Writer-director-producer Brett Ryan Bonowicz begins The Perfect 46 with a disclaimer: “This film is cientifically authentic. It is only one step ahead of present reality.” To Bonowicz’s credit, he seems to
have gone to great lengths to make sure that
the technology presented in this movie, unlike most thrillers with science in a supporting role, is more science than fiction.
(Spoilers ahead.) Less dystopian than
Gat-taca, and ostensibly more contemporary,
Hertford). The company, whose
name alludes to 46 disease-free
chromosomes, told customers that
its proprietary algorithms provided
a means for “assessing you and your
partner’s genomes and determining your likelihood for a child with
diseases caused by your genes.” It
also claimed to be able to help pair
“individuals with their ideal genetic
partner for children” (1).
The company’s meteoric rise is
mirrored by its rapid fall after a
glitch in the algorithm results in the
birth of a number of babies afflicted
with Tay-Sachs disease (TSD). The irony will
not be lost on viewers who recognize Tay-Sachs screening as one of the earliest success stories of real-life genetic screening for
potential couples: an effort that began in the
1970s now includes a wider spectrum of genetic disorders (2) and has reduced the birth
rate of TSD babies in the Ashkenazi Jewish
community by at least 90% (3).
The film’s disclaimer notwithstanding,
Movies can be a touchstone for compli-
Bonowicz does take some literary liberties
in the movie’s science. His tale ignores, for
example, the probability of persistent carri-
ers due to opposing selective pressures (4–6)
and our enduring inability to accurately
predict non-Mendelian, epigenetic, complex
multigene, and environmentally interre-
lated diseases. In addition, the film provides
only a narrow view of the relevant science,
eschewing introducing mitigating and re-
lated technologies, such as preimplantation
genetic diagnosis or personalized medicine.
That, however, may reflect a laudable effort
to not complicate, misrepresent, or dumb
down the science for the general audience.
cated issues in society, providing easily ac-
cessible signposts in discussions of complex
topics. Accepting such a role for cinema,
one could argue that some filmmakers may
have a responsibility to not misrepresent the
facts—whether scientific, historical, or from
some other field—especially if there exists
some likelihood that audiences will perceive
them as reality or even a probable reality.
Concerns with accurate representation go
way beyond simply mangling scientific theories at the water cooler. Good science in film
can inspire innovation and promote participation in scientific endeavors. Controversial
or bad science can, intentionally or otherwise, excessively influence conventional wisdom, public policy, legal outcomes, and even
the direction and funding of research (7).
Scientifically accurate film can be also be
a powerful tool for teaching (8). Audiences
perceive high-quality movies as authentic
and believable, and as such, often more en-
gaging in classrooms than hard-to-relate-to
hypotheticals. The Perfect 46 raises a num-
ber of timely and relevant bioethical subjects
while admirably allowing viewers to form
their own opinions on them. These include
eugenics, playing God, the role of regulatory
oversight (particularly as it relates to direct-
to-consumer genetics), control of knowledge,
issues of privacy and accountability, the pos-
sibility that governments may have access
to an entire population’s genomic data, and
concerns regarding the worried well and
their cyberchondriac counterparts.
Hollywood has shown an interest in making the science in movies more scientifically
accurate (9). Given the impact movies can
have on culture and society, scientists should
take advantage of this attention. The American Humane Association has long monitored
movies and films, noting their approval with
the “no animals were harmed” disclaimer
in the final credits (10). Perhaps scientific
societies should consider implementing
something similar. There are programs [e.g.,
(11)] to help filmmakers present science (and
scientists) more accurately. Should we go
further and set up some program to review
films and forewarn moviegoers?
REFERENCES AND NOTES
2. H. Curd et al ., J. Commun. Genet. 5, 139 (2014).
3. A. Schneider et al., Am. J. Med. Genet. A 149A,2444
4. B. Spyropoulos, Nature 331, 666 (1988).
5. M. Aidoo et al ., Lancet 359, 1311 (2002).
6. In some instances, carrier incidence has fallen as a result
of genetic screenings (12).
7. D. Greenbaum, Vanderbilt J. Entertain. Technol. La w
11, 249 (2009).
8. H. Colt, S. Quadrelli, L. Friedman, Eds., The Picture of
Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies (Oxford Univ.
Press, Oxford, 2011).
9. “A ticket to Tinseltown,”Science 304, 1241 (2004).
12. A. R. Kyrri et al., Meoglobin 37, 435 (2013).
The importance of authentic science on screen
The Perfect 46
Brett Ryan Bonowicz director
Clindar/Sneak Attack, 2014; 97 minutes
By Dov Greenbaum
The reviewer is at Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry,
Yale School of Medicine, 255 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, CT