“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.
There are few dystopian films with a future as hauntingly close as GATTACA. The film even displays “In the not-too-distant future” in the first minute or so of the film. This relatively overlooked 1997 original science fiction film by Andrew Niccol tells the story of Vincent Freeman, an un-genetically altered human living at some point in the future. In this world, genetic engineering has progressed to the point where genes cannot only be altered, but they can be selected for at birth and analyzed to such an extent that probabilities can be generated for causes of death at birth (accident’s excluded). Vincent, a natural born child, is commonly overshadowed by his genetically enhanced brother, selectively engineered to be taller, smarter, healthier, better.
One of GATTACA’s underlying messages is the relationship between ethics and science. Asimov once said “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” With genetics progressing at an ever increasing rate today, GATTACA only becomes closer to a reality. In the film, although illegal, many businesses and even the average people practice genoism, discrimination based on genes. Why hire a person who might have high health care costs or a heart defect; even more so, why hire a natural birth when you can hire someone who was predestined from birth to be a world champion swimmer? or a piano virtuoso with twelve fingers? People regularly have spouses checked to determine if they are “valid” or “invalid.” Personally, I don’t believe that GATTACA is saying we need to abandon genetics. It is simply saying that we should err on the side of caution and not be too hasty with this venture into the unknown.
GATTACA also speaks strongly about the power of the human spirit. Despite his societal place as little more than a pariah, hardly fit to do anything more than janitorial duties, Vincent perseveres to the extreme to attain his goal. With the help of Jerome, a crippled valid, Vincent manages to land a job at Gattaca, a space exploration company. There is a whole murder plot that threatens to reveal his true identity, but that really isn’t the main focus. Vincent is so determined to get into space that he has bone grafted onto his legs, walks through traffic on a highway while nearly blind, fakes blood and urine tests, and nearly goes into ventricular fibrillation while running with his genetically damaged heart. Vincent is a man determined to capture his dreams of space travel, despite the confines that society places upon him. What’s even more admirable is how two members of that society, the Doctor and Jerome, assist him in his pursuit. The Doctor, reveals nothing of his knowledge of Vincent’s invalidity throughout the film, only commenting at the very end. Jerome essentially gives Vincent his body, a gift that Jerome later comments was really not that much, considering Vincent gave Jerome his dreams. The film ends with the triumph of Vincent over all the naysayers, demonstrating something that Vincent himself knew all along:
“There is no gene for fate.”