What warnings about the future does Niccol intend his audience to gain after viewing his movie?
Genetic determinism provides the foundation for Andrew Niccol’s science fiction film Gattaca. The film serves as a cautionary tale for modern society, by raising questions about genetic determinism, and the issues it could cause for us in the not-too-distant future. Niccol alerts the viewer to the concepts displayed in the film, including the burden of perfection, discrimination and the strength of the human spirit are raised, and allows the viewer to contemplate their own desires for a perfect future society.
While the ‘invalids’ of society suffer from discrimination, the ‘valids’ are forced to endure their own, unique hardship; the burden of perfection, which proves to detrimentally impact the elite. One of the most obvious victims of this burden was the wheelchair-bound demigod Jerome Morrow. With superb genetic gifts, such as “a heart of an ox” and “IQ off the register”, Jerome is genetically determined for glory. However, he sunk into a life of self-loathing abuse, finding solace in alcohol after placing second in a swimming race. When the viewer first meets Jerome, he is displayed as attractive man, miserably confined to a wheelchair. He appears from behind a pillar, as if he was concealing himself from the shame of his failure. In an outburst of honesty, Jerome tells Vincent, “[I] was never meant to be one step down on the podium”. This indicates to the viewer that Jerome’s belief in his own genetic perfection was shattered after the loss, and he is unable to cope with the failure he endured. This same coping difficulty is shared and suffered by Vincent’s valid brother, Anton Freeman. He displays excessive cockiness and braggadocio before the second swimming scene with Vincent, by saying “You’re sure you want to do this? You know you’re going to lose.” This highlights Anton’s belief in his own genetic strength, and that he is capable of achieving his goals without effort or perseverance. After being defeated by Vincent in the game of ‘chicken’, Anton is left confounded by his failure, struggling to comprehend how his invalid brother, with the genetic odds stacked so severely against him, was able to achieve the impossible. When the two are reunited during Anton’s investigation into the murder of the Mission Director, Vincent references his defeat of Anton, causing Anton to defend himself, saying, “You didn’t beat me that day. I beat myself.” This displays once again that Anton cannot comprehend Vincent’s success, whether in the water or in the offices of Gattaca; he does not understand the strength of Vincent’s human spirit, and what it enables him to accomplish. He only sees one side of the battle; his own. He views himself as perfection incarnate, so his loss can only be explained by a lack of effort on his own part. The lives of Jerome and Anton serve to exhibit the adverse consequences caused the burden of perfection, and the fact that even the elite in a genetically-focused society will be ‘imperfect’.
The society in Gattaca ignore biblical morality by “straightening what God hath made crooked”, genetically determining the life and future of a child while they are still in utero, thus putting the fate of their child in the hands of science, rather than God. This practice almost immediately creates an upper and lower class, due to the fact that ‘valids’ are undoubtedly the superior candidates for every role in society, leaving the ‘invalids’ to partake in undesirable occupations. After running away from home to chase his dream of reaching the stars, Vincent falls victim to his genes when he is forced to become a cleaner, one of the only vocations he is capable of attaining. While cleaning the windows of Gattaca Aerospace Corporation’s offices, Vincent is told by the head janitor Caesar, “Don’t clean the glass too well…you might get ideas”. When Vincent retorts, saying “[but] if it’s clean, it’ll be easier to see me on the other side”, Caesar laughs in his face, seemingly taking Vincent’s remark as being in jest. Caesar’s reaction suggests that society as a whole has become accepting of the fact that ‘invalids’ will never be capable of reaching high-level roles in society. Traits such as perseverance and human spirit have long since been forgotten; genes have become the quintessential measuring stick for a human’s potential. A second instance of discrimination occurs once again in the offices of the Gattaca Corporation’s offices. After adopting the identity of Jerome Morrow, Vincent applies for a position at Gattaca. Following a urine sample test, Vincent is congratulated by Dr. Lamar on his new job. Vincent is shocked, and asks, “What about the interview?”, to which Lamar responds, “That was it.” This hiring practice blatantly transgresses the Genoism Law, as a candidate cannot be hired or rejected based on their genetics. The fact that the Gattaca Corporation are willing to break the law suggests a blind faith in the success of a person if they contain the correct genetic code. Unquantifiable traits, such as the human spirit and perseverance, are completely disregarded, but as Vincent states, “For the genetically superior, success is easier to attain, but it’s by no means guaranteed. After all there is no gene for fate.” These instances of discrimination display that the society of Gattaca have come to trust the science of genetic determinism, rather than rely on the strength of ‘God’s work’.
