Scenes 1 – 3: First scene to “I am not Jerome Morrow” (4:30 – 9:08)
The first scene of ‘Gattaca’ creates an immediate sense of success and ambition, while maintain a strong atmosphere of ambiguity. The scene begins with a panning shot of the interior of the Gattaca Institute. The crisp white walls, artificial light and minimalistic decorations indicate the structured and rigid nature of the society, as there is no room for imperfections. An establishing shot indicates hundreds of workers dressed in suits, ascending an elevator. The costuming and low-angle shots of the rising figures indicate that these are the elite in society. Among these figures, the camera zooms in towards an unnamed man, who becomes the protagonist of the film.
We first see him as he reaches the very top of the elevator, foreshadowing his remarkable success and transition throughout the film. His appearance is very professional, as he has slicked back hair, a suit and a tie. He pricks his finger on a device, activating a green light, signalling his genetic code. He walks away with a calm demeanour and confident step. Sound effects illustrate the lack of warmth within the institute, as repetitive loud footsteps emphasise the monotony and lack of individuality within the place. As the man, introduced as Jerome, sits at his desk he uses a small vacuum to clean particles from his computer keyboard. We do not learn until later in the film that he is doing this to eradicate any traces of his DNA. There is then an extreme close up as he opens a jar and sprinkles its contents – skin, hair and nails – around his work station. Skin, hair and nails are a key motif throughout the film, as they represent the society’s obsession with genetic material.
In this first scene, we learn that the man referred to as Jerome is an astronaut, and will be travelling to Titan within a week. The mission director informs him that “It’s right that someone like you is taking us to Titan.” This quote is significant, as it indicates that the protagonist is in fact perfect for the job (despite his inferior DNA).
The scene then moves to a doctor’s office, where the man undertakes a substance test. Urine tests and blood tests are a common practice within the institute, to ensure that workers are who they claim to be. When his sample is analysed, his name appears on a computer screen under the name ‘Jerome Morrow: VALID’, beside the infinity symbol, representing success and endless possibilities. We find out the meaning of the term ‘valid’ during flashbacks in later scenes, and this delay of information creates suspense and intrigue.
The scene ends with the protagonist narrating, his voice over occurring as he walks towards a window and gazes at a spaceship leaving earth. The voice over states “The most unremarkable of events. Jerome Morrow, navigator first class, is about to embark on a one year mission to Titan. For Jerome, selection was almost guaranteed at birth. He’s blessed with all the gifts required for such an undertaking: a genetic quotient second to none. Know there is truly nothing remarkable about the progress of Jerome Morrow, except that I am not Jerome Morrow.” This narration provides great insight into the values of the society, and also confronts and intrigues the viewer through its paradoxical statement. The scene then fades out as classical music begins, further establishing this atmosphere of confusion and suspense. The viewer immediately questions the few details we have learnt from the beginning of the film, as we realise the protagonist is living under a false identity. From the very first scene, the skill of the director is apparent as the movie is immediately compelling and captivating.
Scenes 3 – 5: Flashback to Vincent’s childhood (“I was conceived in the Riviera to “It was the moment that made everything else possible”, 9:08 to 19:00)
The movie then cuts to a flashback, a common device used throughout ‘Gattaca’. Here, the protagonist explains his childhood days, beginning with his conception by natural means. This provides the essential backstory, explaining the protagonist’s paradoxical claim that he is not Jerome Morrow. Shots of the outside world appear optimistic and lush, and the filter on the camera lens makes the world appear golden. This creates a sense of nostalgia. As well as this, the juxtaposition between the clinical Gattaca interior and the evocative outdoor world causes the reader to critique and re-evaluate our initially positive view of the society.
During this flashback, we learn that genetic engineering is the norm in this futuristic society, and that individuals who are not genetically engineered suffer from discrimination. This is clearly seen in the ironic quote “I’ll never understand what possessed my mother to put her faith in God's hands, rather than her local geneticist,” usurping traditional religious values. Family values and expectations of love and warmth are also undermined in the hospital scene after his birth. The birth is not a cause of happiness or joy, but is treated like a matter of science and devoid of any affection. Before the parents even see their newborn child, his blood is tested, and doctors read out that he has “Neuroligical conditions 60% probability, manic depression 42% probability, Attention Deficit disorder 89% probability, Life Expectancy: 30.2 years.” His true name is revealed to be Vincent Anton Freeman. This harsh, sterile treatment of birth encourages us to critique the society and its emphasis on science and genes, at the expense of genuine human connections.
