To Be Determined
For many people, the topic of eugenics is a very touchy subject. It is controversial, especially given the turbulent periods in history mankind has seen. Simply put, eugenics is the practice or advocacy of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific desirable hereditary traits. It aims to reduce human suffering by “breeding out” disease, disabilities and so-called undesirable characteristics from the human population. Obviously, like many of the debatable topics today such as abortion and universal healthcare, eugenics has a lengthy list of pros and cons. Of course this goes without saying, it is grounds for philosophical and ethical questions, and better yet, the role of technique in modern society. Gattaca tackles these issues head-on, and forces its audience to evaluate the gravities of their discrimination-based decisions.
Young adults of today are all too familiar with utopian films that have left audiences scratching their heads, wondering how different their realities would be if they actually lived in a utopia. Minority Report, The Hunger Games series, The Truman Show all show some type of utopian society. Their meanings are more or less the same; utopias are not all that good after all. Like many films to have come before it, Gattaca is futuristic. Specializing in aerospace research, the company is every employee’s dream destination. This comes, however, with a prerequisite. With the possible manual control of human genetics, human beings can be genetically engineered to be better. Should a parent desire a specific hair, eye colour, or sex, a trip to the geneticist would suffice. This plea for improvement extends to even the eradication of genetic diseases, an evident approach to achieve genetic perfection. Thus, the alternative to fancy resumes from top universities is a genome report approaching perfection. Those whose superior genes will go a long way into deciding their futures, basically guaranteeing better job prospects and overall well-beings.
Inevitably, the ethics of such design are questioned. Vincent plays a dangerous game to achieve what he wants: space travel. Despite that, this dream is technically impossible because of his natural and “imperfect” genes. Jerome, on the other hand, is the host of a faultless genetic code, but chained to a wheelchair because of a prior accident. Together, they allow each other to get what they want, essentially a win-win situation. Jerome provides his own biological samples, ranging from skin to urine, for DNA testing. In doing so, Vincent becomes a “de-gen-era”.
As time progresses, so too do humans. Gattaca is a film about genetics, yes, but it also encompasses more than just a chapter from high school biology textbooks. Society will one day, advance both on the technological and cultural scale, meaning that science will matter and offer more. Through science, a medium at times so complicated, humans can theoretically extravasate smarter minds, stronger bodies, and brighter futures. Some would call this evolution. Some would call this transcendence. Out of all the living things, humans have obviously come the farthest, testament from the discovery of fire to now, the control of human genetics. Life has never seemed so materialistic.
Author Ali Binazir concludes that the statistical probability of one being born a human is one out of trillions. Then, the statistical probability of one being born a genetically perfect human would be even more unparalleled. It is a body that radiates excellence, idyllic in the sense of natural selection, or in other words, evolution. Gattaca is at its core, proudly practicing eugenics, the blueprint for perfect in vitro children, architecture masterpieces of worried parents. Because of this gene-frenzy culture built up, those that are “natural” will eventually find themselves ostracized, since apparently nobody desires normalcy anymore. The four nucleotides, guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine, make up the title of the film, thereby stressing the importance of DNA in this futuristic company, or rather, society. Genes are the gateway to everything in this society, depicted by the film’s structures and characters alike. On a fundamental level, genes are the backbone of humanity.
It is a worthwhile intention, to eradicate sickness through science, even to achieve good health. However, if the idea is allowed to ferment, one can quickly realize that problems will arise. By promoting a value-judgement system, good intentions inevitably turn into nightmares, those with perfect genes become prioritized over others, discrimination becomes a normality. Eugenics will finally become the employer.
Naturally, eugenics on paper will lead to a stronger society. By deliberate and artificial means, eugenics will somehow improve the hereditary characteristics of the human species, that much is probably accurate. Imagine a world without colourblindness, cystic fibrosis, and cancer. There are give or take two ways of tackling this issue: science evolves to a stage where bad genes can be manually deleted or genetically inferior people just stop reproducing. However, is it ethical to forcibly prevent anyone from reproducing based on their characteristics? Is it alright to label them “invalid”? Fast-forward a few centuries, when mankind has reached the peak of its perfection, does it also guarantee happiness? Gattaca assumes that perfect bodies equate to individual happiness, quite a materialistic endeavour considering everyone seems to constantly be on the edge.
In the spirit of bodily and spiritual dualism, Vincent is probably the only person left with a soul amongst thousands fixated upon the body. A handicapped Jerome is Vincent’s prophesied body, whilst Vincent becomes Jerome’s spirit. When Vincent finally achieves his dream of going to space, it is a beautiful emblem of death. You can destroy a man’s body, but never his spirit.
People say that money cannot buy happiness, and perhaps they are right about that. Gattaca shows that perfection is not necessarily synonymous with happiness either, at least not in the long run. Although being the “invalid” that he is, Vincent perseveres with his determination, sort of the opposite of perfection. Those who are genetically optimized from the beginning do not end up fulfilling their potentials. True, the genetic sequence as of today’s science is a given, already decided and non-negotiable. People also say that where there is a will, there is a way. Determinism does not determine, only determination.