HUMAN NATURE (2020, doc)

March 12, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. That feeling when you start up a 95 minute documentary and a black and white clip of a Biologist giving a speech in 1966 fills the screen … it’s a moment of dread, which fortunately, filmmaker Adam Bolt quickly turns into a fascinating education. The fellow giving the 1966 speech (I missed his name) states that someday we will be able to alter human genes. More than 50 years later, Mr. Bolt’s film shows us that scientists are beyond that, and on the verge of developments that demand some serious and literally life-altering discussions.

Deep science and cinematic story-telling aren’t typically a good mix, but here we have a blending of journalists, researchers, and many types of scientists working with a knowledgeable filmmaker. They succeed in explaining the ‘why’ and ‘what for’ of gene-editing in a way that even a simpleton such as yours truly could follow. Going in, the concept of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) was vague at best (for me), and those involved with the film explain how this has opened the scientific door to the building blocks of life through gene-editing.

For structure, the film is divided into six chapters: Needle in a Haystack, CRISPR, The Gene Machine, Brave New World, The Good Gene, and Playing God. These chapters touch on the story of young David Sanchez (afflicted with Sickle Cell Anemia), food and bacteria, Aldous Huxley’s book, eugenics, and morality. With so much to cover, the film excels in providing just enough for viewers, and putting the spotlight on those who can best explain their area of expertise or what results might mean.

Science often complements humanity while simultaneously standing opposed to nature. The film even shows the infamous JURASSIC PARK clip where Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) tries to confront the idea of genetic altering by stating, “Scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” There are also clips from BLADE RUNNER and GATTACA, and they all lead us to the question on everyone’s mind … should we play God?  Most agree that stopping genetic diseases is a worthy goal, but how about designer babies? That’s where discussion of Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Hitler come in. Should we be architecting the “perfect human being”? When Dr. Jennifer Doudna asks, “What have I done?”, she’s smiling on the outside as a scientist, but surely has doubts as a person.

Keegan DeWitt’s score is top notch for a documentary, but a film about isolating individual and specific strands of DNA isn’t really about style. Listening to bioengineers discuss their own work and that of others in the field, gives us the basics of the science involved; however, as a society we must come to grips with that big question. Do we play the hand we’re dealt, or do we stack the deck and keep one up the sleeve? At some point very soon, we must decide. As the film states, after 2 billion years, this is the end of the beginning. What does the next stage look like?

watch the trailer:


November 21, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. What documentary director Charles Ferguson and writers Chad Beck and Adam Bolt deliver is an emotional expose’ into the faces behind the financial crisis and a quick education on the basic causes. This is not an in-depth thesis put together by a Harvard economist … though as we learn, there may not be as much value in that as we once assumed! My emotions ranged from sadness to anger to disgust. There are even moments of laughter as these blatantly arrogant types weakly attempt to defend themselves – at least those courageous enough to submit to an interview.

 The point the filmmakers clearly set out to prove is that the mess was a collaboration of politicians (including Presidents), Ratings Agencies, Investment Managers, leaders of Banking giants, the Federal Reserve, the Boards of Directors from Financial Services conglomerates and once sacred Academic leaders. The film asks the question: “Who can we trust?”. The answer is, unfortunately, NO ONE. What we can do is learn, demand changes and hold accountable those responsible.

 The film gives a brief outline of derivatives, CDO’s, the mortgage mess, and how the Ratings agencies’ “opinions” led directly to the demise of many jobs, nest eggs, and long-standing companies. The other thing it clearly shows is how these Financial giants profited GREATLY from the failure of many individual investors. In fact, they purposefully withheld information and misled the general public into making investment decisions that knowingly stood no chance at success for anyone but the Investment firms.

Since distrust of politicians and corporate types has been rampant for years, I believe one of the most disappointing revelations was the pulling back of the curtain on the Academic world. Those thought to be unbiased analysts and commentators have been exposed to be highly paid consultants for the very people manipulating the markets. Ouch.

 It is important to note that no President goes untouched here – from Reagan forward. If you believe Obama to be above this mess, you would be mistaken. Much of his official financial advisory group is composed of the very same players responsible for the deceit these past few years. Think things are going to change? The film states we are living with a “Wall Street Government”. Those in charge clearly bring truth to the words “Greed is good”. They have no sense of right and wrong. They give no consideration to making the world a better place. What matters is how much better can they make their own life. The segment on Lehman executive Richard Fuld summed it up best. His day was planned so that he only had 3 to 4 seconds exposure to real people … his daily steps from his limo to a programmed elevator whisking him away to his private world.  I dare you to see this and not be outraged.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF:  you would like a crash course on the crash

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you subscribe to the notion that “ignorance is bliss”