“Discrimination Down to a Science” – Gattaca Review

In our Spring 2013 Mass Media class, we all watched the film Gattaca after taking our first exam. We were asked not to do any research about the film, but I will admit that the only thing I ‘Googled’ about it was its release date. The reason for that is because this film reminded me tremendously of other recent science fiction films that involve apocalyptic futures like Surrogates, i, Robot, Equilibrium and The Matrix. However, it turns out that Gattaca release in 1997, years before all of these other films.

Regardless of release date, the story of films like the ones mentioned above revolves around a future where some new type of being has been introduced into the world, and those beings are giving normal humans a serious run for their money. Whether it be the robots, machines or genetically superior bio-organisms, these beings pose one of two serious threats to average human beings: extinction or slavery.

Gattaca is no exception to this sic-fi formula. The film is set in a future where discrimination has been down packed to a science–quite literally. In this future, science has progressed extremely rapidly, bounding past problems like genetic cloning, disease control, etc. There have also been numerous technological progressions as well, such as human transportation/space flight to all of the planets in our galaxy and immediate identification through blood, urine, saliva and visual fluid scans. Unfortunately, with these advancements came new ways to hate people–meaning genetic racism (or “genilism,” as the film calls it) and new forms of segregation.

All of these things combined (technological, scientific and social pushes forward) have created a society that is divided into several rigid classes, with the best of the best (custom ordered and built humans) on the top and normal-birth humans on the bottom. Vincent Anton is one of those normal-birth humans, and the entire story of the film revolves around his life and dream of being one of the elite few granted permission to rocket off the planet and explore the universe.

Vincent Anton roaming through the discriminative hallways at Gattaca.

Vincent Anton roaming through the discriminative hallways at Gattaca.

 

Without going too far into detail, the part of Vincent’s life that the movie focuses on is his becoming a “borrowed ladder.” Borrowed ladders are members of society that assume the identity of another person through taking their blood, urine, eyes (through contact lenses) and even skin and hair particles to fake the rest of society into believing that they are the person they’re saying they are. Vincent assumes the persona of Jerome, a man who was built perfectly, but ended up in a wheelchair after a car accident. Because he’s in the wheelchair, he feels that society doesn’t want him, so he offers up his identity to someone who might be able to make something of himself.

After a murder takes place at the Gattaca building (the place where the upper echelon members of society prepare to fly to space), the majority of the film’s best moments involve extremely tense situations. The whole time watching, audience members like me didn’t want Vincent or Jerome to be discovered. We wanted them to succeed, to achieve their goals. (Even though Jerome wouldn’t really be physically doing anything, he’d be living through Vincent’s actions.) So when Vincent was asked to give blood through the vein or wasn’t home when his doppelganger, Jerome was visited by a police detective, everyone was on the edges of their seats. It was really exhilarating to be put in the life of an outcast turned celebrity, while at the same time a fugitive.

Another aspect of the film that I like revolves around the way everyone acts. Just like in i, Robot and the films mentioned before, it seems that people in the future all walk and talk like robots and machines. They all have clear purposes and goals, and not conforming to the rest of society makes them stand out tremendously. In Gattaca, everyone who isn’t a borrowed ladder is living a life where all they do is deceive themselves on how messed up and disorganized the segregated society really is.

There's always that one character that stands out from the rest. In the case of i, Robot, Detective Spooner is very different from the "human robot" counterparts of society.

There’s always that one character that stands out from the rest. In the case of i, Robot, Detective Spooner is very different from the “human robot” counterparts of society.

 

I also really enjoyed the fact that Vincent needs glasses to see (since he was born naturally, he couldn’t be altered to have no visual acuity problems). It’s very ironic that the character who needs glasses to see is actually the one who sees society and the people who make it up the best. That, and it gave the filmmakers the chance to experiment with some extremely disorienting and nerve-wracking footage during a scene where Vincent needs to cross a busy street to regroup with his love interest while he doesn’t have his contacts on (he had to shed them at a police checkpoint).

Before the movie ended, I knew that there were only three real ways to make it happen: One, Vincent somehow achieves his goal (happy ending), Two, Vincent is somehow not allowed to achieve his goal or determines that he never will make it “upstairs” (sad ending), and Three, what happens to Vincent after the film ends is left for the audience members to decide. It’s safe to say that I was correct in that assessment, seeing as one of those three general outlines is how the film actually ends.

The way that Gattaca ties together so many aspects of a future society is very intriguing, and really makes viewers think about the way society is moving. Who knows how things will be in 50 to 100 years? Will robots or machines have taken over and developed/advanced past the intellectuality of human beings (the Matrix, i,Robot or Surrogates paths), or will society have developed a new breed of super humans that begin segregating themselves to the point of one class having total control and authority over everyone and everything else (the Gattaca, EquilibriumAoen Flux or Ultraviolet paths)? I guess we’ll all have to wait and see how things play out in the future.

 

 

*** SEMI-SPOLIER BELOW ***

 

 

By the way, why does that incinerator have a start switch on the inside!? I mean seriously, the people who designed the device thought there was a time and place where that might be a good, safe idea?

About Daniel

Daniel is a graduate of CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College, summa cum laude with a B.A. in Film Production and TV/Radio. He can be reached via his website, www.passingplanes.com. The Utopia of Daniel was his college blog and he has since transitioned to posting on other sites.