Lujain Ibrahim July 21 2018

The Genetic Modification Question: Pets Edition


“You would sell a million of these… absolute hit!”, one of the scientists in The Breeder tells his colleague as they stumble upon a very cute genetically modified being on their custom-made pets app. 

The Breeder is a dystopian, introspective film depicting a cautionary tale of the often anthropocentric and consumerist manner humankind approaches morally difficult situations with. The director Demelza Kooij cleverly weaves together and presents two parallel worlds: one that cautions the genetic modification in the story and another one that normalizes it. As we switch between these two worlds, we start to piece together and realize the parts of reality that this film draws on and the prospects of the future it draws attention to. 

In the colored world of the film, Dr. Schönbacher has a new app that makes it really easy and simple to change physical parameters of pets, like spine length and number of legs, to order a customized pet of your own. The way the scientists speak about these alterations and react to events is incredibly calm and normalizing to this extent of genetically modifying animals to meet human preferences. They talk about the usability of the app, the biological and chemical processes of these alterations, and the market value of these pets ever so casually. Towards the end of the film, after some damage is done to the tablet displaying the app, the app goes rogue and starts to produce pets that have crossed boundaries between species like hybrids of different pets. However, that still does not phase the scientists as they are fixated on the market value of these cute pets, which begs the question: where do we draw the line? And who gets to draw the line?

Alternatively, the black and white footage is accompanied with a voice over which sometimes bleeds into the colored world and contrasts it with sharp cautionary comments and references to the state of genetically modified pets in our world today, like for example they mention situation of pugs. This footage displays images of pets and of humans interacting with pets both that exist today and those that may be a result of the modification techniques explained in the story. As these images and videos play, a voiceover speaks to the degree of the double standard we have for human and animal genetic modification that is led by our anthropocentric desire to seek our ultimate comfort, pleasure, and money.

Demelza Kooij successfully tells a story of the anthropocentric extreme of individualism and consumerism by alternating between these two worlds through a very meticulously edited film: the black and white clips with the voiceovers subtly prompt viewers to contemplate and pay attention to specific ideas and hints in the colored clips with the scientists and their app that follow them. The Breeder is a visually compelling film that captures the essence of this controversial topic by orchestrating a very coherently edited narrative with a gripping message.  

About the author

Lujain is an undergraduate student studying computer engineering at New York University Abu Dhabi who is particularly invested in engineering applications in the world of biotechnology and biomedicine. She is also interested in exploring science and technology in film as well as the cultural and political significance of cinema.