SUBJECTS — Science Fiction;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Alcohol and Drug Abuse; Human Rights; Brothers; Friendship; Suicide;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Fairness.
AGE; 14+; Rated PG-13 for brief violent images, language, and some sexuality;
Drama; 1997; 101 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
The film takes place in a genetically engineered “not too distant future.” Fertilized embryos are selected and altered for intelligence, strength, resistance to disease, and physical appearance. (The genetic counselor tells parents “It’s still you, simply the best of you.”) Children conceived in the normal way, “faith babies,” are treated as second class citizens and relegated to menial jobs.
“Gattaca” is a multifaceted film. It’s the story of Vincent, a “faith baby” with strong will power who dreams of exploring space but lives in a world where only the genetically enhanced can be astronauts. Undaunted, Vincent pursues his dream in the only way possible. Jerome is the opposite. Blessed with the improvements offered by genetic engineering, he is unable to cope with the disappointments of life. “Gattaca” is also a murder mystery. Vincent gets caught up in the investigation surrounding the killing of his superior at work, a man who opposed the mission that Vincent has been scheduled to take. Is Vincent the murderer? Will the investigation expose Vincent as an “in-valid” and a “de-gene-erate?”
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
SERIOUS. One of the main characters commits suicide, and it takes some serious thinking to understand that the film’s philosophy is critical of this action. On one occasion, the hero of the film is cornered and brutally beats a police officer by punching, head-butting and kicking him.
The two most sympathetic characters drink alcohol to excess on several occasions. There is scattered profanity (two “f…” words, a few scatological references and mild obscenities). We are shown the very bloody, pulpy head of a murder victim, surrounded by a pool of blood. People are shown in bed before and after sexual intercourse but there is no nudity and there are no sexually suggestive movements.
Tell your child that soon genetic engineering will be able to cure disease and also to make normal people stronger, taller, better looking etc. Ask what he or she thinks about that and then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question. If your child is interested, go through some of the other Discussion Questions.
TeachWithMovies.org recommends that every child in any family in which there is any history of heavy drinking or alcohol abuse be taken to an open AA meeting beginning at the age of 12 or 13. This should be repeated every year or so. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Try to stay for the second part. That’s when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety. Tell the kids that if they ever have trouble with alcohol, the twelve steps of AA are a way that they can avoid the destructive effects of alcoholism. For more information, see Handout on Alcohol and How it Affects Us.
“Gattaca” was made in 1997. Since that time, almost the entire human genome has been catalogued and discoveries in the field of bioengineering are occurring so quickly that any description of where science stands in this area would almost immediately be out-of-date. Scientists are now talking about cloning human beings as a serious possibility and the ethical questions involved are of immediate and pressing urgency. This film is an excellent device to get children thinking about the implications of the advances in biotechnology.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
If we were able to exclude the eccentric, the different, the misfits, and the weak, what would happen to society?
Society would become uninteresting and sterile and there would be less innovation if everyone were the same. Just look at food. What would life be like without Italian food, Mexican food, Middle Eastern food or Chinese food? It is very often the person who is different, who sees things a little differently, that will invent something or forge new ways for society to see itself. Jesus was considered by most to be a misfit. It was the Pharisees who were the “popular people” of his day. The Buddha was a prince but rejected it all for religious contemplation. And what about the next genetic innovation in mankind that perfects us, makes us better? How would a society that can engineer genetic innovation treat that person? Chances are the mutation would be treated as a birth defect and eliminated. The beneficial nature of differences among people is an important concept for teenagers who are often slaves to conformity or miserable because they cannot conform.
2. Compare Jerome and Vincent. What were their strengths and their weaknesses? In what ways were they the mirror image of each other?
3. Was Jerome mentally ill?
4. Compare Anton and Vincent, the two brothers. How was Vincent able to beat Anton at swimming despite Vincent’s weak heart?
5. Why is there such resistance to the new order imposed by this society? (Examples are: Vincent’s girlfriend and the test technician.)
6. What do you think is wrong with the society portrayed in “Gattaca”?
7. Wouldn’t every parent want to ensure that their child was perfect and had the attributes of physical attractiveness, intelligence and athletic prowess to be able to do whatever he or she wanted in life? If so, why is the society portrayed in this film so devoid of happiness, vitality and fun?
8. What made Vincent able to qualify for the Saturn mission despite his physical infirmities and lack of genetic perfection?
9. If you were the president of a corporation that could hire genetically enhanced individuals, would you do so? If you didn’t, how could you compete with corporations that did hire only the genetically improved? What are the implications of this for our future?
10. Most parents will tell you that children are born with their own peculiar personality. This can be affected by events in the child’s life, but there is definitely a strong, if not overriding, genetic component. We may, in the future, be able to modify these characteristics, just as physical characteristics and intelligence could be modified. What are the implications of this?
11. Some people have countered the vision of this film by saying that our strengths are inextricably combined with our weaknesses. Do you agree with this?
12. Soon, life insurance companies, health insurance companies, employers, and the government will have the tools to predict our future health. Is this too much information for them to have? Is there any way to stop it?
13. The character of the Director (the murderer) told the investigators that there was no indication of violence in his genetic make-up. What were the screenwriters trying to tell us by this scene?
14. What were the screenwriters trying to tell us through the episode of the 12 fingered pianist? What is wrong with engineering children to have 12 fingers if, as a result, they will be able to make extraordinarily beautiful music?
15. What limits should be placed on genetic engineering? Should it be allowed at all? Should it be limited to the elimination of disease and physical imperfections?
16. Should we permit people to make human clones of themselves? What about someone who cannot have a child?
17. Should we permit people to make human clones of other people?
18. If you would permit human cloning, would the clones have all the rights of “natural” people?
19. Was Vincent justified in brutally beating the police officer outside of the nightclub?
1. Jerome committed suicide at the end of this film. What was the screenwriter’s purpose in showing this end to this character? Suggested Response: That a future in which human attributes are left to chance is emotionally, morally and spiritually bankrupt.
2. Is it true that you are more than the sum of your genes?
3. Which did Anton have more allegiance to his caste of genetically enhanced beings or his brother?
4. Were Vincent and Jerome friends by the end of the film?
ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE
5. What was the role of alcohol in the destruction of Jerome’s personality?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. What is a caste system? Describe the caste system in Gattaca. Give some examples of caste systems in other societies that have actually existed.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)
2. Was the society described in this film one in which fairness was a value? What problems were caused by the failure of society to promote fairness?
“de-gene-erate”, “valid”, “in-valid”, “faith baby”, “genetic engineering.”
Attendance at an open AA meeting is an excellent extra-credit activity. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Tell the kids to ask permission to stay for the second part. That’s when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety.