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By Steve Anderson | April 1, 2005

They’re names we hear every day. Or at least on Sunday if we’re frequent watchers of network news shows. Names like Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and even Pioneer are names that drift across the national consciousness. And do we really know just what it is these massive food conglomerates are doing on any typical work day? We know what we’re told, but do we truly know?

We may finally have some insight into the typical workings of the food conglomerates with Dave Silver’s “Corn,” a cautionary tale that shows us, firsthand, the potentially deadly possibility of genetic engineering when it comes to our food supply.

So what we have here is the story of our heroine Emily, a young lady with a past, who returns to her hometown to have her baby. Sadly, the father, a highly placed state official, isn’t interested in helping Emily care for the baby on anything much over a financial level, and even then grudgingly. But before she can take off and appear on the Maury show to force his hand and open his wallet,
all agricultural hell breaks loose.

A genetically modified crop of corn is responsible for an ecological disaster that our heroine bears witness to, and she’s left to warn the town. Of course, with her past on her side, she’s not exactly well received by the townsfolk, and neither is her warning.

She thus sets out to discover the truth of what’s going on here, and discovers that something’s very wrong with the local food supply. Facing down the lethal corn, and her own past, she’s all that’s left to protect the town.

Now, it’s actually very interesting, that they give a statistic in the first minute of the movie how a million children a year die from vitamin A deficiency, and if one gene was implanted into rice, it would yield a rice grain that was very high in vitamin A. And “Corn” is sort of a cautionary tale. Yes, it’s all fine and well that the rice could be improved in that manner, but what would too much vitamin A do to those children? To the adults? To the rest of the environment? The focus of “Corn” isn’t on the biologically improved corn, but rather on a by-product. A weed growing in the corn has some very unusual properties, and when the local sheep eat it, they grow addicted. When the people eat the mutton and lambs that have eaten the weed, strange birth defects start cropping up. This landslide, this domino effect, is where the true danger of genetic manipulation lies.

The inevitable lesson of history is that, when you change just one thing, you end up changing everything. That’s the lesson that “Corn” seeks to do in true cautionary tale fashion. When you change the vitamin A count of a grain of rice, you inevitably alter everything, from the ground up, that comes in contact with that grain of rice, and often in a manner that is utterly unforeseeable and sometimes cataclysmic. You may actually manage to succeed in your stated purpose of improving the vitamin A levels in that grain of rice, but what will your efforts do to the weeds in the rice paddy? What will the weeds do to the local wildlife and livestock? What will be the effect of those same people, now with extra vitamin A in their blood streams, eating the livestock and wildlife with the extra chemicals?

“Corn” is actually a very important film. With the recent rush on to create so-called “Frankenfoods,” the consequences of such actions often go unconsidered. “Corn” is a film that considers them and then some. Check out the truly disturbing dream sequence at the one hour and eleven minute mark.

The ending is inconclusive, mildly unsatisfying, but abjectly and purely terrifying all at once.

The special features include an interview with Chloe Bulinski, PhD, of Columbia University that adds fuel to the cautionary fire, and a set of trailers for “Super Size Me,” “Levelland,” and “Gypsy 83.”

All in all, “Corn” is a fantastic cautionary tale, packed with suspense and a solid lesson about the often unconsidered or poorly considered dangers of genetic manipulation on a wide scale.

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