Decoding Annie Parker

Aaron Paul and Samanta Morton in Decoding Annie Parker

If you’ve never heard of Dr. Mary-Claire King, it’s good that there’s now a movie about her greatest achievement, which is the discovery of the gene responsible for hereditary cases of breast and ovarian cancers. Before finding the proof for her longtime theory, which came surprisingly only as recent as 1990, most other doctors explained away families with multiple cancer deaths as environmental, coincidental and just plain bad luck. At the end of this movie, which is titled Decoding Annie Parker, we’re told that the discovery is one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of all time. Of course, we should have gotten that point in the preceding 90 minutes (not to say we didn’t, but then we don’t need that title). We probably should have also gotten to know this obviously wonderful and important woman of history, but it’s not really a movie about her. It’s not a biopic of a person who clearly deserves one. Instead it’s about a partly fictional woman who doesn’t. There really is an Annie Parker, but the one “decoded” in this movie is a composite and only loosely based on her. Portrayed by Samantha Morton, hers is the life primarily followed over the course of two decades and two diagnoses of different cancers (she’s had a third since), through treatment and a mastectomy and a crumbling marriage to a wannabe rocker (Aaron Paul). Intertwined with her story, though, is a depiction of King in action with her Berkeley-based research team. She’s played by Helen Hunt and presented only in academic setting. We see […]



When Francis Crick and James Watson famously published their article “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” in Nature magazine 61 years ago, they didn’t reveal a discovery of DNA nor did they introduce the concept of genetics to the world. Their main contribution to history (with help from Rosalind Franklin) is in the illustration of the double helix model of DNA, which means they gave us a visual for a science that beforehand was only pictured in an abstract manner. Is it fair to say the double helix is an iconic image? That’d be like claiming cels and rocks and fire are iconic. DNA is just a part of life, and the double helix is what it looks like. Still, it is in most forms an illustrational icon rather than the real deal, and few sciences have such a distinctly recognizable visual representation, one that has made genetics a very cinematic area of study. Movies involving experiments and testing involving DNA would still exist without that imagery, but as you can see in the still from The Amazing Spider-Man above, they’re better for having something so easily rendered in CG form. The double helix shows up on computer screens and holographic displays of scientific plans and even in cases where it’s not a literal illustration of DNA, as in the case of the spiral staircase in Vincent/Jerome’s home in Gattaca. Occasionally DNA itself is depicted, though not always correctly, as in the case of the opening credits sequence of […]

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published: 01.27.2015
published: 01.27.2015
published: 01.26.2015
published: 01.26.2015

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