Gattaca examines science, religion, genetic engineering and ethics

I’ve posted this before but it is worth re-reading as part of your revision.

By opening the movie Gattaca with quotations from Willard Gaylin and Ecclesiastes, director Andrew Niccol invites us to ponder the tension between science and religion with regard to the ethics of genetic engineering. This tension is further sustained through the complex relationship of the main protagonists Vincent and Eugene, who must ultimately conquer their own physical limitations in order to find “God”.

As the titles run, fingernails, hair threads and skin particles fall to the ground in slow motion, giving way to an image of a young man vigorously scrubbing himself.

Along with a disturbing score by Michael Nyman, this obsessive-compulsive behaviour contributes to the macabre images of hypodermic needles, catheters and hospital bags of urine and blood. The shower from which Vincent has just stepped quickly converts to a furnace (is this heaven or hell?) while the inter-title “in the not-too-distant future” runs across our screen.

It is the same young man, Vincent, who provides a voice-over and our point of view in Gattaca – the antiseptic setting of a futuristic space program. Here, somnambulistic employees dressed as clones move in and out of a facility designed for cold efficiency. Note the cool blue filters, curved, shining surfaces and, again, a peculiar preoccupation with cleaning.

Loudspeakers welcome visitors to Gattaca in various languages demonstrating that, along with space exploration, genetic screening has diminished both the significance and desire for global boundaries. We are already aware that in this future “blood has no nationality”.

For science now enables discrimination that is far more expedient than simply skin colour. Vincent, a “God” child, is conceived without the help of genetic engineering and is quick to realise that his physical inadequacies, in particular a congenital heart condition, will prevent him from reaching his full potential. It is worth noting that the setting where Vincent’s conception takes place 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 begin to understand the hypocrisy of what this “brave new world” has to offer. “Genoism” – discrimination on the basis of genetics – is illegal, yet it seems that poor genetic outcomes such as Vincent’s prevents insurance cover, which disqualifies him from pre-school – surely an issue that already has some currency in the world we inhabit today.

Read the rest here.

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