Gattaca examines science, religion, genetic engineering and ethics

By opening the motion picture Gattaca with quotes from Willard Gaylin and Ecclesiastes, director Andrew Niccol invites us to contemplate the tension in between science and religious beliefs with regard to the ethics of genetic engineering. This tension is further sustained through the complex relationship of the primary lead characters Vincent and Eugene, who must eventually dominate their own physical restrictions in order to find “God”. As the titles run, fingernails, hair threads and skin particles fall to the ground in slow movement, giving way to an image of a young man vigorously scrubbing himself.

Along with a disturbing rating by Michael Nyman, this obsessive-compulsive behaviour adds to the macabre pictures of hypodermic needles, catheters and medical facility bags of urine and blood. The shower from which Vincent has just stepped rapidly converts to a furnace (is this paradise or hell?) while the inter-title “in the not-too-distant future” stumbles upon our screen. It is the same young man, Vincent, who provides a commentary and our perspective in Gattaca– the antibacterial setting of a futuristic space program.

Here, somnambulistic workers impersonated clones move in and out of a facility developed for cold performance. Keep in mind the cool blue filters, curved, shining surfaces and, again, a strange preoccupation with cleansing. Speakers welcome visitors to Gattaca in various languages showing that, in addition to area exploration, genetic screening has decreased both the significance and desire for worldwide borders. We are already conscious that in this future “blood has no citizenship”. For science now makes it possible for discrimination that is much more expedient than just skin colour.

Vincent, a “God” child, is developed without the assistance of genetic engineering and fasts to realise that his physical insufficiencies, in specific a genetic heart disease, will avoid him from reaching his complete potential. It deserves keeping in mind that the setting where Vincent’s conception occurs is made “natural” by the inclusion of beaches and palm trees. As we remain in flashback to where baby Vincent plays with a toy cluster of atoms (similar motifs are repeated throughout the film), we start to understand the hypocrisy of what this “brave brand-new world” needs to offer. ‘Genoism”– discrimination on the basis of genes– is illegal, yet it seems that poor genetic results such as Vincent’s avoids insurance cover, which disqualifies him from pre-school– certainly a problem that currently has some currency on the planet we live in today. But although Vincent feels displaced by his genetically exceptional bro, Anton (keep in mind how he strolls into the frame simply as Vincent tears his own image out of the household picture), he is determined to fulfil his imagine area travel.

The initial swimming race where Vincent is beaten by Anton serves as a plot device pre-empting the climax of the movie where both siblings, now grownups, play “chicken” when again. Aerial shots heighten a frightening sea and, this time, Vincent’s triumph. The irony is stark as Niccol highlights the central style of the movie– what makes up a “valid” human being? For surely Vincent, an “void”, has actually just proved that genetics has little influence over sheer determination and grit. Get in Eugene.

Genetically perfect however maimed both physically and emotionally from a suicide effort (he finished second, not first, in a swimming race), he is constantly compared to Vincent, whose hereditary profile determines that he will pass away at the age of 30. Eugene is bitter and twisted while Vincent is single-minded and driven. Both, nevertheless, are basically blind to what it is that makes them human. Vincent, desperate to hide his identity from Irene, is almost run down on a frenetically busy highway, whereas Eugene intentionally steps in front of a vehicle in the hope of causing his own death.

Both are so preoccupied with their own shortages that they nearly miss their crucial “spiritual” journey. In fact, both these guys run perilously close to becoming like Anton– robotic and devoid of feeling. It is Anton who offers the genuine paradox here by ruthlessly investigating his own sibling’s “invalidity” and, in so doing, demonstrates that genetics does not necessarily associate with one’s humanity. Undoubtedly, it is Irene who, from the outset, seems to be more in touch with the natural world towards which Vincent is making every effort to return.

Note the setting where she lives; rolling browse, beautiful white sand, the warm light within in which she is continuously bathed, her disappointment with Vincent’s expected “excellence”, her fascination with the daybreak, her ability to notice the change in his eyes after he discards his contact lenses when many people can only recognise human differences by a DNA test. Irene’s outfit and hair are much softer, feminine and distinctly private when she is far from Gattaca.

Yet our focus constantly returns to Vincent and Eugene, whose relationship not only controls most of the film’s running time however establishes an intimacy that is as generous as it has lots of love. The obvious twinning effect (Eugene runs as Vincent’s doppelganger) combined with the homoerotic subtext belies any genuine attempt by Niccol to develop a significant connection in between Vincent and Irene, with the latter finally lowered to “small love interest”.

In an effort to conceal Vincent’s identity, Eugene’s loyalty is plainly demonstrated when, slowly and painfully, he drags his damaged body up the spiral staircase– remember, he’s terrified of heights. Reminiscent of a DNA strand, the staircase is a metaphor for transcendence, for raising ourselves to a brand-new level of understanding. Eugene, identified that Vincent too will break without his earthly bounds– his physical being– acknowledges the meaning when he describes area as “upstairs”.

Previously, Vincent tells Eugene that weightlessness resembles being in the womb and that in area his legs “wouldn’t matter”. However in the end, Eugene goes back to where Vincent originally emerged (this time to a self-determined cremation), his sacrifice complete as Vincent is released into area. The present of the lock of hair is on one level a secure against Vincent’s disclosure however on another an unique and somewhat childish suggestion of Eugene’s innocence in a world gone mad with science and its attending preoccupation with perfection.

It is Eugene who occupies Vincent’s ideas at closure, not Irene. In spite of having overcome their hereditary and physical personalities, it is clear there is no real “place” for either of these men on earth. By accentuating the tunnels leading back to the womb-like spaceship and the foetal position of Eugene in the furnace, Niccol has both Vincent and Eugene go back to where science and religion come from– back to the stars, back to God, back to “home”.

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