While genetic determinism heavily favours those of a superior genetic profile, success is still attainable for those with inferior genetic structure. The perfect example of human spirit defying insurmountable odds comes in the form of Vincent Freeman. A ‘faith birth’, Vincent is placed in an undesirable social position from birth, and his dream immediately becomes to escape his destiny on Earth and reach the stars. The only way to achieve his dream is to become a ‘borrowed ladder’ or a ‘de-gene-rate’. It was in this process that Vincent displayed his human spirit. In order to feign the identity of 6’1″ Jerome Morrow, 5’11” Vincent was forced to endure an extremely painful limb-lengthening surgery in his legs, but due to incredible courage, Vincent was able to withstand it, as he knew that the operation was necessary in order to achieve his dream. He was able to put mind over matter, ignore the pain and focus on his goal. His cruciform position on the floor of Jerome’s apartment symbolises how Vincent is abandoning his identity to achieve his dream, in the same vein as Jesus, when he sacrificed his life for the sins of humanity. Another clear example of Vincent’s human spirit occurs in the third and final game of ‘chicken’ played between Anton and Vincent. When Anton suggests that the two of them swim back to the safety of the shore, Vincent finally reveals to Anton how he was capable of defeating Anton in the symbolic game of ‘chicken’, which truly symbolizes Vincent’s struggle against the genetic discrimination he faces; “This is how I did it Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.” This mantra encapsulates Vincent’s character; he put all of his efforts into assuring his passage to space, without any thought of what would happen when he returned. He never questioned his own physical abilities, and put all of his faith into his mental strength and perseverance to achieve his goal.
Andrew Niccol’s cautionary science fiction film Gattaca focuses on the dangers of genetic determinism, and the potential it has to wreak havoc on modern society. This consequences include the suffering of the burden of perfection, discrimination and the increased prevalence and requirement of the human spirit for success.
Auteur Theory of Andrew Niccol: Analyzing Gattaca and In Time
Andrew Niccol is a New Zealand born director who has found his fame through his grim movies that highlight a great many flaws of human society. ‘NZOnScreen’ states that his movies famously “…take contemporary modern-living concerns and stretch them to an inventive extreme…”. His work is commonly described to resemble that of a Trojan horse in which it ‘smuggles’ certain ideas that prove to be a challenge to accept by society in the form of entertainment and thrill. Niccol was born in Paraparaumu before moving to England when he was 21 for 10 years. He spent his time there writing and directing a number of television commercials. He earned his fame through his out of the box writing of a script that later turned into the movie known as ‘Gattaca’. From there he went on to write movies that similarly critique human nature in society such as ‘The Truman Show’ and ‘In Time’. Andrew Niccol likes to leave a personal stamp on his movies not only through his ideas, but also the techniques and cinematography in his movies. It is his signature style that captures the attention and fascination in many, aiding him in allowing his movies to act as Trojan horses for his ideas – particularly in his movies “In Time” and “Gattaca”.
