Gattaca, a 1997 film starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman, tells a thrilling tale set in the “not too distant future” as the opening scene chillingly states. The narrative follows a young man named Vincent Freeman, who lives in a world where one’s genetic makeup determines their entire life.
Vincent’s parents conceived him naturally in a world where eugenics reigns as the norm and parents can use technology to construct their own babies, picking the traits before birth that they desire most from gender to eye and hair color because “we have enough imperfection already.” Without such bioengineering to his advantage, Vincent is born and nurses instantly check the specific statistics that will determine his entire life. The expectations are not very promising: he has extremely high chances of attention deficit disorder, near-sightedness, and most importantly heart failure that forecasts his expected life span to be a startlingly young age of 32. Vincent grows up with messy hair and goofy glasses next to his brother Anton, who was genetically engineered and perfect, unlike him.
Genetic engineering and precise statistics of life expectancy are central to the Gattaca world because they determine one’s education, social class, and career. Those who are not reproductively structured for perfection like Vincent are “invalids” and cannot have high-ranking positions due to a short life expectancy and the problems caused by disease. As Vincent puts it:
My real résumé was in my cells… Of course, it’s illegal to discriminate, ‘genoism’ it’s called. But no one takes the law seriously. If you refuse to disclose, they can always take a sample from a door handle or a handshake, even the saliva on your application form… an illegal peek at your future in the company.
Unfortunately, Vincent is a bright boy and his dream is to go to space—he leaves home and gets a cleaning job at the space station Gattaca in order to be as close as possible to the flights. He realizes that he can no longer merely stand just watching the spaceships take off one by one without being a passenger, so he decides to resort to illegal measures. Vincent illicitly seeks out a man on the DNA black market to help him take on the identity of a young man named Jerome Morrow, a valid with perfect genetic makeup who was paralyzed from the waist down in an unrecorded accident out of the country. Jerome’s future is down the drain as a result of this accident, and he therefore shares a room with Vincent in which he donates the dreamy invalid his urine, blood, and even skin samples in return for money.
After he fixes up his appearance to look more like Jerome, Vincent finally applies to be on the team for a space mission. He instantly gets a position with an interview consisting of only a blood sample rather than any questions on ability. When he meets coworker Irene, we find that even the relationship between the sexes is genetically based: Irene presents him with a strand of hair to be genetically evaluated to see whether she would be a worthy partner.
Every morning Vincent must scrub himself raw in a shower to get rid of the loose skin that may fall off and reveal his identity in this extremely controlled world, and apply a skin sample filled with blood to his fingertip to be pricked as his entrance into work. Controversy ensues upon the murder of the space mission director near which Vincent’s eyelash is found, and Vincent must fight for his dreams, lying to authorities and living as a “borrowed ladder.”
In this world, the class system of elites versus lower workers on the bottom reminds me of The Time Machine’s divided workers, strictly separated based on how they were born rather than their skill level. There were certainly also historical parallels to be made in this movie. One such comparison is that between DNA discrimination in Gattaca and racial discrimination in the real world, especially when it comes to advancement and job opportunities. Vincent says “I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.” The eugenics of the world of Gattaca, or the control over birthing a “perfect” population was also eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Eugenics is a prominent feature in Gattaca, and it is no coincidence that the real Jerome requests to be called “Eugene” when he gives over his identity to Vincent. The parallels run into the eugenics class system of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This genetically engineered form of mass reproduction reminiscent of cloning is called Bokanovsky’s Process, and is used to mass produce the Gammas, Epsilon and Deltas who perform working class servant jobs. This idea even has strands that go as far back as the metals myth employed by Plato in The Republic: the “noble lie” told to citizens that everybody is born equally, some just have gold in their veins while others have iron and therefore perform skill-based roles rather than leadership. Everybody must therefore be content in their class and career because it is embedded in one’s very being, quickly shutting down many incentives for revolt or effort to change the way things are.
The coldness of the movie’s colorless setting also reminded me of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We.” Every surface area is engineered to be as flawless as the DNA of its elite, clean and sterile. It seems as if this world is a dystopia for the invalids, and a utopia for the valids. However, with a little rebellion and enough determination, Vincent makes it into space and concludes:
For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.
