Vincent, the central character of Gattaca, is a liar and a cheat. Yet, as is typical for a Hollywood movie where the individual star personality is accorded the status of morally superior hero, he is ultimately viewed as a victor with whom we, the audience, may identify and sympathise.
How and why does this happen? Shortly into the opening credit sequence the camera, and by proxy the audience, isolates and identifies Vincent, gliding slowly upon his body and his obsession with it. The way he is captured in the frame, complemented by the mood of tragic grandeur in the music, serves to further set him apart from all others, and to heighten our sense of his loneliness.
Additional shots in this sequence of him strapping a bag of urine to his thigh, and of constructing a fingerprint containing a blood sample unlikely to be his own, suggest that Vincent is building a false identity. The stripping away of his real DNA as contained in loose body hair, skin particles and nail clippings, highly magnified and accompanied by booming, echoing sound effects as they fall in slow motion to the ground and then are burnt in a furnace, indicate that in these elements lay his fate, his history and his future.
His voiceover narration a minute or two later, where he refers first to himself in the third person as “Jerome Morrow” (we assume at this point he is not speaking of someone else), then to himself in the first person as “not Jerome Morrow”, not only accentuates this sense of identity, signposting it as an important theme throughout the film, but also fulfils the role of further connecting us emotionally to him – for this is his story. And by now we are primed to accept Vincent’s practised deceit and dishonesty as being for some as yet unexplained “good” or ethical purpose.
The critical viewer may have a problem with this. It is clear that Gattaca, like Blade Runner, is a science fiction film that is presented in a highly sophisticated way in terms of set design, sombre mood and stellar casting. Nevertheless, it falls into the category of a long line of science fiction movies that, consciously or otherwise, reflect community suspicion of technological developments (such as nuclear radioactivity, computerisation and biological cloning), and what these may mean for us either right now or in the future – especially if controlled by the “wrong people”.