Niccol is known for carefully choosing what vehicles are presented in his films. Ethan Hawke’s character in Gattaca drives an impressive turbine-powered Citroen DS Cabriolet whereas the character of Justin Timberlake boasts a Jaguar E-Type as he runs from butch Dodge Challengers in In Time. This can be commonly interpreted as a means of expressing a distaste towards the likeliness of modern technology and the way it is used and abused. This is because his movies such as In Time and Gattaca revolve around the idea of modern technology dominating human development rather than supporting it. This idea is particularly clear in Gattaca where the ability to view and alter genes has been intensified to the point where it becomes a defining aspect in the success of an individual in society. Vincent was denied the opportunity to fly into space because his genetic makeup was inferior. In the rise of IVF where parents are actually able to choose between the embryos which one has the most desirable genes. However, it is not the technology itself that is bad but rather the way it is manipulated to extreme points of discrimination and a lack of freedom. Niccol says in an interview that “no technology is all good or all bad…” as most people would incorrectly assume when watching his movies, he says that “it’s how it is used and abused…”.
A popular ethical dilemma is whether parents should be allowed to medically alter the sex of the baby when conceiving a child and Niccol explores the implications of having the power and the technology to choose certain genes of one’s child. Some may argue that it is wildly unethical whereas others may infer that it is only natural to want the best opportunities for your child. These people challenge you to question whether it is unethical to deny your children the best opportunities if you know you initially have the power to give it to them. In relation to this movie, you could ask whether it was unethical from the parents who decided to refuse any genetic alterations of Vincent before he was born, rather than setting him up for unlimited success. What makes it worse for Vincent is the way his brother was genetically modified and was granted all the opportunities for success. The reason Vincent chooses to cast more lo-fi into his work is because the fact that these cars lack the ability to do things without human intervention (e.g. self driving, beeping when no seatbelt is used etc.) means that it is more susceptible to human error. This revolves around the idea that it is us who are held accountable for the abuse of technology rather than the technology itself. He does this in critique to society nowadays. In his movie In Time, he emphasises on the inequitable distribution of wealth and power and the idea that ‘time is literally money’ reflects his purpose of illustrating the idea that the wealth of an individual has become far too crucial in the survival of each and every person in the contemporary world today. His use of vehicular casting in In Time is used to further emphasis this idea. The way a small E-Type is “terrorised by brutish Dodge Challengers” represents the idea of how the more simplistic lifestyle (likely as a result of being less wealthy) is almost punished by the wealthier individuals. This is further shown when Sylvia’s father, who controls the global time market, slowly increases the living wage which makes it harder and harder for the poorer to survive. Bus fares double and coffee prices increase which finally causes Will’s mother’s dramatic death in his arms. Niccol is highly knowledgeable in the way economics works worldwide and truly believes that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer which is why in In Time, the extreme wealth of those in New Greenwich is soaked in the blood of the poor. The way vehicular casting is also famously used in Gattaca also represents the way the way that technology in today’s world is advancing so exponentially that is it almost too easy to be abused. As said before, Vincent was denied the chance to be who he wanted because his identity, his genetic makeup wasn’t up to scratch. He says in the movie that “the best test score wasn’t going to matter unless I had the blood test to go with it.” showing how his self-worth was determined by his genes despite the fact that “there is no gene for the human spirit” because Vincent was the most passionate and hard-working character in the movie. Niccol blames the way the rapid advancement of technology has been abused in an attempt to remove the flaws in all aspects of human life which arguably removes the beauty of humanity itself. The ‘flawed’ (lacking in modern technology) Cabriolet symbolises Vincent’s fight for his individuality and his success despite being unworthy of it his whole life.
