Keanu Reeves is a man on a mission — or rather, many missions. Sometimes, that mission is going back in time to pass an oral history test; other times, that mission is becoming an assassin (again) so he can enact vengeance on the thugs that killed his puppy. In the upcoming science-fiction thriller Replicas, Reeves’ mission will be to clone his family after they die in a car crash. His character, Will Foster, Reeves quickly learns that while he has the power to clone, that doesn’t mean there won’t be terrifying consequences.

This movie seemingly has everything — guns, eye stabbing, what looks to be the robot from I, Robot — and, on top of it all, even dares to address the tricky ethics of genetics.

In the trailer released Thursday, Thomas Middleditch is an unnamed scientist emphatically shouting, “There is a reason human cloning is banned!” Reeves, for his part, appears to be aware of the cost.

“I didn’t defy every natural law there is, just to lose you again,” he tells his clone-wife, who looks like she doesn’t enjoy jogging as much as she used to.

Middleditch almost gets it right. In real life, there’s no federal law in the United States that specifically bans human cloning, but the Food and Drug Administration has the authority to shut down any experiments that are designed with the specific purpose to create a cloned human baby. Different states, however, have different human cloning laws: In Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, and Virginia, for example, research on cloned embryos is banned outright.

That’s not to say American lawmakers support human cloning. Bills designed to ban cloning have been introduced to Congress repeatedly since 2000, and when President Barack Obama lifted the ban on embryonic stem cell research, he made sure to note that he would do everything in his power to keep the government from using cloning to create humans, noting that the practice “is dangerous, profoundly wrong and has no place in our society or any society.”

This issue is a global one: While the United Nation’s ban on human cloning is not legally binding, 31 countries including France, Germany, and Russia have banned human cloning entirely. Human reproductive cloning, meanwhile, is banned in Japan, the United Kingdom, and Israel, but those countries do allow therapeutic cloning, which doesn’t require an entire human embryo to be cloned.

Three good cloned girls in South Korea.

Why is cloning so bad? Replicas seems to make the case that something is off with the consciousness of cloned humans (and has the “Sophie’s choice” plot point that Reeves can only bring three of his four family members back to life). Many actual scientists oppose cloning because, as the UN Declaration on Human Cloning states, the science is “incompatible with human dignity and the protection of life.” They maintain that creating human life trespasses good and safe bioethics, and they argue that, although therapeutic cloning can be medically beneficial by increasing organ transplant opportunities and improving nerve cell and tissue healing, there’s no obvious benefit to creating a whole human being.

Besides the ethical implications of cloning, there are serious biological concerns as well. Cloned animals have high failure rates because their DNA tends to exhibit the wrong pattern of gene activity, which can result in genetic abnormalities and still-birth. The infamous cloned sheep Dolly, for example, lived for just six years (half a sheep’s expected lifespan) because of premature arthritis. Scientists are improving at increasing the lifespan of cloned animals, but could we stand as a society to go through the same trial and error period with humans?

As advancements in science in continue, we’ll have to find out. In the meantime, we can occupy ourselves with dystopian science fiction movies like Replicas, which is due to be out sometime next year.


If you liked this article, check out this video on 30 years of Keanu Reeves stunts.