“We cannot start over, but we can begin now and make a new ending”
This is one of the many underling messages in the film Gattaca which Andrew Niccol the director, presents to us using visual references to the early two thousands. Andrew saw the circular pattern in which humans live, never learning from past mistakes, but always complacently thinking that they were happier, or things were better before. First he draws on our selective memory of the past – imagining that it was better than the present, then pointedly reminds us of the racism, class struggles and other issues that plagued the twentieth century that we seemed to have forgotten in our lust for another time.
Niccol provides us with a warning as to how the future may turn out if we continue our complacency. He expertly laces the film with visual references to the past – more specifically the early two thousands, such as displaying cars like the 1970’s Buick Riviera and Rover. These cars are beautiful and ‘classic’, giving us a fond, but misguided nostalgia for another time. In this he is highlighting the human tendency to look to the past for answers, or think in the classic ‘ the grass is greener on the other side’ approach, that the past was better. In truth, the early twentieth century was a time when racism and class struggles reigned, but through selective memory have been glossed over. Andrew understood the danger in this type of thinking and brought back the prejudices and hardships of the past along with the nostalgic, much loved memories of the early two thousands to give us a much needed wake up call.
Paragraph one: cars
To begin his lesson Andrew had to draw on our feelings of nostalgia, and did this by weaving the more flashy, loveable aspects of the twentieth century into the film. He did this by bringing back a variety of vintage cars such as the 1971’s Buick Riviera, 1960’s Jaguar and the 1970’s Rover 3500. To remind us that this is indeed the future, he expertly makes the cars electric – as at the time ‘electric cars’ was a faraway, futuristic idea. In the introduction to the film Jerome is conceived in a beautiful green Buick Riviera. The shot is taken from above in a birds eye view angle, which shows off the sleek, cone shaped back and wide skylight in which Jeromes’ parents faces are visible. The design of the 1971 Buick Riviera was crafted to capture the ‘classic’ feel of the even older 1930s boattail roadsters. This desperate attempt at recreating something once loved brings to our attention how obsessed we are with another time… a ‘better’ time. At every driving scene we are hit with more images of the sleek and stylish cars from the twentieth century, which dazzles us, and fills us with a misguided nostalgia for ‘the past’.
When Jerome and Irene are returning from a concert they speed through the night in a 1960 Jaguar Mk.II. After they are waved through the checkpoint we are shown a side profile of the car. It is long and grey, the stage lighting positioned to catch the glint of the metal trim around the cars body to capture its sleekness. Distracted by the love of beauty we forget everything to be learned from the past, in regards to racism and the class struggle, and focus only on a pretty car that screams elegance.
And that is how he did it. Automobiles run off electricity to reinforce that it is the future, but with the beautiful body of the cars we know and love. Our attention has been caught, and in a nostalgic way we are admiring the class and sophistication of the era. We think ‘the past was better’ or ‘why can’t todays society look like that?’
Paragraph two: racism
We are feeling a lust for the past because of all the beauty it trapped in the form of a car.. we are right were Niccol wants us. Now to remind us of the hardships of the early twentieth century he brings back some of the harsh racism of the time – with a futuristic twist.
After the natural conception of the imperfect Vincent Freeman Mr and Mrs Freeman decide to have their next child genetically engineered – as was common for the time. At the genetics counselling office the pair speak with a black geneticist about their future child. He explains to them ” I have taken the liberty of eradicating any potentially prejudicial conditions – premature baldness, myopia, alcoholism” .. the list goes on. At this Mrs Freeman interrupts, concerned about just how much is being predetermined for her child.
Mrs Freeman: “we didn’t want — diseases, yes”
Mr Freeman: “we were wondering if we could leave some things up to chance.”
Geneticist: “… believe me, we had enough imperfection built-in already. Your child does not need any additional burdens”
In this short conversation Niccol is reminding us of the racism that thrived in the early two thousands. By casting the geneticist as a black man Andrew is sending us a visual queue that represents the years of struggle and pain that comes with having a dark skin tone. Without even knowing a thing about the characters past the colour of his skin adds staggering weight to his words. It is natural to want to escape imperfection, however ‘Gattaca’ is still laden with racism, despite this geneticist and many others efforts. Because the supposed ‘genetic selection’ of the future Andrew had to represent the racism of the past in different forms. It is no longer about the colour of your skin, or where you came from, but how perfect you are. Vincent – a naturally imperfect man – deals with this futuristic form of racism in a struggle that reminds us of the past and warns us about the future. We are repeatedly show the new racism as the ‘invalid’ sign shines on the screen of any devise testing the real Vincent’s blood/identity. The sign means that because of his natural imperfections or differences Vincent is not able to get a job, achieve the same as a ‘valid’ and is viewed as lesser. All of these are direct parallels to the racism of the past ( and in some cases – unfortunately – still present)
After falling in love with ‘the past’ through the visual form of cars we are reminded of the ugliness of the time in the form of futuristic references to the racism that reigned. The black geneticist working for perfection in others and the ‘invalid’ sign that lights up our screens to show that Vincent will never be given a fair shot at his dreams all work to reverse our selective memory and remind us to learn from the past.
Paragraph three: class stuggle
Paragraph four: aryan race – underlying all