Nevertheless, it can be argued that Niccol’s ideas are undoubtedly taken to the extreme and it is his own enormous paranoia of technology that fuels his ideas in his movies rather than facts and objective evidence. It could be that he has taken his paranoia to the furthest end of the spectrum. However, it is undeniable that aspects of society represented in Niccol’s signature style in these movies resemble the attitudes of today. Gender discrimination is a clear one. The gender gap screams the idea that society already thinks that one group is unworthy of greater success simply because of genetic material and whether that person has a Y chromosome or not. If this progresses any further, Niccol’s extreme ideas could be a reality to an even further extent. However, his ideas presented in Gattaca are extremely vivid. One could ask whether he is against the altering of genetic material as a result of the rapid advances of technology. Because it would be extremely unfair to claim that such technology aren’t all bad. The way this technology can be used for removing cancer cells, removing the annoying pips in mandarin segments and everything in between. I believe that in a way, the paranoia that Niccol presents in his movies can be immature because it appears that he almost refuses to view the great potential of technology and the way it can be used for the greater good of humankind, he is dead set on the belief that humanity are only capable of abusing technology rather than harnessing it for improving the development of humanity. It is sometimes frustrating to see that through his movies, he always seems to believe that the rapid growth of technology can only be abused to damage the integrity of human goodness. Nevertheless, it is also Niccol’s concern for the attitudes of society towards different socio-economic groups as well as other groups (races, gender etc.) that is represented in his movies rather than his paranoia of the potential of technology to be widely abused.
In Time and Gattaca are both purposely set in the “not-too-distant future” by Niccol. However, Niccol enforces the idea that these ‘futuristic’ stories are in fact “more as a parallel present” as said by Niccol himself. Parallel presents are described essentially as different universes or worlds set in the same time where human development and the growth of technology are at approximately the same level. Niccol uses these because he believes that the way he uses his movies as Trojan horses can sometimes cause the audience to tell themselves that ‘This is the future and it therefore has nothing to do with me.’ but the fact that these movies are in fact a parallel present shows that these ideas have so much to do with the audience’s contribution to society today. However, it can also be argued that since it’s a parallel present, then it means that society could have been a lot worse and therefore we should be grateful that we don’t live in the world of In Time or Gattaca, even if the world we live in is extremely flawed. Niccol explains in an an interview that it is the unconventional stories that he enjoys creating and it is the idea of being in a parallel present that proves to be a great setting for such plots. In an alternate universe where anything is possible, Niccol uses it as a medium to present his new and unorthodox ideas that raise interesting points of discussion about the path that human progression is potentially taking. Upon understanding that his stories are parallel presents rather than stories set in the future, it induces a sense of panic knowing that from here on, anything is possible. If it can happen in Niccol’s universes at the same time, what is stopping it from happening in our own?
Despite Niccol’s pessimistic views on society that his movies present, his movies are there for the purpose of entertainment nonetheless. Parallel presents are used to entertain the audience by giving them a sense of what the world could be. Where it may be daunting to some, the idea that there endless parallel possibilities and realities of this present time can appear a curiosity to many others, making his movies extremely appealing and interesting to watch. Niccol’s signature style of presenting a parallel present shows how humanity, when in a similar time to our own, can react and behave differently depending on the conditions and the environment that they find themselves in. It’s intriguing to see the way the attitudes, values and morals of humanity adapt when faced with different factors pressuring survival. For example, in Gattaca, the value of the human genome and its contents are more valuable than material goods because if you have the favoured genes, you are considered to be extremely privileged and everything is almost spoon fed to you. We can see this clearly in Gattaca as Vincent is living in a small house before lying about his genes which then leads to him living in an extremely modern house with an aesthetically pleasing interior. Similarly, in In Time, the value of time and money come hand in hand because they essentially mean the same thing.
However, what theme underlines these parallel presents is the idea of success. These movies of Niccol’s all revolve around success as a means for thriving and succeeding in living a good life. Where success is defined by one’s genes in Gattaca, economic success is paramount in the survival of each individual of In Time’s setting. Niccol presents success in such different ways in these parallel presents in order to convey the idea that the one ultimate desire of humanity is success. It raises the question as to whether humanity at its very core are nothing but greed, many believe nowadays that we are obsessed with making the most money and seeking the best way for economic success rather than happiness. If we think about our own world, success has many different interpretations and that is perhaps another idea that Niccol is attempting to present through this signature style.
