Sunday, June 11, 2023


May 20, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Little Joe, from Austrian director Jessica Hausner, could very well become the Birth of a Nation for the anti-GMO crowd. In this tale of genetic engineering gone wrong, a flower, developed to give those who inhale its fragrance a feeling of happiness, has an unforeseen side-effect. The flower’s seed, you see, has been spliced with oxytocin, the human hormone believed to bond mothers with their babies. In this case, however, the fragrance has the additional effect of taking over the minds of those who inhale it, acquiring their loyalty. The flowers become body snatchers.

Emily Beecham in Little Joe

Little Joe — the title derives from the name the lead scientist in the movie, played by Emily Beecham, gives to the altered plant — will surely delight activists who have called for the banning of all genetically modified crops, inasmuch as it boosts their cri de guerre: mess with nature at man’s peril. Never mind that genetically modified foods have been consumed by hundreds of millions of men and beasts for 30 years now without causing a single case of illness attributed to the alteration. Never mind that every watchdog health agency of every government in the world has found GMO produce to be safe — as has every leading scientific organization worldwide — alarmists have succeeded in forcing numerous governments to ban the cultivation of GMO seeds, and thousands of food products now bear “Non-GMO” labels, even ones that contain ingredients that have never been genetically modified.

Here is the film that the activists have no doubt been waiting for, one that echoes their warnings, and, yes, one that they can flaunt as a contender for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. While several critics at the festival trashed it, others bought into its premise. For example, Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang wrote: “Its chills may be minimal, but its implications can’t help but take root.” Wendie Ide in the British trade publication Screen Daily observed that the filmmakers appear to be taking issue with “commercial science,” which, she said, “dresses up in the cozy mantle of serving mankind, but underneath is motivated by cold, hard cash,” a criticism that the anti-GMO doomsayers have frequently raised, particularly against the leading GMO researcher, Monsanto.

However, Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter concluded that the film fails as “some sort of cautionary tale about the risks of genetic engineering.” It also fails, he indicated, as a suspense drama. “There’s just nothing going on here with which to engage your interest, nor is there a single moment to even slightly increase the viewer’s pulse rate,” he wrote. Likewise, Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s Guardian described the film as “a quasi sci-fi chiller about people’s behavior and language being creepily altered,” but offered the wilting conclusion that it “is too grandly high on the arthouse register to bother with out-and-out thrills or suspense.”