The childhood flashback continues to show how Vincent suffered in a world that favoured the genetically superior. When Vincent is denied acceptance into a primary school, there is a close up on the metal gate closing in his face, representing his struggles to fit in to society. There is also a deliberate parallel between Vincent and his genetically engineered brother Anton, “a son my father considered worthy of his name.” It is clear that his parents favour Anton over Vincent, indicated by their dialogue and actions.
During this first flashback, a key scene takes place: the first swimming scene. There are three swimming scenes throughout the film, and all contribute greatly to the plot, as well as having strong symbolic significance. In the first swimming scene, Vincent and Anton have a competition to see who can swim the farthest away from shore before getting scared and turning back. As they leap into the waves, chilling sombre classical music sets the serious mood. Aerial shots of the two boys swimming in a large expanse of water indicate the dangerous implications of their game and the destructive nature of their rivalry and quest for superiority. At this stage, it is not surprising that the genetically superior Anton is able to swim farther than Vincent, as the adult Vincent narrator states “Anton was by far the stronger swimmer, and he had no excuse to fail”. This first swimming scene represents society’s view that the genetically engineered are capable of far greater things than those conceived naturally.
The flashback then moves forward in time, as Vincent is now a teenager. This section focuses on his ambition and desire to become an astronaut, despite his genetically inferior standing. Teenage Vincent appears scruffy and dishevelled with unruly hair and a tattered grey shirt, a clear juxtaposition to his professional, polished appearance in the opening scene. This foreshadows the great change his character undergoes throughout the course of the film. Vincent’s desire to become an astronaut is expressed through his poetic and emotional quote “Maybe it was the love of the planets, maybe it was just my growing dislike for this one, but for as long as I can remember I had dreamed of going into space.” His father then undermines this optimistic notion when he bluntly tells teenage Vincent “The only way that you’ll see the inside of a spaceship is if you’re cleaning it.” This brutal quote clearly illustrates how Vincent’s drive and passion is overlooked due to his DNA, as he is trapped in a society that won’t allow him to reach his true potential. Despite this, his persistence to keep trying is a testament to the human spirit.
The flashback then progresses to the second swimming scene, where Vincent and Anton are both teenagers. This marks the turning point of the film. This scene begins much like the first swimming scene, with Anton mocking Vincent (“you know you’re gonna lose”), the same classical score and a similar aerial shoot. However, this time, “the impossible happened”, as Vincent was able to beat his brother. Extreme close ups of Anton struggling for breath and Vincent helping his younger brother emphasise the unexpectedness of this feat. Vincent’s voice over perfectly summarises the implications of this unexpected victory – “it was the one moment in our lives where Anton was not as strong as he believed, and I not as weak. It was the moment that made everything else possible.” The stark contrast between Vincent’s mistreatment as a child and his success in the swimming scene marks a change in his attitudes, as he now believes that he has the potential to follow his dreams. This section of the flashback ends with Vincent leaving the house and walking away, representing his journey to achieve the impossible.
Scenes 5 -7: Flashback to Vincent’s arrival at Gattaca (“Like many others in my situation, I moved around a lot” to “I made up my mind to resort to more extreme measures”, 19:06 to 22:38)
This next flashback focuses on Vincent’s beginnings at the Gattaca Institute. Due to his inferior DNA, he is only able to work as a janitor. The discrimination he suffers is explored in great depth through dialogue and symbols. The shot of the janitors sitting dejectedly on a moving truck, dressed in bleak grey costumes starkly contrasts with the opening shot of well-dressed professionals walking calmly down the Gattaca halls, emphasising the societal divide between ‘valids’ and ‘in-valids’. While cleaning, Vincent gazes up at the skylight and watches a spaceship take off. This represents the ‘glass ceiling’ effect, as he is unable to be on it and destined to a life of menial labour. Vincent ironically narrates “I was never more certain of how far away I was from my goal, than when I was standing right beside it”, as he cleans the roof and watches the departing spaceships. The classical score is mournful, indicative of Vincent’s yearning to aspire for better things. When Vincent, while cleaning the main office, sits in a seat and imagines himself working there, the viewer feels a strong sense of empathy.
