Movie Review: Black Widow
Even though Natasha is of the very few avengers who do not possess any superhuman qualities, she’s always picking up after the boys. She’s multilingual, can hack into any system, and she can single-handedly take down a dozen men (and aliens!) The famous Black Widow is way more than ‘just a pretty face’. Natasha Romanoff was recruited by the KGB and trained at a facility called the Red room, which was run by General Dreykov.
Previously they only used psychological conditioning to train their assassins, also known as Black Widows. But the current method used involved chemical alterations to their brain. The Red room created a cellular blueprint of the basal ganglia, which is the hub for cognition as well as many motor skills. They managed to reverse engineer the cellular blueprint and make the basis for mind control in a chemical form. This chemical when exposed to the subject ensured complete surrender of free will.
In reality, such mind control has probably still not been achieved. The only form of manipulation that comes to mind is hypnosis, which again, is quite debatable. A variety of psychological conditioning methods have been (or are) employed by the military, to train the soldiers so they don’t hesitate to kill. Throughout history, there have been many attempts to discover other techniques of mind control.
Deep Brain Stimulation:
A procedure called Deep brain stimulation uses electrodes that are implanted into certain brain areas to control brain activity. These electrodes generate electrical impulses which can also adjust chemical abnormalities within the brain that cause various conditions. An insulated wire is implanted into specific brain areas through a small opening in the skull. An extension wire passes through the head into the neck and shoulder, where it connects to the internal pulse generator (IPG). The IPG is like a pacemaker controlling the pulses generated by the electrodes, there is also a manual programmer device that can regulate the same. This method has been successfully used for treating patients with epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Dystonia, and even a few cases of Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Having such potential, DBS makes us wonder whether there is a fine line between altering brain function and mind control.
Some of the experiments involving DBS performed by Robert G. Heath knew few ethical boundaries. He explored the effects of electrical stimulation on various people, with and without their informed consent. One of his very controversial cases in the 1970s included subjecting a homosexual man to DBS for altering his sexual preference. According to him, this so-called conversion therapy was successful, although this claim was later contested. Not all experiments go as planned, Heath’s previous experiments resulted in brain damage due to inaccurate placement of electrodes. Sounds familiar? Well in Black Widow, we learn that only 1 in 20 recruits survive the chemical alterations done to their brain.
During the cold war, the CIA funded research and conducted a series of experiments to explore techniques of mind control. They believed that the Soviet Union had already developed a method to control other people’s minds. Project MK-Ultra was run by a chemist named Sidney Gottlieb. According to sources, the CIA secretly experimented on human subjects with ‘biological and chemical substances to alter human behavior. Gottlieb believed that seizing control of people’s minds required the existing mind to be erased and then the new mind had to be inserted into that void (kind of like what happened to Bucky Barnes). So they started searching for ways to blast off the existing mind. CIA scientists discovered the presence of LSD as part of their hunt for chemicals that would allow them to manipulate the human mind, and it became an obsession for the early directors of MK-ULTRA. Gottlieb began spreading LSD across the country to research to find out what it was and how it works. Ironically, the CIA was the main reason why LSD was introduced to America. Eventually, Gottlieb decided that LSD was not useful and mind control was not possible
In the movie, General Dreykov uses ‘pheromones’ which stop Natasha from attacking him even if she wants to. But what exactly are pheromones and do humans even have them? A pheromone is a chemical produced by an animal that can induce changes in the behavior of other animals of the same species. They can be used for a wide range of functions like raising an alarm, signaling a food trail, recognizing their offspring, etc. The first pheromone to be identified was Bombykol secreted by female silk moths used to attract males.
As a result of various studies, it can be assumed that pheromones are an effective way of manipulating behavior within insect species as they tend to act in the same way every time. Experts say that the pheromone system of insects is much easier to understand than that of mammals, which do not have simple stereotyped insect behavior. It is unlikely that every human will behave in the same way on being exposed to a certain pheromone-like chemical. For example, most humans will salivate at the smell of freshly baked cookies, but this is an acquired response, not universal. In every case seen so far, pheromones can only influence our behavior, not control it.
Natasha could want to keep her distance from Dreykov because of a specific odor, but it wouldn’t stop her from punching him if she wanted to.