Data and Genetic Discrimination

Data and Genetic Discrimination

Gattaca is a 1997 American dystopian science fiction film written and directed by Andrew Niccol in his filmmaking debut. It stars Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, with Jude Law, Loren Dean, Ernest Borgnine, Gore Vidal, and Alan Arkin appearing in supporting roles. The film presents a biopunk vision of a future society driven by eugenics where potential children are conceived through genetic selection to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents. The film centers on Vincent Freeman, played by Hawke, who was conceived outside the eugenics program and struggles to overcome genetic discrimination to realize his dream of going into space.

The film draws on concerns over reproductive technologies that facilitate eugenics, and the possible consequences of such technological developments for society. It also explores the idea of destiny and the ways in which it can and does govern lives. Characters in Gattaca continually battle both with society and with themselves to find their place in the world and who they are destined to be according to their genes.

In the “not-too-distant” future, eugenics is common. A genetic registry database uses biometrics to classify those so created as “valids” while those conceived naturally and more susceptible to genetic disorders are known as “in-valids”. Genetic discrimination is illegal, but in practice genotype profiling is used to identify valids to qualify for professional employment while in-valids are relegated to menial jobs.


Vincent Freeman was conceived naturally and his genetic profile indicates a high probability of several disorders and an estimated lifespan of 30.2 years. His parents, regretting their decision, use genetic selection in conceiving their second child, Anton Jr. Growing up, the two brothers often play a game of “chicken” by swimming out to sea as far as possible, with the first one returning to shore considered the loser, and Vincent always loses. Vincent dreams of a career in space travel but is always reminded of his genetic inferiority. One day, Vincent challenges Anton to a game of chicken and beats him. Anton starts to drown and is saved by Vincent. Shortly after, Vincent leaves home.

Years later, Vincent works as an in-valid, cleaning office spaces including that of spaceflight conglomerate Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. He gets a chance to pose as a valid by using donated hair, skin, blood and urine samples from former swimming star Jerome Eugene Morrow, who was paralyzed after being hit by a car. With Jerome’s genetic makeup, Vincent gains employment at Gattaca, and is assigned as navigator for an upcoming mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. To conceal his identity, Vincent must meticulously groom and scrub down daily to remove his own genetic material, pass daily DNA scanning and urine tests using Jerome’s samples, and hide his heart defect.

When a Gattaca administrator is murdered a week before a possible launch, the police find one of Vincent’s eyelashes near the crime scene, but can only identify it as from an “unregistered” in-valid, and thus launch an investigation to find who owns the eyelash. During this, Vincent becomes close to a co-worker, Irene Cassini, and falls in love with her. Though a valid, Irene has a higher risk of heart failure that will bar her from any deep space mission. Vincent also learns that Jerome’s paralysis is self-inflicted; after placing silver in the Olympics, Jerome threw himself in front of a car. Jerome maintains that he was designed to be the best, yet somehow wasn’t, and is suffering because of this.

Vincent repeatedly evades the grasp of the investigation. Finally, it is revealed that Gattaca’s mission director Josef killed the administrator because he threatened to cancel the mission. Vincent learns that the detective who closed the case was his brother Anton, who consequently has discovered Vincent’s presence. The brothers meet, and Anton warns Vincent about his illegal actions, but Vincent asserts that he has gotten to this position on his own merits. Anton challenges Vincent to a final game of chicken. As the two swim out at night, Vincent’s stamina surprises Anton, so Vincent reveals that he won by not saving energy for the swim back. Anton turns back and begins to drown, but Vincent rescues him and swims them both back to shore.

On the day of the launch, Jerome reveals that he has stored enough DNA samples for Vincent to last two lifetimes upon his return, and gives him an envelope to open once in flight. After saying goodbye to Irene, Vincent prepares to board but discovers there is a final genetic test, and he currently lacks any of Jerome’s samples. He is surprised when Dr. Lamar, who oversees background checks, reveals that he knows Vincent has been posing as a valid. Lamar admits that his son looks up to Vincent and wonders whether his son, genetically selected but “not all that they promised”, could exceed his potential just as Vincent has. The doctor changes the test results, allowing Vincent to pass. As the rocket launches, Jerome dons his swimming medal and immolates himself in his home’s incinerator; Vincent opens the note from Jerome to find only a lock of Jerome’s hair. As the movie ends, Vincent muses that “For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess, I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once a part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving; maybe I’m going home.”

This from Wikipedia —well worth a watch!!