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.
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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 […]