The film Gattaca, is based on a dystopian society that is contingent ongenetic modification, or for lack of a better term, genetic perfection.Throughout the film, we see the journey of Vincent Freeman, a white man whostruggled to find a purpose for himself after being determined genetically defectiveand “In-valid” at a young age.
Gattacacan be seen as a paradox to the typical forms of identity passing we have seenbecause this passing narrative is highly heterosexual, masculine, and white.Some would question how a straight white man, the ultimate patriarch ofsociety, could be oppressed. Focusing on human imperfection, discrimination,and oppression, Gattaca analyzes the misperceptionsof personal identity and ultimately explores the issues that represent thestruggles, triumphs, and journey of Vincent Freeman. The masculine human body and imperfectionare major symbolic focal points in this film.
From the opening sequence, we see”An enigmatic scene of minimalist formal beauty gradually becoming a display ofthe shedding of abject bodily detritus for the purpose of an elaborate disguise,”(Stacey 1851). This scene can suggest that the man stripping down hisimperfections (skin), is also simultaneously stripping away his identity. Themale body is being scrutinized and used as a form of deception, for the visionof masculine perfection.
Vincent Freeman and Jerome Morrow are used assignifiers of perfection and imperfection in the film. From a young age Vincentknew success had not been bred into his genetic makeup, and due to hisforeseeable health issues, had been labeled as “In-valid” and geneticallydefective. In hopes of becoming a space navigator one day, Vincent takes on thechallenge of becoming, or passing as, Jerome Morrow. Jerome was once aprestigious athlete with a near perfect genetic makeup, who after attempting tocommit suicide, was left paralyzed and unable to live up to his geneticpotential, therefore leaving it to be filled by Vincent. Though it seems Jeromehas the ideal genetics to be successful, what drove Jerome to feel that heneeded to end his life? Imperfection. Being a competitive swimmer, Jerome knewhe was expected to live up to his nearly perfect genotype, but when he placedsecond at a competition, he believed he was no longer worthy of his genetics.
Now living as a paraplegic, Jerome uses Vincent to carry out his “Valid” legacyby imitating perfection. “The preoccupation with visual perfection within aworld of genetic normativity is centrally elaborated through Vincent’s disguiseof Jerome and by displaying the exacting precision of disguise necessary toavoid genetic detection,” (Stacey 1854). Without the help of science andtechnology, the idea of perfection displayed in this film is nearly unattainableby natural means, can be deemed inhumane, and implies a societal standard ofhuman frailty. As with the other examples of passingnarratives we have seen, oppression is a common means for someone to pass oridentify as someone else in order to embrace some form of personal gain. Thereare many obvious instances of oppression in Gattacathat are mostly focused on Vincent’s struggles. Some would say that isimpossible, how could a heterosexual white man ever be oppressed? This filmdiffers from the typical passing narrative, because it focuses on thediscrimination of genetics, something we are inherently born with, somethingthat cannot be changed physically like race or gender, but as the film shows,can be disguised.
Being labeled as “Valid” or “In-valid” is the ultimatedetermination of a character’s potential. Due to his heart condition and other prevalenthealth issues, Vincent had been inadequate and shut out from the moment he wasborn. This had put a red flag on his shoulders, and had stopped him from pursuinghis dreams. “In-valids” are given menial, routine jobs that cannot be escaped,while “Valids” are free to live up to their fullest potential. Vincent’s driveand motivation ultimately breaks the boundaries that determine his own success.”Gattaca explores Vincent’s masculinedrive and, in placing him outside the dominant eugenic values of society,invites us to invest in the success of his deception,” (Stacey 1861). One ofthe films strategic techniques in making Vincent the face of oppression, was byplacing him in an inferior position in which he would be able to free himselffrom. This speaks to the scope and perspective of Hollywood film, and thecommon argument of whitewashing the industry.
There are various filmic elements that representoppression and determination in relation to the journey of Vincent Freeman andJerome Morrow. The use of ladder likeobjects and phrases like “borrowed ladder” suggest the idea of simultaneousadvancement and descent. This is explicitly shown in the scene where there is along shot of Vincent standing at the top of the spiraling, double helix resembling,staircase, and Jerome is sitting in his wheelchair at the bottom. “The DNAdouble helix, spiral design that is expressed in the staircase at Jerome’sdwelling. The double helix represents the notion of hierarchy, for each step ofthe ladder is either higher up or lower down,” (Clarke 191).
Ladders allow formobility, and this applies to Gattaca,because as Jerome has seemingly moved downward after his accident, Vincent hasascended up the ladder of hierarchy. A vital turning point in Vincent’s journeyagainst his struggles, takes place in the scene where he is shown taking theescalator, “Representing his elevation to the position of Navigator in the GattacaCorporation,” (Clarke 191). Although stairs and ladders can be seen as anoptimistic symbol for Vincent and his ascent to his dreams, it is an obstacleand a symbol of entrapment for Jerome. Vincent can now excel beyond what hisgenetics allowed him to, while Jerome cannot move forward and get past it