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Manipulating Life
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




MY SISTER’S KEEPER (L, PG-13): Sara (Cameron Diaz, The Holiday) and Brian (Jason Patric, In the Valley of Elah) Fitzgerald are a happily married couple with a son, Jesse (Evan Ellingson, CSI: Miami), and a daughter, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva, Medium) who has leukemia.

Because treatments fail and no donors can be found with matching tissue, Kate’s physician suggests an unethical solution: to produce another child to match Kate genetically. This engineered child would be a steady source of blood, tissue and perhaps organs for their sick child.

Sara and Brian go through with it and Anna (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) is born. From the time she is old enough to legally “donate,” her blood and tissue are harvested, including bone marrow.

When Anna is 11 she visits the law office of an ambulance-chasing attorney, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock). Tired of being poked and prodded, Anna hires him to sue her parents for medical emancipation. They all realize that without Anna’s tissue, Kate will die. Suddenly the Fitzgerald family spirals out of control.

Based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper is not only about the dynamics of a family with a sick child, but the ethics of bioengineering as well. Director/co-writer Nick Cassavetes, with The Notebook co-writer Jeremy Leven, changed Picoult’s ending to appeal more to American audiences who generally do not like ambiguous endings. But incisive questions linger: Is it right to manipulate human life to save another person? The Catholic Church teaches that artificial conception is always unethical.

The Fitzgeralds, however, were not infertile. They “made” a specific baby to match Kate. What happens to the non-matching embryos? And what about the child who comes to understand that the sole reason she exists is so that her sister will live? What about the guilt that could burden her for either refusing to surrender her body parts, or if her sister dies anyway?

This is a powerful story that confronts our fear of death and suggests that when we do all we can for ourselves and others to live, it is time to surrender to death. Some language.



FOOD, INC. (not yet rated): “If you knew the truth of what you were eating, you wouldn’t eat it,” states Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner in his film about the industrialization of food production.

Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is one of the key experts whose research underpins the film’s thesis. After seeing this film I can attest to my reluctance to consider ever eating ground meat again. Unless it is labeled organic, the film establishes that it is almost certainly “mystery meat.”

I wish I had seen this film before I voted “no” in November on California’s Proposition 2, the Standards for Confining Farm Animals initiative. It was voted into law as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

As meat, produce and packaged goods are recalled almost weekly across the United States, the film’s relevance is on the mark. It offers sound evidence on how animal crowding is a source of salmonella outbreaks and meat recalls. I am grateful that the proposition passed (it will not become fully operative as law until 2015).

The film also spends time analyzing the chicken industry. Not only are small farmers coerced into working for large chicken industries, but because Americans like white meat, chickens have also been genetically modified to grow larger breasts and grow faster. This results in chickens being mass produced and unable to stand or walk from being so top-heavy.

Next we have corn, an ingredient in almost all our processed food. Not only has corn been genetically modified for various forms of consumption, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that genetically modified seed DNA could be copyrighted.

Corporations now own some seed formulation and gain profit by controlling its use. Even if the seed migrates from a huge industrialized farm to a small, independent, farmer’s field naturally (wind, birds), those farmers can be, and are being, sued for what amounts to copyright infringement.

Food, Inc., comes from Participant Productions, the company that backed Al Gore’s 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth. The film addresses social-justice issues and our food supply. For example, in 2001, Maryknoll Productions released the video The Global Banquet: The Politics of Food. It deals with similar issues as Food, Inc., but broadens the conversation to include African chocolate and world hunger.

Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, applies Catholic social teaching to world economics and the global marketplace. Food production holds a major place in a globalized society. The pope’s teaching will be a valuable guide to discussing films such as Food, Inc., and arriving at responsible solutions. Disturbing images.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (A-2, PG): In this sixth film of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise, we get more of the back story on Lord Voldemort. A former professor of Hogwarts is invited by Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to return. Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and his dealings with the young Tom Riddle hold a key to defeating Lord Voldemort.

The film opens with Lord Voldemort wreaking havoc in the Muggle world. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) arch-nemesis, is commanded by Lord Voldemort to carry out some nefarious deed. Draco’s mother, Narcissa (Helen McCrory), is worried about her son. She and her sister, Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), go to Professor Snape’s house. Bellatrix prods Snape (Alan Rickman) into making a vow to protect and help Draco and carry out the task himself if Draco is impeded.

Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) return to Hogwarts where Harry discovers a potion textbook with formulas edited by a brilliant young wizard who mysteriously called himself “the Half-Blood Prince.” Dumbledore asks Harry to trust him as they revisit the past to understand the present and the future.

The Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, gave this film high marks for its themes of “friendship, altruism, loyalty and self-giving.”

Director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and screenwriter Steve Kloves decided early on not to retell the earlier stories, trusting that audiences would read the books or see the films if they couldn’t make all the connections. Still, the narrative could have been more seamless.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is humorous, the special effects and art direction are detailed and interesting. The revelations in the film are important for bringing the series together and leading into the upcoming two-part finale in 2010 and 2011. Some peril and fantasy violence.

THE PHILANTHROPIST (NBC, Wednesdays, 10pm): James Purefoy (Rome) is playboy Teddy Rist, a billionaire businessman who is in anguish since the death of his son. During a hurricane in Nigeria he rescues a young boy and decides to use his fortune to help others. His associates, who keep his business going and the board of directors calm, are Teddy’s trusted friends: a married couple played by Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order) and Neve Campbell (Party of Five). The Philanthropist, created by television legend Tom Fontana (Oz), is fresh, original and adventurous.

INTERRUPTED LIVES: CATHOLIC SISTERS UNDER EUROPEAN COMMUNISM (check local listings): This documentary tells the story of what happened to Catholic religious communities of women behind the Iron Curtain, in Lithuania, Romania and Hungary from 1945 to 1989. The women were imprisoned, sent to labor farms or camps in Siberia, tortured and beaten. Against all odds, many of the sisters persevered to witness to their faith and the charisms of their communities. The docudrama was funded by the Catholic Communications Campaign.

THE PROPOSAL (A-3, PG-13): A formulaic and derivative romantic comedy about a humorless editor (Sandra Bullock), soon to be deported home to Canada, who bamboozles her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) into agreeing to marry her as a way to stay in the United States. The film is good-hearted and Betty White, as the assistant’s grandmother, is pretty funny. Brief nudity, sexual innuendo, some language.

PUBLIC ENEMIES (A-3, R): Johnny Depp is excellent as the 1930s legendary bank robber John Dillinger, as is Marion Cotillard, as his moll. The film, though well-crafted, has a superficial narrative punctuated by intense, explosive violence. Crude language, violence, torture.

YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG (A-2, not rated): This engrossing documentary is an entertaining and important piece of television history. It tells the story of Gertrude Berg, the real first lady of television.

In 1949 she created the domestic sitcom that celebrated family and would have stayed number one, but the show was cancelled when one of its key actors was blacklisted. Berg wrote 1,200 radio and television scripts between the 1920s and 1960s.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting gives these ratings. See

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