04 November 2011
ByAppeared in BioNews 632
Directed by Tom Lloyd
Ethics consultant Dr Anna Smajdor
'You can run but you can't hide; not forever'. The opening sequence of 'In Vitro' speaks to anyone who has ever made a mistake or a bad decision. But what if your decision was responsible for changing the world we live in forever?
This is the premise of the educational short film 'In Vitro', set in 2044, where a female scientist establishes a way to create sperm from her own cells and successfully impregnates herself with them. Once she has given birth to a seemingly healthy child, named Sofia, this new conception method becomes socially acceptable and many children are born to women who are effectively both their mother and father. That is, until Sofia dies of cancer at the age of 35. Geneticists' attentions turn to Sofia's daughter, Lillian, who carries her mother's DNA. The scientists must then decide whether to allow Lillian to live under the constant scrutiny and experimentation her mother had to endure.
A minute into the film and I was already totally captivated, although at this point it was unclear whether this was because of the flashing billboards warning people to protect their DNA , the eerie background music or simply because I am a massive science fiction fan. Give me any film set in the future that questions how society will turn out, that's based on decisions about science, technology and morality we are making today, and I'm game. But as the film develops it became clear to me that my wide-eyed captivation, although stemming from my unashamed geekiness, has the film's creators to thank for it.
The cinematography is stunning, capturing sperm swimming in a petri dish, expanding beach landscapes, and the interactions between characters in such a delicately beautiful and non-intrusive way that, when combined with the powerful soundtrack, at times I was lost for words. Specifically, Barbara Marten's performance as the scientist losing her daughter to cancer coupled with Schubert's Ave Maria playing scratchily in the background was incredibly powerful and emotional.
I can easily see this short film, lasting just under 20 minutes, being extended into a full length motion picture. If this were to happen, I would most certainly be one of the first queuing for tickets as 'In Vitro' left me wanting more. Not only did I want to watch more, but I wanted to know more. I was left wondering what the life of a child who had been created wholly from their mother would really be like. What would the consequences of a world where women could impregnate themselves be? Would men become redundant?
In addition to moral and philosophical questions, the film also made me wonder about the underlying science. For example, would a child born to just a mother (and therefore only inheriting her DNA) look more similar to the mum than one with both a biological mother and father? Bearing in mind that this film was created to instigate classroom debate they are off to a good start. Had I watched this with someone, rather than on my own, I'm sure spirited conversations would have ensued.
Considering the purpose of this short film, in addition to it being entertaining, it also succeeded in being educational. The creators eloquently explained stem cell and genetics in an engaging manner by embedding it into the story. Despite this, I felt it was a little 'light' on the science. I suppose the balance between education and entertainment is hard to achieve, which is where the accompanying teacher's pack comes into play.
I would highly recommend the film combined with this pack to science teachers everywhere, especially when I cast my mind back and remember the joy experienced by my 16-year-old self when I heard the teacher say: 'For today's lesson we are watching a video'. Pure bliss.