In the not-that-distant future, genome sequencing has become routine. The problem is that, once your genetic information has been collected, what do you do with that information; what does it mean? Enter Perfect 46, a genetics company and internet startup, founded by Jesse Darden (Whit Hertford), that offers a proprietary service where they will check you and your partner’s genes to determine the likelihood of passing on any genetic defects or illnesses to a potential child. What you do with that information is up to you, though the hope is that, armed with the information, couples will avoid conceiving if the possibility exists that they will pass on something harmful, and these diseases and problems will be eradicated in the long run because of it.
Of course, that’s just the barest of setups. Brett Ryan Bonowicz’s feature film, The Perfect 46, tackles the rise and fall of Perfect 46 by focusing on the personal trials and tribulations of its tortured founder. Told through a clever combination of 60 Minutes-style documentary about Perfect 46, flashbacks and a more immediate narrative conflict (Darden is alone in his home when two men invade and take him prisoner), the film approaches the complexity of its tale via multiple layers.
The result is an intriguing conversation about genetics, eugenics and other ethical considerations. It’s also a study on personal responsibility, and where that truly begins and ends in any situation. The film gets the mind working, and that’s not a bad thing.
Ultimately, though, the reason everything comes together is the performance of Whit Hertford as Jesse Darden. Hertford delivers a character that is as much a tortured genius as he is flawed and damaged as a person. It’s a tour de force performance, creating a character that can be lauded and loathed in equal measure, showcasing a determined strength amid fractured weakness. If the science talk turns you off, it’s still worth a look for what Hertford brings to the table.
But if you do dig the science, it turns out the film isn’t full of far-fetched ideas that can’t actually happen. Instead, the opposite is true; many elements are actually already underway, as pointed out in an article about the film by MIT Technology Review. In other words, this film might be more of a glimpse of the future than simply a hypothetical conversation about ethics and genetics.
Which all around makes The Perfect 46 that much more intriguing. Some of the elements of the narrative didn’t work flawlessly (it’s hard to believe anyone would continue to watch the in-film doc about Perfect 46, considering the circumstances at hand, for example), but the film hits far more often than it misses. Overall, it’s a fascinating film full of challenging ideas that puts your brain to work.
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