ByDavid Latchman, writer at
Dork and science nerd. Follow me on Twitter @sciwriterdave as I explore some real science. Check my blog
David Latchman

A challenge has been issued and met. Here are some of my Pick-a-Flick choices. They are all mine. Some may agree, and some may not.

Best Movie Moment

This is really a difficult one as two movies came to mind, but I really had to go with the shut down sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. For some reason, this scene really struck me when I first saw it as a child and really got me thinking about death, what it means to be conscious, and how it all relates to the brain. (I was a really strange child.)

This is a scene that still gets to me on some level today. We have learned so much about the brain and what happens when we die. Death, you see, is a process and this is especially true with our brains. We do not simply turn the off switch in our brains, but rather things get shut down in stages.

In a study by the University of Michigan, researchers forcibly induced cardiac arrest in rats and examined their brain activity. They found increased activity for about 30 seconds after blood stopped pumping in the six regions of the brain they monitored. This activity gradually declined for a further 30 seconds before disappearing.

The interesting thing is that much of the activity centers around the region of the brain responsible for vision and could account for the "tunnel of light" that many people with near-death experiences report seeing. Did HAL experience something similar? We may never know, but that question of our existence (and HAL's) is something that I still wonder about to this day.

Best Plot

OK, I admit. I overthink everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING! Naturally, Fight Club would be on top of my best movie list. This is not one of those movies you understand the first time you see it. It takes subsequent viewings to figure it out. If you have seen this movie, you know what I mean.

Best Dialog

For dialog, I have to vote for the opening scence of Inglorious Basterds. The scene where SS Colonel Hans Landa (Chrostoph Wlatz) attempts to retrieve information from a French farmer suspected of Jewish people fleeing Nazi-occupied France sets the tone for the film. Waltz's delivery is amazing and you can not help but fear the worst every time his character appears on screen.

Most Intelligent Film

For this, I give a tie to Gattaca and Never Let Me Go. The question of nature vs. nurture is one we will always ask with each technological advancement. While advances in biology have lead to improved health and longer lives, this movie reminds us we must be mindful of what these advances mean, and how it affects us as a society.

The horrifying thing about Gattaca is not the grim future but some of what we see has occured in the past. In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, scientists came up with eugenics, the racist pseudoscience idealogy determined to wipe away all human beings deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype.

While there are differences between both films, they both highlight our ability to dehumanize groups we do not consider "worthy" of humanity. In the case of Gattaca, it is having the "right" genes, and with Never Let Me Go, we dehumanize clones and harvest their organs so we can extend our own lives.

With great power comes great responsibility.

The most recent biological advance, CRISPR (Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) will allow us to edit any organism's DNA as easily as we edit a Word document by cutting and pasting the sequences we want into the genome. While this technology has the power to treat many, if not most, genetic diseases, it also allows people to give themselves, and their children, the genes they desire. This has lead scientists to seek a moratorium on this technology until we can find a way to use this technology responsibly.

Best Movie

There are very few films that, when playing, I will stop everything to watch. A Few Good Men is the top of that list. This is a strong film and it could have appeared in any of the above categories but as I always watch it when it is on, it goes in the "Best Movie" category.

The "You Can't Handle the Truth!" scene in the final act is what makes this a great movie. While you may have been certain of the question on whether Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Private Louden Downey (James Marshall) were right to haze Private Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) during the course of the movie, this scene puts everything into question. At least, it should.

Dan Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) represent the two sides of the debate; how much rights do we give to an individual at the expense of national security? This is not an easy question to answer and we have taken away people's civil rights during times of unrest and war. Once you see Jessup as doing something he believes is necessary to protect a country, you question how much of a monster he really is, even if what he did was monstrous. This is why explaining the final verdict of Dawson and Downey's trial is so difficult to explain.

Challenge Completed

And there you have it. Those are some of my favorite films and the reasons why I like them. What do you think?


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