Use of Filters
A well known signature style of Andrew Niccol used in Gattaca is the use of filters throughout the film. Niccol utilises the colours yellow, blue and green to symbolise three different aspects of Vincent’s life as a socially shunned genetic inferior. Yellow filters dominates the first section of the film to demonstrate Vincent’s past of falling under the shadow of his genetically modified little brother. In Niccol’s showings of Vincent’s early life, yellow filters are used when Vincent notices his brother is rapidly growing taller than him, it is also used when the brothers challenge each other to a swimming race in which Vincent quickly loses breath and floats helplessly. From this, it can also be seen that the use of yellow filter represents the great disadvantages of living as an ‘inferior’. The way it is also used when Vincent is initially denied a position at the space station illustrates how yellow also is used to represent Vincent’s social shunning and his limitations to the man striving to achieve is dream. It is sadly ironic to me as many people identify the colour yellow as a symbol of happiness, hope and clarity. It is odd that Niccol’s use of the colour yellow contradicts the nature of the scenes as Vincent’s very hopes and dreams are shattered by a supposed impurity that he had no power over. However, the colour yellow can also be interpreted as a symbol of truth and honesty which is apparent as yellow filters are used when Vincent opens up to Irene as being not who he truly is. He reveals his true self in an effort to express his devout faith and honesty towards her, showing that he too is not a perfect human being but instead a human with one’s own unique flaws and limitations. Interestingly, the use of yellow filters progressively disappears as the movie progresses, demonstrating how Vincent is no longer himself but is now Jerome, a genetic marvel who with his new genome has the potential to become anything. However, it could also be argued that the loss of yellow represents his loss of his true identity, he is no longer himself, he doesn’t even appear to act as his true self when at his workplace. It can show how he has now completely denied his past and that it is no longer a part of himself, the only thing that matters to him now is the completion of his destiny.
In contrast, blue filters are used whenever Vincent’s fake identity is compromised as Jerome. Heavy blue filters are used when Vincent removes the skin cells and the loose hairs that could potentially reveal him as a fraud. Similarly, blue lights are embedded in the walls when Vincent uses fake urine in his test. Just as yellow contrasts with blue, Niccol uses this to emphasise the difference between the genetic makeup of Vincent and Jerome and the mass difference in opportunities that result. Vincent finds himself in constant fear of being exposed as an imposter, and this use of filter in his moments of hiding his deepest secret to society is blue, the supposed colour of trust and stability. Similar to his use of yellow filter, the colour contradicts the nature of the situation. Vincent in fact lives in a consistently unstable lifestyle, contrary to what the colour blue represents. He is always at work to maintain his identity as Jerome by using his blood and urine samples, one mistake would result in the imploding of his entire life. In the eyes of the law in this society, Vincent is a fraud and the antithesis of trust. This trend in such irony in these filters suggests that Niccol is showing how Vincent is internally conflicted with the way his actions are widely unethical and how they contradict some basic principles of being a decent human being (honesty, selflessness, happiness, acceptance etc.). He is throwing away his morals and values of being a trusted and honest human being in order to achieve his dream. While some suggest this may be selfish, it could be conversely argued that he is doing the right thing in an effort to repel the oppressive society that he is living in.
As yellow and blue are the juxtaposing aspects of Vincent’s identity. Green represents the blending and the transition between the two identities, just as how yellow and blue come together to create green. When Vincent first meets Eugene as his opportunity to utilize his favored genes, the majority of the scene has the green filter used by Niccol as it illustrates Eugene as the bridge for Vincent to become Jerome (yellow to blue) and achieve his dream. It justifies why Niccol often bathes Eugene in a green light. Not only does the use of the green filter highlight the transition of Vincent to Jerome but also denotes the periods where Vincent faces immense danger of being exposed as an imposter. The heart rate monitor is green when Vincent has to keep a steady heart beat as he runs at a superhuman pace. A green wall also backdrops Vincent punching a detective when he faced the risk of being found out by his brother. It is at these moments where his desired transition reverses in his desperate attempts to run from his invalid past. These are moments of great desperation for Vincent, and the green filtered moments of the film allow us to further understand the great extremes he has gone through to preserve his fake identity in order to reach his destiny.
