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Culture > Entertainment

Gattaca: A Film That Predicted the Future

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

The 1997 dystopian film Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol, is thought-provoking and an overall fun watch. From the title, which is composed entirely of letters used to name nucleotide bases of DNA, to certain elements of the cinematography and plot, Gattaca draws countless connections to genomic engineering in the real world. Through introspection of genetic engineering and human willpower, Niccol poses a profound question to the audience about what it means to be human.

Gattaca is set in a world where genetically engineered children are the norm; the preferable method of conception is no longer natural, but through in-vitro fertilization. Through this process, parents can choose the best traits—physical and genomic—in order to give their child the best possible life. In this gene-obsessed world that discriminates against “invalids” at every turn, the main character, Vincent, is born an “invalid.” Through Vincent’s story, Niccol contextualizes the inner workings of this society and how an “invalid” like him manages to gain a high position at the most prestigious facility there is.

Despite his obvious genetic disadvantage in society, Vincent has always had a fascination with space. With the help of Eugene, a “valid,” Vincent cheats the system to gain a high position in Gattaca Aerospace Corporation, in order to go on a mission to Titan. In doing so, he sacrifices every piece of his identity in order to genetically pass as Eugene. The remaining story revolves around Vincent’s journey to Titan and how he must overcome obstacles to prove his worth. Vincent’s sheer determination and willingness to sacrifice everything to achieve his dream poses important questions about what it means to be human and whether genetic perfection translates to success in society.

My initial reaction to Gattaca’s society was surprise. Genetic engineering and CRISPR technology were first used to edit a human embryo in 2015. This means that Gattaca, released in 1997, anticipated the use of genetic engineering to manipulate human genomes in IVF embryos and its consequences on society. I was surprised that Niccol accurately identified so many consequences that bioethicists currently anticipate as results of genetic engineering of human embryos with IVF. Overall, I enjoyed the movie and thought it was engaging, interesting, and thematically meaningful in today’s world of genetic engineering.

One major question I had regarding Gattaca’s society was: how does racial diversity play a role in this new society? Though it is mentioned a few times throughout the movie that society is now divided on the basis of genetics (“invalids” vs. “valids”), all of the main characters are white, and almost every single genetically engineered “valid” working in high positions at Gattaca is also white. As I watched, I wondered whether this lack of genetic diversity was intentional. Is the lack of diversity simply an inadvertent representation of the lack of representation in Hollywood, or did Niccol purposefully only cast white actors in main roles? Was Niccol trying to make a point that a lack of diversity would be a result of the acceptance of eugenics and procreative beneficence?

At the status quo, parents who use IVF to have children can pick and choose between embryos, but there are regulations in place. For example, there are certain regulations on whether couples can pick the gender of their child. Reading about this and watching Gattaca led me to question how different countries would regulate genetic engineering of embryos prior to implantation based on cultural differences. In societies like India and many other Asian countries, where skin color is a genetic factor that heavily influences how someone is perceived and treated, would parents show restraint in selecting embryos on the basis of physical appearance? This is likely a very real issue we will have to face in the near future. The lack of diversity in Gattaca, even if it was unintentional, drew my attention to that.

Despite Gattaca’s emphasis on genetic perfection, there seems to be exceptions made for certain imperfect people. For example, there is a concert held by a 12-fingered pianist. The pianist plays a piece that can only be played by someone with 12 fingers, indicating that even in this society where genetic perfection is the utmost priority for parents to give their child the perfect life, imperfection makes for diversity and benefits to society. If genetic engineering was 100% perfect and made sure that every single child born was genetically set up to succeed in society, Gattaca’s society never would have had the chance to experience the beauty of that 12-fingered pianist’s talents.

Overall, I enjoyed the film and would recommend it!  It is engaging, interesting, and thematically meaningful in today’s world of genetic engineering and CRISPR.


Niccol, Andrew, director. Gattaca. Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, 1997. 

Parker, Michael. “The Best Possible Child.” Journal of Medical Ethics, BMJ Group, May 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2598117/. 

Hi! My name is Sravani Sunkara, and I am a freshman at Michigan State University studying human biology and bioethics. In my free time, I run, bake, hammock, and volunteer as a junior EMT at my local rescue station.