Gattaca – extra response

Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol, follows the dream of “God child” Vincent Freeman as he tries to live a meaningful life in a world where genes determine one’s class. The storyline is set in the “not so distant future,” but does not appear to occur in as futuristic a setting as one might think. As I watched this movie, I saw shadows of the conversations we have had in class; and I was able to notice the unique, intertwining conversation of nature, art, and technology within the narrative.

At his birth, the parents of Vincent Freeman are speedily informed of his likelihood of depression, heart condition, and age of death. The technology available in their world has left them no doubt as to what each individual’s cababilities are. The narrative voice of Freeman introduces his own conception as being done “the old fashioned way,” aka: taking a random chance at the outlook of gene selection in a baby. For you see, most of the babies in Vincent’s world had begun to be created artificially. That is, a scientist/doctor creates a fetus from mother/father supplies and preselects for all the “right” genes – in addition to any requested ones from the parents. By the time Vincent’s parents have a second child, they choose this latter route; and although they are extremely hesitant to allow for more genetic preselection than disease prevention, their doctor convinces them to allow their new child to represent nothing but the “best” of their genes.

The story then evolves with the Vincent’s childhood alongside “little” brother Anton, being older but always second best. His narrative enters into a discussion of the discrimination that has been perfected down to science due to the inherent superiority of those born via the genetic pre-selection method. I found it interesting that the Freemans’ doctor, when selecting genes for Anton, who is African American, takes notice of the request for Anton to be “fair skinned.” I just found this slightly ironic because this scene seems to exist as a commentary on “old age” vs. “new age” discrimination. Ability and place in society had now been determined by the chance of success, otherwise known as genetic predisposition. And instead of trying to create a tangent into civil rights issues, I argue that discrimination has everything to do with art and nature and technology.  The human obsession with perfection places demands on every other piece of this society: further technology needing to be developed to continue perfection, “natural” coming to mean disease-free and disability-free. Why would an insurance plan cover someone if they knew there was a far greater chance of that person getting ill or developing a genetic disease? These questions have everything to do with humankind’s relation to creations of their “naturally” technological world. These questions drive societal motivation under the auspices of innocence. Vincent’s world seem to have everything figured out.

However, Vincent proves his entire society wrong in his impersonation of Jerome Eugene Morrow. Jerome, a former (predisposed) athlete turned paraplegic, allows Vincent to be morphed into his identity in order to fit into the “normal” part of society. After being taught how to fake the necessary urine and blood tests necessary to prove one’s right to existence in the upper echelons of society, not to mention a total alteration of his “God-given” body, Vincent assumes the role of Jerome as an employee of Gattaca, a aerospace corporation and works toward his lifelong goal of traveling into space. Along the way, he meets a police investigation, which almost succeeds in making his “invalid” identity known to the entire company of Gattaca. Vincent falls in love with another woman in his company and must continually destroy all evidence of Vincent “sheddings”/DNA/loose skin and hair in his attempt to be Jerome: the man with the “right” genes – the man whose identity will get him into space.

Concerning art, this film successfully displays the attempt at “perfecting” humankind. In a way, we could call this art. The background subject of Gattica – genetics – actually make me think of Mitch’s presentation today: the discussion of the Japanese wanting to perfect nature because humans see it to be their role in nature to create “art” from it – to make nature beautiful. Well, in Gattaca, human babies are created with the greatest likelihood for perfection – the greatest likelihood for aesthetic pleasantness and physical performance. At the same time, this unique art would not be possible were it not for the power of technology. The doctors and geneticists in the movie are definitely “creators” in the same sense an artist can be deemed one, and they work with technology in order to form their natural perception of the world. In the first sense, they manipulate genes in order to serve society’s (and their clients’) wishes on the type of baby wished to be created. Secondly, they create the basis for acceptance of the “correct” human identity by making genetic predisposition so widespread that the humans who were not created in this way – “God children” – are significantly disadvantaged to their more intelligent, healthy, successful, “perfect” peers. And finally, they shape a discourse by which a society relates to the world : a society based on DNA testing at every entrance to a building/room (at least in Gattaca), and a perfected way of doing things that frowns upon abnormalities and uniqueness that are aberrant to the accepted form of perfection.

Furthermore, those humans not created the “right” way (in the lab) are considered “invalid,” and those created correctly (or in the accepted form) are “valid.” This definitional divide demonstrates the discrepancy that exists in the understanding of what is “natural.” Based on the way the terms are used in the movie, it seems that the invalids are definitely weeded out of every position or social role considered prestigious or successful, suggesting that only the “valids” are the “natural” members of humankind. However, today we would most likely consider “natural” humans to be more along the lines of the “God children,” as invalids are described in the storyline. With the advancement of technology and the media’s suggestions of genetic predisposition in animals and human babies, this movie is a hot-topic for debate and political commentary.

The movie has an extremely foreboding tone to it when everything is said and done – similar to the message from Frankenstein in Jessica’s presentation.  Hubris is a dangerous thing when it is created at the intersection of humankind and technology. Interestingly, the dangers of technology never seem to exist absent the allure of artistic “perfection” or artistic appeal, and a more “healthy” version of what should be considered “natural.”

Questions for consideration:

1. Many of the words I used in this commentary are italicized…what significance exists in the double meaning of words like “natural” and “right” and “perfection” within the storyline of Gattaca?

2. Why is it so hard for Vincent’s brother Anton to believe that Vincent is able to accomplish his dream of traveling to space – despite his “condition”?

3. In what ways can “invalids” be said to be humankind’s tie to the “natural” world?

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