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Intimate Borders: The Ethics of Human Organ Transplantation in Contemporary Film

McCormack, D (2012) Intimate Borders: The Ethics of Human Organ Transplantation in Contemporary Film Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 34 (3-4). pp. 170-183.

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The image of the intruder is central to human organ transplantation rhetoric. The external, fleshy other crosses a supposedly definitive and divisive line by traversing and settling inside the epidermal layer of an other's self. While transplant teams make a putative claim that grafting is essential to the continued survival of critically ill patients, they also stress the dangers of rejection, wherein the originary body attacks the unfamiliar presence of an other's organs. The organicity of the rejection process—that the body resists incorporating organs from an other—seemingly shows how the skin marks the limit of the self, making the peaceful cohabitation of self and other an impossibility. The immune system is figured as an army always ready to attack any outside intrusion that may threaten the integrity, and therefore the survival, of the self. Here, outsiders pose risks and should be managed, surveilled, and even destroyed for the sake of protecting the sanctity of the wholesome, healthy body. Yet, in order for the transplant recipient to survive, there must be a repression of this system of defence; it must be weakened to let the other do its life-saving work of pumping vitality into the otherwise waning body. Highly toxic immunosuppressive pharmaceutics prevent the immune system from performing its militaristic duties, allowing the organ of an other to labor away at its everyday functions of keeping the other/self alive. In this article, I examine three contemporary films that bring together histories of transnational racism and ethical quandaries regarding organ donation: Miguel Sapochnik's Repo Men (2010 Sapochnik , M. (Dir.) ( 2010 ). Repo Men [DVD]. USA: Universal. ), David Moreau's The Eye (2008 Moreau , D. (Dir.) ( 2008 ). The Eye [DVD]. USA: Lionsgate. ), and Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things (2002 Frears , S. (Dir.) ( 2002 ). Dirty Pretty Things [DVD]. UK: Miramax. ). These films are diverse in genre and diegesis, and yet, I argue, they all share a preoccupation with how the biotechnological imperative to cut through bodily borders is intimately tied to state control, surveillance, and protection of geopolitical boundaries. The Eye and Repo Men are popular Hollywood productions designed to appeal to a mass audience through their emphasis on the spectacle of fear, stereotypical gendered and raced characterizations, and gory, violent visualities. The Eye is an American adaptation of a Hong Kong production (Pang and Chung 2002 Pang , D. and Chun , O. P. ( 2002 ). Gin gwai (The Eye) [DVD]. Hong Kong : Palm Pictures . ), which was originally concerned less with romantic self-discoveries and more with the deeply disturbing (and very scary) ways in which transplants haunt our imaginaries. In contrast, Dirty Pretty Things attempts to paint a more complex picture of precariously legal migrants in London through the social realist genre. Using a grainy visual effect to emphasize the lack of “gloss,” and thus the focus on reality, in these migrants' lives, the film nevertheless borrows from Hollywood sensationalism with its images of bloody body parts, scenes of violence toward women, and largely stereotypical national and racialized representations. However, Dirty Pretty Things is the sole film on which this article focuses that is, arguably, driven by a political agenda. It is openly concerned with the politics of race and gender in contemporary Britain—a subject that has been of some interest to Frears throughout his career—and with transnational inequalities. Although the other two films may not offer overt political messages, I suggest that slippages between bodily and geopolitical borders open up a critical and political space where the viewer can engage with the intersecting issues of biotechnologies and transnational migrations. I further argue that all three films convey a politics of belonging deeply invested in ethics, and thus in a concern with hospitality. Organ donation is currently carrying the weight of cultural anxieties not only regarding divisions between self and other, but also concerning national boundaries of belonging and whether “different others” are to be welcomed or expulsed.

Item Type: Article
Subjects : Literature
Divisions : Surrey research (other units)
Authors :
Date : July 2012
DOI : 10.1080/10714413.2012.687290
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2015 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 16 May 2017 15:37
Last Modified : 24 Jan 2020 15:06

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