Comparitive Analysis of Power and Control in Equus and Gattaca
Equus and Gattaca correspond in their development of similar ideas surrounding the societal and behavioral connections between power and control, although Shaffer and Niccol differ in their approach to these concepts through filmic and theatrical techniques.
Both Gattaca and Equus explore the influence and control of divine higher powers through the utilization of sound motifs. In the play, the Equus noise becomes a prevalent auditory feature produced from the choric effect of humming, thumping and stamping while serving to indicate the presence of “Equus the God”. These aural devices emphasize the deity’s power with a foreboding and provocative effect, increasing in intensity when his influence over Alan escalates. Similarly, the Gattaca organisation in Niccol’s film demonstrates the divine powers granted to scientists, with a presence that looms over the characters like an ever-observing god. The constant background announcements over the Gattaca public address system, serves to remind the audience of this dictatorial authority, reinforcing the influence and involvement of the corporation in the actions of the robot-like employees.
Alternatively, Shaffer draws on allusions to Equine dominance to further enforce the concept of a transcendent power. This is particularly evident when Dora refers to horses in a religious context directly quoting the bible with “The glory of his nostrils is terrible!” as Alan mimics “He swallows the ground with fierceness and rage!” These references illustrate the horse as a powerful being, a notion that grows and metastasizes to form a god in Alan’s mind, as he seeks to harness this power. Shaffer also uses selective language to emphasize Equus as a symbol of pure force, as Alan’s descriptions focus on physical strength with words such as “big” and “huge” in association with his attention to powerful body parts like “hooves”, “flank” and “neck”. In contrast, Niccol utilizes angled shots to convey which characters posses the power in specific situations. This can be seen during the opening flashback scene; a high angle shot of Vincent as a young child on the floor depicts the character as weak and vulnerable, ironically due to his DNA reflected by the double helix model he is happily playing with, while the succeeding mid shot conveys the scientist as a dominant authority looking down on Vincent with the godlike ability to manipulate genetics.
Whilst the protagonists of both texts are faced with the dominance of these divine authorities, Shaffer and Niccol simultaneously utilize character development to examine the complex shifts in power with relation to gaining or losing it at the hands of another. In the dystopian world of Gattaca, having the perfect genetic identity ensures success; in this way Eugene symbolically transfers his own power to Vincent when detaching himself from his first name insisting that Vincent call him “Eugene” rather than “Jerome”. This signifies the moment when Vincent takes control of his destiny, claiming the power that Eugene offers, with the composition of the shot conveying this transfer as the differences in height emphasize how Vincent is instantly superior to “Eugene”. Conversely, Shaffer establishes a connection based on sexual dominance between Alan and Equus, which explores how power can be gained from the act of controlling. Riding a horse is portrayed as a sexualized experience as Alan mentions intricate details describing “the way their necks twist, and sweat shines in the folds”. This sexual association stems from the power Alan feels when riding Equus, as he receives gratification from the thrill of commanding his own god and bending the strength of the horse to his will, observing how he had “all that power going any way [he] wanted”.
Although both Alan and Vincent gain a sense of power from their relationships, Shaffer and Niccol additionally examine how this can lead to lack of control. In Gattaca, slow montages integrated with close up fade in shots focus on the meticulous effort needed to maintain the facade of a genetically superior, and therefore powerful, man. In terms of Mis-en-scene elements, Vincent adopts a completely new, clean and dull style, seen in monotone suits with slick combed hair. This demonstrates how Vincent becomes so disciplined to the Gattaca expectations, that while he is secretly defying societal rules, he is still under their influence and lacks power of choice in every day life. After sleeping with Irene, Vincent’s assumed power clashes with his disciplined submissiveness as he loses control of both his DNA and his professional life. Niccol forms a nostalgic connection between this moment of weakness and Vincent’s past through the melancholy theme song, sepia color hues and beach setting. Vincent is exposed both metaphorically and physically, positioning the audience to realize that he has more control over his own life when he lives as his “invalid self”. In this way, the director implies that while Vincent’s new identity gives him the power to pursue his dream, it only provides the illusion of control.
Similar to Gattaca, Alan also experiences the loss of control following a sexual encounter, committing the “crime” when provoked by Equus after kissing Jill in the stables. The stage movement plays an important role in the depiction of Alan’s weakness in this scene, as the horses trample around while he desperately leaps at them, jumping high and naked in the dark, slashing at their heads. The chaos created by these movements accentuated with lighting signifies the disorder of Alan’s own mind, as he completely loses control at the hands of Equus with, like Vincent on the beach, his physical and mental vulnerabilities exposed. The violence of the crime connects with Alan’s pursuit of power as recognized earlier in the play when he claims he “had to” master his god. This captures the reinforced idea of a “Godslave” as Alan is occasionally the master of Equus while constantly being subject to his higher power.
Ultimately, the intricate connections between the characters in Gattaca and Equus allow the authors to explore the influence of power and control, with the possession of these qualities continually shifting according to experiences and relationships.
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