Over the years Hollywood has often reflected the contemporary concerns of the general public in selected films. As examples, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has long been said to be a metaphor of the cold war, and some have proposed “Fatal Attraction” came about as a reaction to our shared anxiety surrounding the threat of AIDS and safe sex. I am also certain that the numerous predicaments experienced at the FBI in recent years were thoughtfully addressed in “Corky Romano”.
Now the fretful advocacy set gets its due with “Corn”, a film that shines the glare of attention on the controversial field of bio-engineered food. From sweeter grapes to irradiated tomatoes science has been hard at work improving the planet’s farming techniques, but more often these days activists have been coming forward to warn of impending doom. While we may all rejoice at the miraculous convenience of a seedless watermelon they point out that there are long term effects our children may suffer. Years of eating Sugar Clone Pops could have lasting implications and they point out that growth hormones administered to chickens have already accelerated the physical development of our kids so that girls in middle schools are beginning to resemble Victoria Sylvestedt.
Writer/Director Dave Silver actually tapped into a decent idea for a film but he undermines his own effort by plotting this tale like an afterschool special. The entire focus of the first half of the film is on Emily (Jenna Malone, from “Saved”), a young woman who has to leave her small hometown of Harrisburg, PA, for the rural backwater of Carthage because she became pregnant at the hands of an employer. She moves in with her father, 4 years divorced from her mother and now a passable sheep farmer. For too long we follow her development as she settles in to the new surroundings, gets a job at the grocery store, befriends another cashier who is pregnant, and then loses her job. All the while we get trifling attention paid to the plot of genetically altered food.
We first see a science conference where we are lectured about the various methods used to produce new crops that could help feed the planet—including a new form of corn that resists low temperatures because it has been spliced with a gene from a cold water dwelling fish. Emily’s father is then chagrined to find his neighbor has planted corn right up to his fence line and his sheep are garroting themselves on the razor wire in an effort to get at the weeds growing around the crop. Emily witnesses some sheep acting like heroin addicts, but then her father is found in better spirits when he discovers their wool yield is drastically increased. Later she encounters a field worker who divulges that the corn is a new strain that was supposed to resist certain herbicides, not produce its own weed.
Between long scenes of Emily’s prenatal care and getting leered at by her store manager we sporadically see the scientists who created this corn becoming concerned over the developments, but mostly we get treated to details of Emily’s home life. I had been expecting a little more tension; the three dimensional graphics on the packaging implied thriller-horror type of drama involving demonic-looking sheep. However it was nearly fifty minutes before we saw any violence-of-the-lambs—and even that was just a couple of large puppets butting their heads at a toddler in the field, who was then quickly rescued.
The final reel becomes a lukewarm bucolic version of “Erin Brockovitch” as the young woman tries to spread word of the dangers of eating potentially contaminated mutton. (It appears that in this portion of Pennsylvania most people consume lamb numerous times every week.) This is a large challenge with few people listening to Emily’s entreaties about the dangers of their modified food because, unlike Erin, her belly is bigger than her chest. More of her personal developments are unloaded with little resolution hinted, and the climax is less than a culminating satisfaction. While there had been hope at some cautionary proselytizing intended towards agricultural experimentation I have my doubts that sales of mint jelly will be seriously affected in the near future.