Cool fun facts about the movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/trivia
The most interesting fact I found from this is that the name Gattaca came from an arrangement of the four beginning letters of the nitrogen bases of DNA (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine).
Essay Topic: How does Andrew Niccol use narrative structure, character development, setting and film techniques to elucidate the key themes and values in Gattaca.
The science fiction film, Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol is about in a ‘not-too-distant future’ world where the protagonist Vincent Freeman: a born in-valid. But later adopts the identity of a valid, enabling him to pursue his dreams, traveling into space. Throughout the film, as the event progresses many of the theme and director’s values were revealed. With effective use of narrative structure, a character development, setting and film techniques, it enabled Niccol to elucidate the dangers of genetic and scientific experimentation, systematic discrimination and authoritarian conformity VS individuality.
The dangers of genetic and scientific experimentation was one of the key theme and values that the director: Andrew Niccol was trying to persuade us. At the beginning of the film there are many extreme close-up shots of Vincent’s skin flakes and hair. Generally in film, extreme close-up shots are only used when an object has great importance and contribution to the film, but it can also trigger thinking in the audiences’ mind, allowing the audiences to make connecting between scenes. Playing parallel in the same scene were sound effects of the flakes and hair hitting something and the sound effect was also made more dramatic. Later on in the film, the audiences understand why Vincent is rubbing of the skin flakes and hair, because these evidences can betray his in-valid identity, as he has taken on the Jerome Morrow’s valid identity. Both these film techniques allowed Niccol to effectively communicate and elucidate the theme: the dangers of genetic and scientific experimentation. As the film continues to progress, the scene of the spiral staircase in Jerome’s house was shot at a low angle, capturing the whole staircase. In this scene the spiral staircase symbolized the double helix structure of the human DNA. By combining all three of these film techniques: camera angles, extreme close-up shot and sound effects Andrew Niccol was able to effective depict one of the key themes.
Systematic discrimination was a reoccurring theme in the film. The development of the Vincent character evidently and clearly support this the theme of systematic discrimination in the ‘not-too-distant future’ world. The first sign of systematic discrimination was at the beginning of the film, when Vincent Freeman was born. In this scene there was a close-up shot of baby Vincent. We see that there is nothing wrong with him on the out side. He has “ten fingers, ten toes”, but this was the case in the ‘not-too-distant future’ world. Continuing from the previous scene it shows the nurse that a blood sample of Vincent and immediately there is announcement of him being an in-valid: the lower and considered worthless class of the society. Then the protagonist’ father: Antonio Freeman says “Anton”… “No…Vincent Anton”. This quote then makes a lot of sense later in the film, as the film progresses we realized why. For example in the one of the key setting in the film: the beach the second time the protagonist: Vincent and his valid brother: Anton races against each other Chicken, where one tries to swimming as far away from shore as possible. There are many different cameras angle shots taken to reveal the swimming competition. High angle shot clearly shows the distance and how Anton was struggling, some low angle shots are also taken to show the struggling. Close up of Anton’s facial expression and sound effects of Anton’s heavy breathing and water splashing are also used. Through these scenes, both these types of camera shots aided the director: Andrew Niccol to elucidate the theme of Systematic discrimination.
Authoritarian conformity VS individuality was another key theme discussed by Andrew Niccol. Gattaca was a place where this was most obvious. When entering Gattaca we see many workers dressed uniformly, completely the same: suits or dresses. There are never close-up shots of the worker, promoting the idea of they are all the same and have no differences between: no individuality. The palette in Gattaca was chosen with extreme carefulness. The colors chosen are grey, cold blue and murky dark colors. The uses of these colors emphasize the lack of warmth at Gattaca and the fact that it has no sense of humanity and individuality. Long, crane shots are also used for filming the workers in the control center shows that the workers had their own workstations; there was no interaction and connection between them and their robotic and uniformed way of entering the facility. All the film technique collaborated and elucidates the key theme authoritarian conformity VS individuality in the future where every one in the future is expected to conform to the rules and everyone is the same.
The director: Andrew Niccol used narrative structure, character development, setting and film techniques to effectively elucidate the key themes and values in science fiction film Gattaca the dangers of genetic and scientific experimentation, systematic discrimination and authoritarian conformity VS individuality.