The Cinematic Life of the Gene

The Cinematic Life of the Gene

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 52 illustrations Published: April 2010

Author: Jackie Stacey

Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Media Studies, Science and Technology Studies

What might the cinema tell us about how and why the prospect of cloning disturbs our most profound ideas about gender, sexuality, difference, and the body? In The Cinematic Life of the Gene, the pioneering feminist film theorist Jackie Stacey argues that as a cultural technology of imitation, cinema is uniquely situated to help us theorize “the genetic imaginary,” the constellation of fantasies that genetic engineering provokes. Since the mid-1990s there has been remarkable innovation in genetic engineering and a proliferation of films structured by anxieties about the changing meanings of biological and cultural reproduction. Bringing analyses of several of these films into dialogue with contemporary cultural theory, Stacey demonstrates how the cinema animates the tropes and enacts the fears at the heart of our genetic imaginary. She engages with film theory; queer theories of desire, embodiment, and kinship; psychoanalytic theories of subject formation; and debates about the reproducibility of the image and the shift from analog to digital technologies.

Stacey examines the body-horror movies Alien: Resurrection and Species in light of Jean Baudrillard’s apocalyptic proclamations about cloning and “the hell of the same,” and she considers the art-house thrillers Gattaca and Code 46 in relation to ideas about imitation, including feminist theories of masquerade, postcolonial conceptualizations of mimicry, and queer notions of impersonation. Turning to Teknolust and Genetic Admiration, independent films by feminist directors, she extends Walter Benjamin’s theory of aura to draw an analogy between the replication of biological information and the reproducibility of the art object. Stacey suggests new ways to think about those who are not what they appear to be, the problem of determining identity in a world of artificiality, and the loss of singularity amid unchecked replication.


The Cinematic Life of the Gene is a challenging and complex collection of essays that uses cinematic representations of genetics and cloning to consider the cultural impact of genetic breakthroughs. Jackie Stacey draws on some of the most well known theoretical works regarding cinema, art, and the body to consider the fascinating link between cinema and genomics. . . . It is the text's interdisciplinary nature that makes it both challenging and significant; cinema scholars, scientists, and feminists alike will find this work compelling. . . . [S]erious scholars of the cinema (and particularly of science fiction cinema) will benefit from this ‘cultural study of film.’” — Joanna Chlebus, Feminist Review Blog

“Stacey argues persuasively for the primacy of cinema in understanding genetic anxieties. . . . Stacey’s eye for detail in reading these films is precise and illuminating, richly enhancing appreciation of them and spurring a desire to see them again.” — D. Travers Scott, International Journal of Communication

“Stacey has produced a work that will be a major contribution to discussions of filmic treatments of issues surrounding genetics, and her exploration of concepts such as the genetic imaginary and bio-aura offers critics new vocabulary with which to continue such interrogations.” — Laurel Bollinger S, Science Fiction Film and Television

“Stacey provides a compelling argument that rather than being seen as separate domains of knowledge and meaning, both science and cinema have co‐constitutive histories that have together given visual and textual form to the epistemological construct and ontological experience of the genetic identity. . . . The Cinematic Life of the Gene provides strikingly
rich harbinger of the shape of genetic things to come and of future theoretical responses to the complexities of biotechnological transformation.” — Rebecca Bishop, Cultural Studies Review

“The book is extremely interesting and thought provoking. . . . Femspec readers will find the discussions of cloning, biomimicry, and genetic engineering that exist in these science fiction films fascinating, not just because the films themselves are interesting and entertaining, but also because of the insight one draws from cinematic patterns regarding the body. . . .” — Kelly VanBuren, Femspec

The Cinematic Life of the Gene is the best work yet by one of the major feminist film theorists of our time. It is an exhilarating read as well as a fabulous contribution to the crossover area between film theory and science studies.” — Lisa Cartwright, author of Moral Spectatorship: Technologies of Voice and Affect in Postwar Representations of the Child


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jackie Stacey is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Star Gazing: Female Spectators and Hollywood Cinema and Teratologies: A Cultural Study of Cancer; co-author of Global Nature, Global Culture; and co-editor of several books, including Queer Screen: A Screen Reader, Thinking through Skin, and Romance Revisited. Stacey is an editor of the journals Screen and Feminist Theory.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: Technologies of Imitation and the Genetic Imaginary 1

Part 1. Sameness Ad Infinitum

1. The Hell of the Same: Cloning, Baudrillard, and the Queering of Biology 19

2. She Is Not Herself: The Deviant Relations of Alien: Resurrection 36

3. Screening the Gene: Femininity as Code in Species 66

Part 2. Imitations of Life

4. Cloning as Biomimicry 95

5. Genetic Impersonation and the Improvisation Kinship: Gattaca's Queer Visions 113

6. The Uncanny Architectures of Intimacy in Code 46 137

Part 3. Stairway to Heaven

7. Cut-and-Paste Bodies: The Shock of Genetic Simulation 177

8. Leading Across the In-Between: Transductive Cinema in Teknolust 195

9. Enacting the Gene: The Animation of Science in Genetic Admiration 225

Afterword: Double Take, Déjà Vu 257

Notes 273

Bibliography 287

Filmography 303

Index 307
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2010 SCMS Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4507-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4494-0
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