Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca warns of the dangers of valuing perfection over humanness.
To perceive Andrew Niccol’s futuristic thriller Gattaca as simply a story of ambition and conquest is to ignore the film’s more potent power and message. Gattaca presents us with a reflection of our world, a chilling and disturbing reminder of the dangers of absolute dependence on technology.
The desire for perfection and the methods used to achieve it are the focuses of the film, and our protagonist, Vincent Freeman, embodies all that is good and evil in the attempt to be “valid”. Vincent’s persistence to succeed beyond his genetic limitations is noble, but the more interesting aspect of the film is the way he sets about achieving his dream of becoming one of the “right kind of people”.
Visually the film is intoxicating and aesthetically inviting with its heightened use of colour, an evocative score from Michael Nyman, the masterful use of framing, the casting of “beautiful” people and the sleek, symmetry of the set. Our desire to be part of this world is logical. Vincent’s flashbacks to his “invalid”, albeit real, childhood are done in sepia tones and heavy, drab costumes suggesting a world that is obsolete, uninteresting and where one’s potential is limited by “God birth”. Conception “the natural way” has given way to science; timber and earthy textures have been usurped by chrome and stainless steel, and natural light is ignored in favour of synthetic light.
Underlying the overt perception of perfection, acceptance and what is desirable is the danger and destructive nature of that desire. Denial of natural talents and flaws, the rejection of nature and the disregard of human feelings can only lead to chaos.
Niccol’s use of blue throughout the film reflects futuristic technology but also the coldness and sterility of this world.
As a creature determined to be part of this world, Vincent is often filmed surrounded by this light. A good example is the opening where his body matter falls to the ground with a thud. It is not coincidental that our first image of Vincent is as a segmented, incomplete figure, broken up by the lines of the incinerator. In his attempts to be accepted into Gattaca he is continuously reminded of his imperfection by his constant struggle with his failing “genetic quotient”, his body.
Vincent’s determination to succeed and fly to Saturn’s moon Titan sees him change his identity, relinquish his family and his past and suffer extraordinary pain to achieve his dream. But Niccol’s question is whether it is all worth it. Just what has to be sacrificed to be accepted and embraced into the lifeless and sterile world of perfection?
Like many noir films, Gattaca presents us with an alter ego to the protagonist. As the “exceptional example” of perfection, Jerome Morrow is introduced much like Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, with glowing praise of his perfection before Vincent (and viewers) get to meet him. Jerome’s very distinct and obvious flaw is therefore a surprise. Even one who seems to have it all can suffer equally under the weight of perfection.
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