off the body's death and prolong physical existence, and after death, most religions promise the continued existence of one's soul or spirit. Material and expressive cultures offer the possibility of tangible legacies, biographies, or other commemorations of h ves and works which allow traces of individuals to continue, while reproduction offers a legacy of a different sort - continuity of life - the chance for one's genes, as well as memories of shared experiences, to h ve on in a new generation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.