Movies that Are Worthwhile


We took our children to see Air Force One on the Fourth of July, 1997. Since then, we’ve associated summer with going to movies that we all could enjoy. And also since then, we’ve noticed moral statements and bioethical themes in the movies. If you pay attention, you can find movies that do both: entertain and provoke ethical conversations.

Last week, we talked about how Hollywood comedies can make light of serious issues such as sperm donation. Their tendency is to paper over ethical dilemmas with laughter. But, I’m happy to report that there are movies that are both worthwhile and enjoyable. The challenge is that they aren’t in theaters, because this wasn’t the year for “bioethical blockbusters.” So, get your popcorn, your Netflix or Comcast on Demand, and check out these offerings on the “little screen.”

October Baby (2011) was inspired by the true-life story of Gianna Jessen, who survived an attempted abortion. Hannah, the main character, discovers as a college student that not only is she adopted, but her birth mother tried to abort her. Her journey toward forgiveness finally sets her free. While the critics panned the movie, and one even described it as a “virulent pro-life tract,”[1] audiences gave it high marks.

 Some might recall our 2007 summer conference, when The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity hosted a prerelease screening of Bella (2006), Lead actor Eduardo Verástegui was there. Bella is a story of two people, a waitress and a waiter with a dark secret, who fall in love over an unborn child. It won a People’s Choice award,[2] and was a top-10 grossing independent movie of 2007.

Both October Baby and Bella celebrate pro-life themes, laced with forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

If heartwarming movies aren’t quite to your taste, try Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). This drama depicts the “humanization” of apes being used as test subjects for drugs to cure brain diseases. You can talk with your family about the ethics of using animals in research, genetic engineering, and cognitive enhancement, all in one neat package.

Source Code (2011) is a nail-biting, sci-fi thriller revolving around the bombing of a commuter train. The lead character is part of an experiment that allows him to inhabit the last eight minutes of another person’s consciousness. Source Code invites conversations about research ethics, the computer-brain interface, and neuroethics . . . cleverly wrapped in time travel wizardry.

Finally, if you don’t have time for a feature film, let me introduce you to Futurestates,[3] a fascinating series of short digital films on the web. Directors were invited to create scenarios five, 25, or 50 years into the future. Here’s just one example: “Silver Sling” imagines accelerated 3-month pregnancy, imposed on gestational surrogates for the benefit of wealthy patrons. Three accelerated pregnancies cause sterility. The ten-minute short could prompt an hour of ethics discussion.

Before the summer is over, pick a movie you can enjoy with family or friends. Then, watch it with your brain in the “ethics—on” position.

[1] Allison Wilmore, A.V. Club, March 22, 2012,71285/.

[2] Robert K. Welkos, “Adopting a cause,” Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2007


Everyday Bioethics Audio Commentary Album Art