However, there are a still couple of bugs in the system. The first problem is that just because movies have the prerogative to go further than reality can, it doesn’t always mean that they actually succeed at it. The theme might be interesting, but it still has to be a good movie, or the content just won’t matter. It’s like trying to light a sparkler in the rain; it’s still a sparkler, but without the right conditions, you may as well be trying to light a stick of celery. The second problem is that the movie theme of human beings going beyond their limits is so popular that it becomes quite difficult to decide what counts as a proper transhumanist concept and what doesn’t.
Here’s a quick example that might help explain that problem. Many people are long or short sighted and wear glasses – glasses being a simple device that restores vision to the 20/20 standard that the general human model is meant to have. This is basically a kind of therapy. Next up, we have things like telescopes, which enable us to see distances that even another 2 billion years’ worth of evolution probably wouldn’t allow for naturally. Telescopes are not therapeutic – they do not correct human vision, they improve on what’s already there. But, we can put a telescope down. The transhumanist ideal would be to either surgically (or preferably, genetically) alter the biology of the human eye so that it could naturally – and forevermore – see the sort of distances that we see through a telescope, but without the need for the actual telescope.
Therapy, improvement, enhancement – those are the three categories that I tried to use while deciding on the entries for this list. But it is often quite difficult to separate the three; the lines between them are usually quite blurry (as is quite often the science of human enhancement itself). Having said that, obviously we’re not going to talk about every film where the main character wears glasses or has an artificial limb: As useful as Hook sometimes finds the shape of his replacement hand to be, Pulp Fiction would probably be counted as a romantic comedy before Hook could be called a transhumanist film.
With those formalities out of the way then, here are eight of cinema’s best examples of tackling (or at least attempting to) the endlessly complicated but always exciting concept of whether we are moving towards making people better…..or towards making better people.