#SciFiSunday: The Girl with All the Gifts & The Science Of Survival

Ruzbeh Babaee, Ph.D., University Putra Malaysia
Sue Yen Lee, University Putra Malaysia
Siamak Babaee, University of Kashan


When a natural outbreak plagues England, turning most of the country's population into zombie-like cannibals, a biological discovery in an evolved population of children birthed inheriting the science of the plague with the capacity for human reasoning and control are used to find a cure for the remaining human survivors. One of those children and her relationship with her human teacher puts a wrench in this plan, prompting a challenge to the very questions of what is humanity and is it actually worth saving.


The strength of the story lies in the relationship between Melanie, "a cannibalistic hungry" and her human teacher Helen Justineau. In order to survive, they both develop psychological defense mechanisms, tasks of the unconscious mind that manipulates, denies, or distorts reality to defend oneself against anxiety in order to create a dependency on each other that prompts a "peaceful coexistence in [a] world dominated by non-humans."


dystopia - a setting utilized in science fiction "to exaggerate flaws in society in order to inspire a need for revolution." Much like what horror films are known for, science fiction exposes the massively felt anxieties as well as both real and theoretical concerns about the condition of communities and people during particular times in human history.

survival - the universal human response and instinct to ward off, flee, or combat circumstances that can destroy our living existence.

ecocriticism - "the study of human interaction with the surrounding environment while humans try to survive in a dystopian world."

Melanie (portrayed in the film version by Sennia Nanua)

Ms. Helen Justineau (portrayed in the film version by Gemma Arterton)

4 Psychoanalytic Defense Mechanisms help explain their bond:

Denial - Ms. Justineau is a sort of advocate for "intelligent child hungries" as they exhibit both a conscious and human emotion, controlled only by their cannibalistic instinct when the smell of humans or any other living form is not contained, but also having the ability to communicate with non-hungry humans to keep their distance that demonstrates they do not want to intentionally hurt anyone. Ms. Justineau is in denial about how dangerous Melanie and these children are because of their very human qualities.

Denial "allows one to ignore reality"; ignoring that reality in the long run can have dangerous consequences to one's mortality. In turn, ignoring reality allows Ms. Justineau and Melanie to arrive at a mutual understanding that Melanie cognitively is a child despite her physiological strain. A nurturing affection develops.

This allowance gives Melanie the ability, despite her treatment on the camp, to not inherently see all humans as a threat to her and other child hungries, prompting her to want more control over her own natural instincts while in the presence of humans.

Identification - Due to Ms. Justineau's compassion, Melanie develops the ability to mimic that same quality, a removal of essentially seeing herself as and negating other labels of her as nothing but a monster.

"Instead of changing the reality of her situation, Melanie wants to change herself to imitate the person of whom she deeply respects."

This identification tactic strongly asserts Melanie's desire to protect Ms. Justineau as she stands as the only human who has shown to her and other child hungries affection and sympathy. She is a positive symbol the other humans desire; to show goodness even in the most bleak of circumstances.

Repression - When Ms. Justineau is witness to Melanie's baser instincts, devouring living flesh when a horde of non-intelligent hungries overrun the military base, she is forced to confront her denial that a part of Melanie is in fact, an appearance of actions as monstrous. Melanie is not pleased that Ms. Justineau saw her vicious attack and both repress the memory of it once out of immediate harms way far from the base.

Repression as a tool distorts reality to undermine the shock of a painful memory. But it's only temporary. There are times when Melanie, alone with her thoughts, reflects on the acts of murder she committed in order to feed and is devastated. She doesn't want the reality of her monstrosity.

Altruism - A means of managing internal emotional distress by helping others manage theirs. Ms. Justineau pours much of her energy into asserting a child hungry's humanity because of an emotionally debilitating accident where she hit and killed a child in her vehicle while sleepy and intoxicated. Heavy with guilt but willing to work for personal forgiveness through repentance, Ms. Justineau dedicates her life to educating child hungries and showing them compassion when others will not. Her dedication builds a firm trust between herself and Melanie.

Ecocritical Survival: Human & Non-Human

Science fiction tends to incorporate but move beyond the topical concerns that arouse in dystopic depictions, and real environmental devastation and predictions with a both actual and symbolic tendencies spotlight the relationship between humans and various other species and beings that are not.

In the book, Ms. Justineau comes to terms with and accepts the new world, as the sole human survivor, intelligent hungries are the evolution of the planet. Now, it is this human that must adapt to cohabitating with the intelligent hungries that are now the dominant population of the world.


The authors make a distinction between Ms. Justineau and Melanie as human and non-human. How would you approach a discussion of these delicate terms regarding the film's depiction of Ms. Justineau (human) as white and Melanie (non-human) as Black? What do they historically implicate, and as a speculative text as well as factoring in the film's final scenes, what do they say about our future?

Within a dystopian setting, how does manipulating reality through defense mechanisms both aid and harm the development of the beginnings of creating a new world? Consider Sargeant Parks and Dr. Caldwell's position and their own brand of defense mechanisms as well. Is their fight to keep the human race dominant futile? Why do you think their tactics fail in the end?

Ecocriticism is a very broad term. In The Girl With All The Gifts, it seems to come to terms with the ultimate human inability to control their environment with an extreme, non-human threat. Do you see Ms. Justineau's position in the end as one of positive co-existence with the intelligent hungries, considering what we're left with is her as the only human left?

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