The science fiction movie Gattaca (1997), in the best traditions of the genre, refers to a lot of contemporary problems. Its value is the most obvious from the point of view of ethics and theology. The depicted society of the future presents a possible variant of development of events if the humanity continues to move in highly technological direction. The film brings the watcher’s attention to the issue of genetically perfection of people.
The action in Gattaca takes place in “the not-too-distant future” and the title refers to the name of a space agency. The film tells a story of a man who goes through a painful process of changing his identity using body substances of another person to pass the necessary tests at work and realize his dream of going to space. In a world of genetically engineered people the protagonist Vincent is a kind of an “industrial defect” with his heart condition. His eyelash exposing his real identity is found at a crime scene at the company’s office and after several false leads the inspector in charge of the case finds out about the fraud. As he is Vincent’s brother, he does not make it public. Due to some help of his acquaintances, who sympathize with his imperfect nature, the protagonist finally has his chance to go to space.
The “swimming” scenes between brothers, a contest they called “chicken” is very important for the plot of the film. It stretches far beyond sibling rivalry and reveals the conflict between nature embodied by ailing Vincent and a man’s intrusion into nature making it achieve perfection with Anton being its product. As it can be foreseen, nature almost always loses, except for two times. When they were adolescents, Vincent was so determined that he finally left his brother behind in the ocean. It changed his attitude towards himself and the possibilities planned for him. It was a crucial moment that filled him with resoluteness to pursue his goal. After winning the swimming contest he left home and started a new life always keeping his aim in mind. The last race when the brothers encounter each other as adults gives a new aspect to the situation: the secret of Vincent is that he puts all his effort in it. Younger Anton has all the necessary parameters, but his confidence in his superiority does not let him try hard enough. Probably, what the authors of the film intended to say by the swimming scenes is that perfection deprives people of dreams.
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Another striking episode conveying a similar idea is the one with crippled Jerome crawling up the stairs to “be himself” on the Vincent’s request. The sight of these efforts seems to be a humiliating and rather symbolic experience. Grabbing by the railings and forcing his paralyzed legs up the stairs Jerome realizes that his genetically enhanced perfection is worth nothing if he cannot apply it. As it is mentioned in the film, one cannot program fate. It all leads to contemplating on the sense of eugenics: no matter how perfect we want to become, life and nature itself show that in the end there can exist no absolute perfection.
Uma Thurman’s personage is also a partial failure of genetic engineering. She is obviously attracted by the idea of going to space, but her heart problem makes her unfit for it. At first she seems rather mean and envious, but as the action of the film enfolds she turns into a sympathetic character. Irene is practically the same as Vincent except for the fact that she was engineered. In Gattaca she is a symbol of the ideological wrongness of the system: having diagnosis similar to hers Vincent has to fight his way up from the janitor to the valuable employee of the agency while the woman is granted with great chances from the very beginning only due to the fact of being “valid”. Again, this comfortable label might be the factor preventing her from trying her best. Irene can be sympathized only because she realizes the unfairness of genetic engineering.
The ending of the movie is full of insights. Jerome understands that the crippled life is not what he wants while his “recipient” finally makes his dream come true. It can be said that the genetically engineered man also ventures a travel, only it is one-way. It was the man’s choice, and it is hard to assess it as moral or immoral. Jerome provided Vincent with plenty of his body substances to last for years after returning. He shared his perfection to the final drop and decided to end with the “flawless” life of his. Law’s character goes to the place where he will have a chance to be second-best never again. Grasping his silver medal in the incinerator, he is at least happy to help somebody fulfill a dream. Probably, it is what makes his life, which was genetically designed, successful; but it turned out to be not worth living.
The issue of eugenics has a religious aspect in it. Catholic church has always been pro-life. It is no wonder that the institution holds its disapproving positions in questions of genetic engineering. According to the Christian belief, everything connected with conception and birth is completely in the hands of the Creator. Globalization is also a matter of concern for the Catholics. Modern world seems to be so corrupted that it has forced the church to make amendments to the list of seven deadly sins. In 2008, genetic engineering officially became one of them. The clergy is so outraged by the immoral intrusion into the natural processes and afraid of the consequences of it that it refers to the ones who conduct it as “manipulative genetic scientists” (Owen, 2008). Concerning Gattaca, apart from the filmmakers’ message the movie has direct references to the Bible. They can be seen, for instance, in the opening titles. “Straightening what He hath made crooked” and the outcomes of such actions actually compose a short summary of the motion picture.
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The makers of Gattaca state that much desired perfection can be a burden. Excellence is overrated. Moreover, no one knows what can go wrong during the complicated scientific processes involved in genetic engineering. Thus, as long as human DNA is at least unblemished, there is no reason to risk the stability of the mankind, even for its sake. Gattaca shows that perfection is already within people, and striving for the external one has no sense.
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