By: Kelly FitzGerald
Lately I have been spending a lot of time working on my honors paper, which I am writing about Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi film, Gattaca. Since it has been on my mind, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of my insights with you all!
For those who have not seen the film, Gattaca takes place in a world where DNA and eugenics determine social classes. Those who are products of eugenic selection are labeled as “valids” because of their genetic superiority. Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) is the central character in this group. Those who are conceived naturally, without eugenic selection, are categorized as “in-valids,” because they are thought to be genetically inferior, and thus, less capable. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is the central character in this group. Though he dreams of working in space travel at the Gattaca headquarters, prestigious jobs like this are reserved for valid individuals. The only way he can get into the building as an in-valid is by working as a janitor. Through his relationship with Jerome, however, Vincent is able to purchase DNA samples and break the system.
My paper is broken down into 3 sections:
- Technophobia in rhetoric
- Technophobia in imagery
- Gender and Race in Gattaca
My paper looks at Gattaca as an inverted examination of America’s socio-historical reality. While the film toys with the possibilities of eugenics, cyborgs, and technological dominance—not unlike most sci-fi genre films—Niccol ultimately subverts these themes by establishing a “technophobic” mood and an ambiguous time-period.
In doing so, emphasis is placed on character relationships rather than plausibility. I further explore the valid/invalid binary, which informs social class distinctions, and explain how it reveals problems paralleled with American classifications of gender and race. This is most clearly embodied through the character arcs of Vincent and Jerome, who represent the in-valid/valid categories, respectively.
I also discuss ways in which the film assesses possible social implications with technological interference and dominance, and how themes of technophobia are subsequently introduced. I then relate these technophobic feelings (namely, fear of cyborgs being privileged over the natural), to Gattaca as a metaphorical dimension for understanding historical treatments of race and gender inequalities. I ultimately argue that projecting non-humanitarian qualities onto the fictitious “valid” class of cyborgs functions as a social leveling process, through which viewers can objectively (and perhaps unknowingly) observe faults with the American social sphere. Most importantly, I think Gattaca reveals that we manufacture our own problems—and that the only way to fix them is through recognition and sacrifice. This *SPOILER ALERT* is made clear in the final moment when Vincent boards a space shuttle. The upward movement of the shuttle as it penetrates the atmosphere symbolizes social transcendence and boundary crossing. The most important realization, however, is that Vincent’s success would not have been possible without Jerome, who surrendered his identity. Their relationship makes a clear social statement, which is that equality can never be achieved without some level of sacrifice.