Although it should be defined as pure science fiction, Andrew Niccol’s 1997 film GATTACA is a horrifying account on the potential misuse of genetic research and human engineering. Similar to George Orwell’s description of the elements that turns a social revolution into a tyranny in his 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Niccol finds human evil and the extremely controversial science of eugenics (which later fueled the Nazi ideology) in the developing biosciences.
This research paper deals with two major issues in the borderline between science and fiction. First, it shows how some elements in GATTACA are more realistic than one we usually assume. Second, it suggests a way to draw the line between reality and fantasy, and to know how to recognize those elements, which may bring about a deterioration of societies as demonstrated in the film.
The Treatment of Human Engineering in GATTACA
The scientific backbone of the film is the growing significance of genetics, today and in the future. As noted by Kirby, the importance of genetics is demonstrated through a series of themes and visual motives, such as the title of the film (which comprise the four DNA bases – Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytosine), the highlighting of the four letters A, G, T and C in the opening credits (these letters stay in the frame once the other letters fade away), and “the double-helical design of the staircase in Eugene’s apartment” (103-4). The author finds these visual decisions as a means to convey the importance given of the genetic code in the film’s fictional society (103). You can also get online research paper writing help on Gattaca topics from experts.
Although the filmmakers could use any other way to deal with the scientific examination of DNA, their choice is quite similar to what we have today – bodily fluids, hair, and so on. This choice is important because it convey the message that all those scientific tools (and the ways to forge them) as not so far from today’s technologies as one may think. Creating a whole new technology, such as the space ships in Star Trek, could have easily conveyed the opposite sense.
Finally, many genetic traits can be seen without using sophisticated technology. Genetic elements such as skin color and height have obviously immense influence on people’s lives and on how they are treated by society. Vincent, a “natural” baby who was conceived without the aid of genetic engineering, was just burn when he was categorized as having weak genetic profile, a categorization no one can bypass. Similar tendencies can be seen in today’s society, e.g. in the way people with deformation r even “inferior” ethnical background are treated in many cultures.
Is GATTACA Ever Going to Happen?
Fiction does not always fall too short from reality. For example, long before the age of video and CCTV, Orwell’s introduced the telescreens, devices that broadcast propaganda and serve as surveillance instruments in every home. From the little we know about North Korea, it appears that such devices serve the regime in very similar fashion, and CCTV can be found everywhere around the globe. The question, thus, is how far is the “not too distant future” described in the film.
In order to answer this question, we must separate fantasy from the reality of genetics and human engineering. The study and practice of these fields does not intend to build a superior race, rather than to use state-of-the-art knowledge to reduce the incidents of genetic diseases and perhaps to build a body of knowledge, which will improve people’s abilities in terms of e.g. stronger immune system and maybe also some cognitive traits.
Nevertheless, the scientific community is quite careful about the possible horizons of genetic engineering. For example, as noted by Othmer, Othmer, and Kaiser, although about 30% of the codes in the human genome are responsible for building the central nerve system (the brain and the spinal cord), those codes contain only general instructions regarding the development and structure of the cognitive functions (246). Therefore, as long as science is kept sound and does not misused, its horizons are clear and its progress should not be a source of concern.
GATTACA raises important questions on the ethics of genetic research and human engineering. Its use of semi-scientific methods, which appear similar to the methods in use today, shifts the discussion from the possibility of making real changes in the human genome to the morality of this science. Also scientists and policy makers use the film as a case study for the proper behavior of society when the technology will be developed (Von Burg 100). As men can be as evil as creative, we should also consider how human engineering can be used to benefit mankind and not the opposite.
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