Gattaca is a 1997 Biopunk science fiction movie starring Ethan Hawke and Jude Law.
In a future time where genetics have become the main measure of a persons life, one man decides to rebel against the new status quo. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) was given a bad lot in life, predisposed with a 99% chance of developing a heart condition, and a predicted life span of 30.2 years. Upon learning this, his parents decide their next child would be given a better start in life, using a geneticist to select the perfect brother for Vincent. This creates what some may refer to as a "super baby". This gives Vincent an unenviable childhood where his brother is seen as perfect. When Vincent has to one day rescue his brother from the water during a game of "chicken", it's a sign that Vincent may be destined for more than he is foreseen to achieve.
As an "In-valid" Vincent works as a janitor. One day he is working inside the place of his dreams; Gattaca, a space exploration company.
Determined to travel to space, Vincent seeks out the help of a man who can give him the life he truly wants. Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) is a former Olympian who, after being involved in an accident, has lost the use of his legs. The plan is for Vincent to assume Jerome's identity and give both of them a second chance. Jerome becomes "Eugene" assuming his middle name as his own, and Vincent becomes Jerome Marrow.
There are many precautions the 2 men must now undertake, Vincent must pass as Jerome with blood fingerprinting and urine samples, meaning "Eugene" must take blood for him to use, and deliver clean urine samples in order to pass regular tests. There is also an exercise to test heart rhythm that must also be duped with a sensor that has recorded Eugene's heart rate rather than Vincent's. Vincent also wears contact lenses that can be seen as a sign of an "in-valid".
Vincent is shown to be well advanced at Gattaca, having made his way up to the point where he will be next to fly a mission. We then learn of a murder that has taken place, an administrator has been killed and an investigation has been launched. One of Vincent's eye lashes is found at the scene and this leads them to believe that an "In-valid" has committed the murder. Vincent must now dodge a series of checks, tests and suspicions in order to get to his goal of flying to space.
During the build up to his mission, Vincent falls for Irene Cassini a fellow worker at Gattaca who also has a heart condition, although her's is later said to have "20 or 30 years" left on it. As the couple get closer, Vincent now begins to feel like he belongs on Earth, and he has trouble leaving the place he was so desperate to only a few months previously.
The key transhumanist element in the story is of Eugenics and Genetics. This is of course tackled with screenwriting and storytelling in the way of a more positive story, but be that as it may it still provides some interesting thoughts.
One of the key things touched upon is the genetic selection process, it is used 5 times as the main element of a character's story:
- Rachel's heart is defective meaning that although she has a relatively good life working at Gattaca, she will never fly to space.
- The Doctor who gives Vincent his urine tests mentions his son wasn't quite what they were expecting.
- Eugene coming second place which gives him a sense of not living up to expectations saying; "I was designed to be perfect, not second".
- Vincent's brother is also (in a round about way) referred to as inferior when it is suggested by Eugene that (paraphrasing) cops are not very great.
- Vincent, the man who is never meant to become anybody, is the one who flies to space.
The demonisation of genetic engineering has not been well received by some transhumanists. In 2004 James Hughes pointed out in Citizen Cyborg:
- Astronaut-training programs are entirely justified in attempting to screen out people with heart problems for safety reasons;
- In the United States, people are already screened by insurance companies on the basis of their propensities to disease, for actuarial purposes;
- Rather than banning genetic testing or genetic enhancement, society needs genetic information privacy laws that allow justified forms of genetic testing and data aggregation, but forbid those that are judged to result in genetic discrimination (such as the U.S. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act signed into law on May 21, 2008). Citizens should then be able to make a complaint to the appropriate authority if they believe they have been discriminated against because of their genotype.
A simpler critique of Gattaca is:
If you have a condition that can kill you at any moment, common courtesy dictates you do not sneak into a profession where you're responsible for keeping a whole bunch of people alive. Whether it be here or on a super long flight through the cold, unfeeling vacuum of space.
We all wanted to be astronauts when we were kids, but the reason we are not battling space pirates this very instant is because being an astronaut is cock-smashingly hard. If Ethan slips away mid-flight to take a dump and his heart fails while he's sitting on the toilet, you've got a rocket ship full of future people that's going to smash into the nearest celestial body at about 15,000 miles per hour.
Yes, we totally get the anti-discrimination message of the movie. Of course people shouldn't be shat upon based on their genes. But this isn't about the handicapped girl winning the beauty pageant, or a dwarf becoming president. This is more like the registered sex offender who wants to be a mall Santa. There are some jobs you just shouldn't have, you selfish fuck. Not everything is about you.
- Gattaca on Wikipedia
- Review by Neven Sesardić, philosopher of heritability