Last night I re-watched a favorite movie of mine called “Gattaca,” starring Ethan Hawke as Vincent Freeman and Uma Thurman as Irene Cassina, his love interest. The film was released in 1997 and nominated for an Academy award for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration. (Jan Roelfs, art director; and Nancy Nye, set decorator).
If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s the movie trailer.
“Gattaca” received critical praise, but it certainly wasn’t a blockbuster. Then again, most movies released that year got lost in the wake of “Titanic,” which went on to gross $600,779,824, or about $830,254,231 in today’s money.
I’ll let the Internet Movie Database give you a summary of the “Gattaca’s” plot:
In the not-too-distant future, a less than perfect man wants to travel to the stars. Society has categorized Vincent Freeman as less than suitable given his genetic make-up and he has become one of the underclass of humans that are only useful for menial jobs. To move ahead, he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a fall. With some professional advice, Vincent learns to deceive DNA and urine sample testing. When a colleague is killed he is finally scheduled for a space mission, but a colleague suspects his origins and the police begin an investigation.
Gattaca Corp. is an aerospace firm in the future. During this time society analyzes your DNA and determines where you belong in life. Ethan Hawke’s character was born with a congenital heart condition that would cast him out of getting a chance to travel in space. So in turn he assumes the identity of an athlete who has genes that would allow him to achieve his dream of space travel.
Vincent is one of the last “natural” babies born into a sterile, genetically enhanced world, where life expectancy and disease likelihood are ascertained at birth. Myopic and due to die at 30, he has no chance of a career in a society that now discriminates against your genes, instead of your gender, race or religion. Going underground, he assumes the identity of Jerome, crippled in an accident, and achieves prominence in the Gattaca Corporation, where he is selected for his lifelong desire: a manned mission to Saturn. Constantly passing gene tests by diligently using samples of Jerome’s hair, skin, blood and urine, his now-perfect world is thrown into increasing desperation, his dream within reach, when the mission director is killed – and he carelessly loses an eyelash at the scene! Certain that they know the murderer’s ID, but unable to track down the former Vincent, the police start to close in, with extra searches, and new gene tests. With the once-in-a-lifetime launch only days away, Vincent must avoid arousing suspicion, while passing the tests, evading the police, and not knowing whom he can trust.
“Gattaca” caught my attention because I’m a huge science fiction fan; plus Gore Vidal – one of my favorite writers – plays a small role in the movie that, alas, ends with his murder. But there’s another reason I watched this movie. The fictional premise of “Gattaca” is becoming a potential reality.
Fortunately, we no longer have to be too concerned about the consequences that our genes may predict for our future health because of what happened on May 21, 2008.
On that day, President George W. Bush signed into law H.R. 493, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) that will protect Americans against discrimination based on their genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment.
GINA was first proposed more than 15 years ago, in order pave the way for workers to take advantage of the promise of personalized medicine without fear of discrimination. At the time, fewer than 100 genetic tests existed.
Today, however, there are more than 1,200 genetic tests that are widely used for medical diagnoses, covering areas such as cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
By the way, if you’re wondering why the movie is called “Gattaca,” the answer is all in your genes.
Our genetic heritage, as well as that of all living organisms on our planet, is encoded with four DNA bases:
Is it starting to make sense?
It’s purely random, but geneticists have noticed these four DNA bases sometimes line up to form GATTACA in a DNA sequence. I’m glad that GINA makes GATTACA something we don’t have to worry about…at least for now.
So sayeth the StickMonkey.