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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Das Dunkle Gen

Germany | Switzerland
Opening June 11, 2015

Directed by: Miriam Jakobs and Gerhard Schick
Writing credits: Miriam Jakobs and Gerhard Schick
Principal actors: Frank Schauder, Leonard Metz

Das Dunkle Gen This film tells the story of a man’s search for an explanation and cure for the bouts of chronic depression from which he suffers. The main actor and main figure of the documentary is Frank Schauder, a medical doctor in his forties who first experienced depression towards the end of his medical studies and then suffered recurring bouts that greatly disturbed his personal life and career.

The film begins with an interview between Frank and a therapist who speaks with a foreign accent. While she is empathetic, she is obviously not completely tuned into Frank’s problems. The conversation conveys the idea that psychotherapy is futile in cases like Frank’s. The focus then shifts to modern genetic research. For Frank and apparently also for the directors of the film the idea of a genetic predisposition that contributes to chronic depression appears to be something new, even though this concept has been around for decades. Much of the film that follows looks like a first year course in molecular genetics with lengthy, imprecise and uninteresting intervals of animation demonstrating molecular processes. Scattered in between are a lot of equally uninspiring scenes showing Frank swimming or diving in an attempt to portray what depression feels like. The message of the film is deterministic and aims to convince the viewer that genetic make-up really does make a difference. Interviews with various optimistic genetic researchers and scenes of huge computers for analyzing DNA sequences offer a vision of potential liberation from human suffering through technology. A few philosophical questions about the extent to which we are genetically determined are tossed around in party scenes and a couple of cryptic discussions between Frank and his son Leonard. But non-deterministic interpretations of the role of DNA are left to musicians, artists and metaphor.

What is missing is a scientific discussion of explanations and forms of treatment that are independent of sequences in the DNA. You learn very little about the role of the environment in how DNA is expressed or about non-medicinal forms of treatment. A serious ethical discussion is also lacking. The movie ends with a scene that succinctly reveals the technological orientation of the film: Frank and his son Leonard cheerfully extract DNA from strawberries at their kitchen table. ()

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