The Boys from Brazil (1978)

Last modified: May 22, 2017

The Boys from Brazil

Relevance

This film covers many interesting medical ethical topics such as the ethics of cloning, the abuse of scientific knowledge and the conduction of secret medical experiments.

This movie is included in the Fiction movies for RCR education.

Key words: Ethics (medical)
Medium: YouTube (Link last checked on 15-08-2016)
Fragments: 1

  • Fragment 1 [1:42:22-1:45:09]

Internet Movie Database (IMDb) about this movie: IMDb
Drama / Thriller
/ Playing time: 125 min.

Content and context

The Boys from Brazil (1978) is based on the novel of the same name by Ira Levin (1976). It starts with a young inexperienced Nazi Hunter who stumbles onto a secret SS meeting in 1970’s South America that is lead by the infamous Doctor Josef Mengele (played by Gregory Peck). He contacts the veteran Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) to ask him for help, but Lieberman is not interested. When the young Nazi hunter turns out to be murdered, however, Lieberman investigates the mysterious meeting and discovers an insane plot to resurrect the Führer Adolf Hitler and establish the Fourth Reich.

Fragment The Boys from Brazil [1:42:22 – 1:45:09]

This is a scene at the end of the film. Lieberman is in Canada to warn a man that Doctor Mengele plans to murder, but Mengele gets there first and has already killed him. The moment Lieberman arrives and sees Mengele, he attacks him, but Mengele gains the upper hand and shoots Lieberman. In this fragment Mengele, while pointing his gun at Lieberman, elaborates on his brilliant -and partly succeeded- plan; he has cloned Adolf Hitler and there are now ninety-six 14-year old boys walking the earth who are genetically identical to the Führer.

Ethics

This fragment illustrates the possible abuse of scientific knowledge. For Doctor Mengele science is only instrumental to ideology. He has no interest in the ethical questions surrounding human cloning, but only sees the potential of it for the Third Reich. He takes science as merely an instrument for domination -knowledge is power! 
By secretly setting up human cloning experiments, Doctor Mengele broke all the rules of research regulations. He acted on a personal title and decided to abuse the knowledge he had gained as a scientist. And he did so out of the greatest maleficence, namely to bring back Adolf Hitler and establish the Fourth Reich.

Realism

This fragment is of course exaggerated, dramatized and highly overdone, and you will not encounter it in everyday practice. But the fear that scientists can abuse their position and secretly conduct dangerous experiments is very real. Especially in the past, when the world lacked clear regulations about medical research with human subjects, horrific examples can be found of scientific hubris and misbehaviour.

Suggested use for education

This fragment can be used as an incentive for a discussion about the ethics of human cloning. Although we all agree that cloning Adolf Hitler is wrong, an interesting question might be if it would make a difference, from an ethical point of view, if Doctor Mengele had decided to clone Mozart. And what about Picasso?
A ‘good scientist’, who is intrigued by the practice of cloning and believes that it might benefit the world, puts both examples forward in the The Boys from Brazil. Would we also condemn a well-meaning scientist who secretly sets up a Mozart or Picasso cloning project? And if so, why?

Ending

In the end Doctor Mengele finally meets one of his Hitler clones, but the young boy shows little interest in his creator. The moment the boy finds out that Mengele killed his adoptive father he orders his dogs to attack him. He then watches with a smile on his face how Mengele is ripped to pieces by the dogs. Ironically the image of the cold-hearted boy, who seems to be aroused and intrigued by violence, shows that Doctor Mengele really succeeded in creating a monster identical to Hitler.

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