Arts, Media, and Entertainment

Guidance from an Unlikely Source

The 1982 science-fiction film Blade Runner is widely considered to be among the most influential films of our time. It has been called "sci-fi's style bible," and its depiction of the future has been copied in films like Batman, The Matrix, and more recently Attack of the Clones and Minority Report. But there's something besides style that Blade Runner has in common with subsequent science-fiction movies: It reflects misgivings about the moral consequences of biotechnology. The plot of Blade Runner revolves around genetically engineered humans known as replicants. The replicants are "superior in strength and agility and at least equal in intelligence" to the humans who designed them. And like us, they have emotions: fear, hate, love. We are also told that replicants are used as slaves to perform tasks deemed too hazardous for humans. Eventually, the replicants revolt and are declared illegal. Any replicant caught among the humans is immediately executed, but the film euphemistically refers to this as "termination." In resorting to euphemisms, you see, the filmmakers are making a point: They are saying no one is willing to face the moral issues raised by biotechnology. Using the word "execute" would force them to recognize that we're talking about human beings, but our culture doesn't want to do that. The world of Blade Runner is like ours in that people are so eager to reap the benefits of the latest biotech wonder that they postpone thinking about consequences until it's too late. Blade Runner is hardly unique in its misgivings about biotech. With the exception of Star Trek, it's nearly impossible to name a film where cloning or any other biotech advancement is depicted as unambiguously good. It's as if the filmmakers know something that scientists and political leaders choose to ignore: Cloning and other biotechnology is fraught with peril. These misgivings are so strong that they even emerge unintentionally. In the most recent Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones, the republic faces a threat from a group of rebels. Just when it appears that all is lost, deliverance comes from an unexpected source: an army of clones. The good guys win. Happy ending? Not at all. That's because the audience senses something that the characters in the film do not: The clone army will one day become the storm troopers who replace the republic with a dictatorship. This, as a colleague of mine put it, makes the cinematic Attack of the Clones a nearly perfect metaphor for our current debate over cloning. Just as in the movie, the characters see the clone army as salvation, so in our culture we expect cloning and biotechnology to defeat our enemies: diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. And like characters in Lucas's epic, we are so eager for rescue that we won't stop to consider the potential price we pay for the momentary "victories." It should not come as a surprise that we find truth in science fiction. An unsentimental view of human history and human nature, including our capacity for evil, is characteristic of much of the genre -- which makes this one of those rare times that Christians can turn to the movies for moral guidance. For further reading and information: Roberto Rivera y Carlo, "Attack of the (Real Life) Clones," Boundless, 29 August 2002. Chuck Donovan, "Attack of the Conscience? Hollywood and the Genetic Revolution," BreakPoint Online, 10 September 2002. Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Baker Book House, 2000). Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity, 2002). The "Bioethics in the New Century Resource Kit" contains books, papers, and other materials to help you grasp the arguments and facts involved in biotechnology and bioethics, including: The New Medicine: Life and Death after Hippocrates by Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians by Gilbert Meilaender, "Can We Prevent the Abolition of Man?" by Charles Colson, and more. Visit the Council for Biotechnology Policy Website for more information on cloning, stem-cell research, etc. You can receive the FREE monthly "Biotech Policy Update" e-newsletter by sending an e-mail to with "subscribe" in the subject line.


Chuck Colson


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