Film Studies student Mashya Boon has won the Science in the City Award for her master’s thesis Cinematic Clones, Illusive Identities and Mercurial Memories (Master Film, UvA, 2015). The jury consisted of Erik Scherder, Liza Mügge (UvA) en Felix Rottenberg.
More about the thesis:
The very real prospect of cloning humans gives rise to a plenitude of questions that are readily being explored within the domain of science fiction. A recurring trope within the science fiction of human cloning involves the scenario of encountering one’s own duplicate: what might happen when a cloned person is faced with herself? Disquieting questions arise. Can I consider you, this other person that is not myself, to be me? Do we experience life in the same way? Are your memories mine and my memories yours? Do we share a consciousness? Is your body my own or is my body yours? Am I still unique? Are we me or am I you? Asking these kinds of philosophical, existential questions is intriguing and important, for they allow an examination of what it means to be an individual – an exploration of our own sense of self. Nevertheless, all the possible answers to these questions of subjectivity remain completely hypothetical to this particular instance, since actual human cloning has not seen the light of day yet. However, we can presently venture into the subjectivity-reshaping terrain of human cloning on a slightly more palpable level; by exploring the manner in which this phenomenon has been envisioned within the cultural imaginary of the cinema.
This thesis undertakes a philosophical ‘thought experiment’ of a sort on the malleability of our sense of self by closely discerning the cinematic figure of the human clone as it is conceived of within the filmic texts of Moon (Jones, 2009), Alien: Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997) and The 6th Day (Spottiswoode, 2000). In scrutinizing the encounters these cloned protagonists have with themselves, this research delineates the different ways in which a cloned sense of self might unfold – in order to explore and stretch the normative boundaries of our discursive understanding of personal identity. Furthermore, the phenomenon of cloning is a cinematic as well as scientific topos within a specific cultural imaginary. This ‘genetic imaginary’ (Stacey, 2010) increasingly pervades our discourses on the self, memory, identity and humanity. To interrogate the capricious connection between memory, cloning and subjectivity within the realm of cinema, this research analyzes its three case-studies, which elegantly combine these volatile concepts. Moreover, these filmic texts themselves also function as philosophical thought experiments of a sort – each raising a particular set of existential questions.
As one conclusion to this particular research, we might say that if the cinematic trope of human cloning combined with the mercurial notion of memory ferociously reveals Cartesian subjectivity to be a mere fantasy of unique individuality, we should not cease, and will not cease, to search for the self. Precisely because identity and memory have become so illusive and mercurial, a self-reflexive quest like this project gains additional momentum. Furthermore, the compelling continuities between cloning and cinema are paramount to this research, for the fading sense of previous notions of subjectivity due to the kindred technologies of imitation and/or reproduction is exactly the kind of dynamic which this project investigates through evoking the cinematic figure of the clone. The relevance of this project lies within its particular discernment of the subjectivity-reshaping mechanisms without deploying a preset normative objective. In this unbiased manner, we are able to freely yet critically explore the ethical and existential implications of human cloning on a philosophical and palpable level.