Fantastic and ominous themes are common in great science fiction movies. They can take viewers to a fictionalized version of our planet or send them to a galaxy far, far away. But according to Lisa Yaszek, a professor of science fiction studies at Georgia Tech, the genre is at its best when it acts as a “mirror to our present” and sheds light on the society we live in. Yazek said to CNN:
“As audiences, we love both optimistic and pessimistic science-fiction films like these precisely because they are virtual laboratories where we can imaginatively experience the best and worst our technologies have to offer in a safe and fun environment,”
Our future might resemble what is shown in films like Gattaca, Her, and even the horror comedy M3GAN if advances in genome editing and artificial intelligence continue to be made. In the meantime, pandemic thrillers like “Contagion” appear much more plausible than they did when they first debuted in the years following Covid-19’s devastating global impact in 2020.
The gene editing in the movie ‘Gattaca’ is now closer to reality
According to Yaszek, the Human Genome Project’s inception in 1990 and the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep were among the real-life events that influenced “Gattaca” before it was released in 1997. The movie imagines a civilization that is driven by and obsessed with perfection. genetic. It appears to “eerily foreshadow our society’s current fascination with at-home genetic tests like 23andMe,” according to Yaszek, as well as current developments in gene editing that show promise for improving human health.
In the movie, social status is determined by genetics. Characters born without gene editing are viewed as “worthless” and have a higher risk of inheriting diseases than “worthless,” those who have had their genes altered to prevent certain ailments. A “valuable” cleaner named Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) connives paraplegic former Olympian Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) into joining an interstellar mission that is only open to the “valid” by using genetic material from his urine and fingernails.
About 15 years before CRISPR-Cas9, a technique that allows for precise editing of human DNA, “Gattaca” was released. Although CRISPR-Cas9 has primarily been utilized for research, it has appeared to significantly improve the treatment of genetic disorders: According to Victoria Gray, who was treated by researchers using CRISPR, her disease symptoms were greatly reduced, according to a March CNN report.
Premature cells were taken out of Gray’s bone marrow and altered. Once in Gray’s body again, the gene-edited cells appeared to have created fetal hemoglobin, a form of hemoglobin that makes it more difficult for cells to adhere to one another. Somatic gene editing is a technique currently being used in gene therapy trials, such as the sickle cell experiment in which Gray participated.
However, hereditary gene editing, a method of preemptively altering human sperm, eggs, or embryos’ genes in a Gattaca-like manner, has generated significant ethical questions. In 2018, the Chinese physician He Jiankui claimed to have altered two human embryos using CRISPR-Cas9, rendering them HIV-resistant. His work was swiftly denounced by the scientific community, and in 2019 he was given a three-year prison sentence.
The films ‘M3GAN’ and ‘Her’ offer contrasting views of AI
As a result of society’s infatuation with artificial intelligence, there aren’t many movies that explore both the potential of AI to enable a more evolved way of life and the possible horror of AI destroying humans. Yaszek declared:
“These movies tend to reflect both our hopes and fears about our increasing reliance on digital companions,”
In Spike Jonze’s film Her, Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with Samantha, a cutting-edge AI operating system that reciprocates his feelings. Samantha is programmed to have ideas and feelings and to talk with a human accent. It’s a rare sci-fi movie that doesn’t disparage machines that can mimic or even actually feel human emotions.
There are some believable AI-powered virtual assistants, but Samantha doesn’t yet have a perfect analogue in our world. She can even observe the real world through a lens and comment on it. Although they are not flawless, chatbots like ChatGPT have been used to create lengthy articles and respond to challenging inquiries from users.
In contrast to “Her,” the humanized AI, the 2022 horror sensation “M3GAN” played on viewers’ fears. Young Cady, who loses her parents in a car accident, is looked after by M3GAN, a humanoid doll. The two develop a close sisterly relationship. However, M3GAN takes her responsibilities as the big android sister seriously and kills anyone who jeopardizes Cady’s confidence in her.
There are autonomous robots that deliver food, perform stunts at Disney’s California Adventure, and dispose of bombs on behalf of police departments. Commercial robots are not as lively as M3GAN. But its artificial intelligence capabilities — known as artificial general intelligence — which describes a robot’s ability to learn anything a human can — are closer to reality, said Shelly Palmer, a professor of advanced media at the University of Syracuse and an expert in development technology.
The pandemic preparedness in the movie ‘Contagion’ is real
Many looked to Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion, which showed the startlingly quick spread of a fatal virus over the world, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. After its publication, it appeared improbable that the world could shift so profoundly in a short of days or weeks. But Contagion appeared to be a forerunner of what a pandemic response may resemble when Covid-19 put much of society on lockdown in 2020.
Before Covid-19, experts at Argonne National Laboratory, run by the US Department of Energy, praised the movie for portraying a society’s resource shortages and the coordinated efforts required to quickly stop the virus’ spread in an accurate manner.
The creation of a vaccine is depicted in “Contagion” as the “end point of the pandemic arc,” but in our Covid-19 reality, the virus could never be wiped out, despite the widespread availability of Covid-19 vaccines and boosters, Kelly McGuire, an associate professor of English at Trent University in Ontario, wrote in 2021.
According to Melissa Monique Littlefield, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who teaches science fiction and speculative fiction classes, reality frequently transcends the bounds of science fiction. Stories like Gattaca, M3GAN, and Contagion still have something insightful to say about the society we live in and where it might be headed, even when it seems like reality is stranger than fiction.