Biological Breakthrough: Our Review of ‘Human Nature’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 03, 2019
Biological Breakthrough: Our Review of ‘Human Nature’

Director Adam Bolt’s documentary Human Nature is a fascinating, and occasionally terrifying look into the technology of CRISPR (a family of DNA sequences classified with the acronym Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), specifically with a focus upon its use in genome editing. The film ponders the technological and biological breakthrough’s potential for curing genetic diseases, as well as examining various ethical dilemmas that the technology could raise. 

Human Nature does an excellent job of presenting its subject matter in layman’s terms, particularly through helpful analogies and computer generated visualizations. I have no scientific background or education, and yet I found that I was following along – at least with the basic concepts – relatively well. Having written that, it’s now two hours since I watched the film, and I wouldn’t even try to explain the science. 

The majority of the documentary’s subjects are academics working in the field, along with a handful of journalists, authors, private sector entrepreneurs, and people afflicted with conditions that this technology could one day treat. The academics are generally the most fun to watch, as they are clearly so excited about these breakthroughs that they talk about the topic with the jubilation of a child playing with a new toy on Christmas Day. It’s endearing and rather funny. 

The subject matter isn’t only applied to humans, but also with respect to repairing the environment. Gene splicing is not new; farmers have been doing it for decades, if not centuries. Now however, there is a fairly realistic opportunity to repopulate the Great Barrier Reef, as well as recreate creatures that have become extinct due to human intervention. 

The first half of the film is quite optimistic, but it takes a darker turn in the back half. It discusses the concept of parents procuring “designer babies” (selecting specific physical, emotional and psychological traits prior to fertilization), eugenics, and the idea that governments could use the technology to potentially (and this certainly sounds familiar) create a Master Race. We are shown chilling footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin discussing the idea of super soldiers incapable of feeling fear. Further, we see a war-era Nazi propaganda film of a “doctor” educating an “expecting mother” on eugenics and why the phasing out of specific genes is a good thing. 

We often see documentarians criticized because their films don’t show an unbiased view, but rather that they have an angle. This is a criticism I’ve never understood. If a filmmaker is going to spend potentially years and many dollars making a doc, I want them to be passionate, no matter which side of the argument they stand on. Indeed, this film has a decidedly optimistic note. Adam Bolt recognizes – and gives screen time to – those on the other end of the conversation, but he clearly chooses to revel in the potential good that this technology could bring. I must say, as much as the implications of such tech does terrify me somewhat, I’m with Bolt on this one.

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