The film Gattaca, is based on a dystopian society that is contingent on
genetic modification, or for lack of a better term, genetic perfection.

Throughout the film, we see the journey of Vincent Freeman, a white man who
struggled to find a purpose for himself after being determined genetically defective
and “In-valid” at a young age. Gattaca
can be seen as a paradox to the typical forms of identity passing we have seen
because this passing narrative is highly heterosexual, masculine, and white.

Some would question how a straight white man, the ultimate patriarch of
society, could be oppressed. Focusing on human imperfection, discrimination,
and oppression, Gattaca analyzes the misperceptions
of personal identity and ultimately explores the issues that represent the
struggles, triumphs, and journey of Vincent Freeman.

The masculine human body and imperfection
are major symbolic focal points in this film. From the opening sequence, we see
“An enigmatic scene of minimalist formal beauty gradually becoming a display of
the shedding of abject bodily detritus for the purpose of an elaborate disguise,”
(Stacey 1851). This scene can suggest that the man stripping down his
imperfections (skin), is also simultaneously stripping away his identity. The
male body is being scrutinized and used as a form of deception, for the vision
of masculine perfection. Vincent Freeman and Jerome Morrow are used as
signifiers of perfection and imperfection in the film. From a young age Vincent
knew success had not been bred into his genetic makeup, and due to his
foreseeable health issues, had been labeled as “In-valid” and genetically
defective. In hopes of becoming a space navigator one day, Vincent takes on the
challenge of becoming, or passing as, Jerome Morrow. Jerome was once a
prestigious athlete with a near perfect genetic makeup, who after attempting to
commit suicide, was left paralyzed and unable to live up to his genetic
potential, therefore leaving it to be filled by Vincent. Though it seems Jerome
has the ideal genetics to be successful, what drove Jerome to feel that he
needed to end his life? Imperfection. Being a competitive swimmer, Jerome knew
he was expected to live up to his nearly perfect genotype, but when he placed
second 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” legacy
by imitating perfection. “The preoccupation with visual perfection within a
world of genetic normativity is centrally elaborated through Vincent’s disguise
of Jerome and by displaying the exacting precision of disguise necessary to
avoid genetic detection,” (Stacey 1854). Without the help of science and
technology, the idea of perfection displayed in this film is nearly unattainable
by natural means, can be deemed inhumane, and implies a societal standard of
human frailty.

As with the other examples of passing
narratives we have seen, oppression is a common means for someone to pass or
identify as someone else in order to embrace some form of personal gain. There
are many obvious instances of oppression in Gattaca
that are mostly focused on Vincent’s struggles. Some would say that is
impossible, how could a heterosexual white man ever be oppressed? This film
differs from the typical passing narrative, because it focuses on the
discrimination of genetics, something we are inherently born with, something
that 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 ultimate
determination of a character’s potential. Due to his heart condition and other prevalent
health issues, Vincent had been inadequate and shut out from the moment he was
born. This had put a red flag on his shoulders, and had stopped him from pursuing
his 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 drive
and motivation ultimately breaks the boundaries that determine his own success.

“Gattaca explores Vincent’s masculine
drive and, in placing him outside the dominant eugenic values of society,
invites us to invest in the success of his deception,” (Stacey 1861). One of
the films strategic techniques in making Vincent the face of oppression, was by
placing him in an inferior position in which he would be able to free himself
from. This speaks to the scope and perspective of Hollywood film, and the
common argument of whitewashing the industry.

There are various filmic elements that represent
oppression and determination in relation to the journey of Vincent Freeman and
Jerome Morrow.  The use of ladder like
objects and phrases like “borrowed ladder” suggest the idea of simultaneous
advancement and descent. This is explicitly shown in the scene where there is a
long 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 DNA
double helix, spiral design that is expressed in the staircase at Jerome’s
dwelling. The double helix represents the notion of hierarchy, for each step of
the ladder is either higher up or lower down,” (Clarke 191). Ladders allow for
mobility, and this applies to Gattaca,
because as Jerome has seemingly moved downward after his accident, Vincent has
ascended up the ladder of hierarchy. A vital turning point in Vincent’s journey
against his struggles, takes place in the scene where he is shown taking the
escalator, “Representing his elevation to the position of Navigator in the Gattaca
Corporation,” (Clarke 191). Although stairs and ladders can be seen as an
optimistic symbol for Vincent and his ascent to his dreams, it is an obstacle
and a symbol of entrapment for Jerome. Vincent can now excel beyond what his
genetics allowed him to, while Jerome cannot move forward and get past it