Although not as prominent, there are some use of filters in Niccol’s movie In Time as well. The atmosphere interchanges between yellow and blue. The contrasting colours similarly compare the mass differences in wealth and therefore opportunity that people in each ‘sector’ have in society. Yellow can often be associated with the color gold which can represent immense glamour and wealth which is often found in the scenes where Will finds himself in casinos and gatherings of the wealthy. If happiness is commonly associated with the colour yellow, then it perhaps points to the possibility that Niccol is trying to convey the idea that society often gauge their happiness by their own level of wealth. This can be further justified, as the home that Will finds himself in: a polluted and industrialised area full of factory workers has a slight tint of blue. The blue induces feelings of depression and negativity. This coupled with the sorry sights of underpaid workers and run down buildings further suggests that Niccol pairs melancholy feelings with low levels of wealth, just as he pairs feelings of great happiness to high levels of wealth. Especially how money literally corresponds to how you leave, it shows how defining money is in people’s lives, not only in the movie but in ours as well.
It is clear to see that Niccol has a signature style of utilizing color to illustrate the internal thoughts of characters as he lives in a society of oppression. These techniques are originally used by directors in movies to highlight moods to the audience and allow them to further understand what is going through the mind of the characters, often for empathetic purposes. However, Niccol’s use of filters further emphasizes how Vincent and Will view the society they lives in. The yellow, blue and green represent different attitudes towards their own life in the eyes of society and the way society views other aspects of life (e.g money, genes). I believe that this reflects a purpose of Niccol which is to convey the idea that oppressive environments have a powerful ability to alter the identity and the very soul of the oppressive. Vincent no doubt became cold, fanatic, and a man who rarely considered anyone but himself in the world that so readily denied him. And Will also was found to possess an over-zealous nature as a result of society failing to keep his friends and family alive.
Niccol possesses a robust opinion towards the path that society are treading on. It is clear that he believes that the technology that humanity should be so grateful to experience in this current age are instead using it for purposes of discrimination and further limiting the opportunities for the groups who already face certain ostracism. He also explores the way those who are limited in opportunity respond to oppressive societies and how they fight to maintain their own dignity and their equal rights to certain opportunities. This is apparent in Gattaca where Vincent denies his own genome and seeks to complete his destiny through other ways where in In Time, Timberlake’s character uses time that wasn’t his in order to ‘take revenge’ on the companies who keep the poor in their state of poverty. Niccol conveys this because there are often certain socio-economic groups who find themselves in a constant loop of poverty and holes in their basic needs. This is very common in New Zealand where particular demographics are forced to be in a constant state of poverty due to certain limitations to success, just as it appeared in In Time. However, it can be argued that it is unfair to assume that the abuse of technology is the overriding factor in the downfall of society because not everyone treats technology the same, just as Niccol presents through his movies. His claims would mean that each and every individual in society think exactly the same where in fact every person is complex and unique.
In relation to matters of wealth among various socio-economic groups, Niccol claims that “There’s this vast inequality and no middle class anymore”. His opinion is that the gap between the poor and the rich in society today are exponentially growing, certain conditions of society are better suited to that of the initially rich people which eliminates the chance for the poor to improve their quality of life. His movies Gattaca and In Time both have significant gaps between the successful and the unsuccessful, where those with little time and those who are genetically inferior are left in the dust while the richer and more genetically advanced individuals continue to thrive and prosper. It is a sad thought to realize that this is Niccol’s spin off from his views on society today. On the other hand however, you could view this with the absence of emotional input and view this simply as a means of selective pressures and natural selection. We see it in the wilderness where populations that are not suited to the environment fail to survive and prosper slowly die out, which ultimately leads to evolution of the species, which is in fact a good thing. In a sense, this is happening today so it could be argued from a solely biological point of view that this is in a way, a good thing. However, it is Niccol’s argument that society should not be this way. He believes that the environment in which we live in should provide equal opportunities for each and every person, and those who are poor should have the opportunity to fight for a better life. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see this in society today, and his movies are reflections of his visions of society.