Although the head janitor constantly mocks Vincent’s dreams, this does not deter him. The head janitor rudely says “When you’re cleaning the glass, don’t clean it too well – you might get ideas”, to which Vincent boldly replies “If the glass is clean it will be easier for you to see me when I’m on the other side of it.” The fact that Vincent remains strong willed, despite all criticism and discrimination, is one of his most endearing qualities.
Scenes 7 – 10: Flashback to Vincent adopting Jerome’s identity (“The man who showed up at my doorstep” to “He may have more success exposing me in death”, 22:38 to 33:22)
In the final flashback, Vincent explains exactly how he ‘became’ Jerome Morrow. Vincent meets a man who is able to provide him with ‘valid’ DNA. In a voice over, Vincent explains the process behind this – “For the genetically superior, success is easier to obtain, but it is not guaranteed. When, for some reason, a member of the elite falls on hard times, their genetic identity becomes a valued commodity for the unscrupulous.” This quote conveys a number of key ideas, for example, the rampant dehumanisation by viewing humans as commodities, and the idea that identity can be measured by one’s genes.
We are then introduced to the real Jerome Eugene Morrow, a crucial character. We first hear about him through the man arranging the agreement. Jerome Morrow is described in a clinical and detailed way, as if he is an item to be exchanged or part of a business deal. “His credentials are impeccable. An expiration date you wouldn’t believe. He’s got an IQ off the register, better than 20/20 in both eyes, the heart of an ox. He could run through a wall, if he could still run.” The camera follows Vincent and the man into Jerome’s apartment. His apartment is small, squalid and dimly lit, indicative of Jerome’s pessimistic attitude and bitterness about his life. Jerome then enters, via a wheelchair, smoking and frowning. The cigarette smoke and dim interior are reminiscent of film noir, and emphasise that he is jaded and bitter. In this way, before Jerome even speaks, the audience is already aware of his characterisation. The man explains that Jerome Morrow became wheel-chair bound after an accident overseas that was not recorded, allowing Vincent to assume his identity. When Jerome first speaks he is sarcastic and well-spoken, as when Vincent asks him who lives upstairs he replies “Well I certainly don’t”, a reference to his wheelchair bound state.
The film shows the various steps Vincent has done to resemble Jerome, such as wear blue contact lenses. This is significant because Vincent’s glasses are a symbol of his genetic inferiority and weaknesses, whereas the contacts provide the illusion of perfection. Vincent’s hair is also cut and styled to look exactly like Jerome’s. An optimistic classical score plays while Vincent stands next to a sepia photograph of the real Jerome, the two looking almost identical. There is still one last major obstacle. Because Jerome is taller than Vincent, Vincent has to undergo a painful procedure of having his legs broken and extended until he is the same height. Vincent is initially hesitant but then accepts that this is a necessary step he must do in order to get into Gattaca, claiming “I took my mind off the pain by reminding myself that when I eventually did stand up, I would be exactly 2 inches closer to the stars.” This is another stunning testament to his determination.
Jerome shows Vincent his silver medal from when he came second place in a swimming competition, and laments “Jerome Morrow was never meant to be one step down on the podium.” The silver medal is a strong symbol of the inherent flaws in the society of ‘Gattaca’, as even the genetically superior elite, who are promised success, can fail. Jerome encourages Vincent to call him by his middle name, Eugene, so that Vincent can be used to being called Jerome. From now on, this analysis will refer to the original Jerome as Jerome/Eugene, and Vincent impersonating Jerome as Vincent/Jerome when there is ambiguity.
This flashback ends when Vincent/Jerome’s preparations are all finished, and he is ready to apply at Gattaca. He opens a fridge full of urine pouches and blood samples – elements of Jerome/Eugene’s valid DNA. When he takes out a urine pouch and tests it on a machine it comes up with an error message, as the urine contains alcohol. The line “there’s more vodka in this piss than there is piss”, while humorous, illustrates that Jerome/Eugene is an alcoholic, further conveying his miserable state.
The same doctor from the beginning of the film, Dr Lamar, tests Vincent’s blood and the screen comes up with ‘Jerome Morrow: VALID’. He has successfully passed, and will now realise his ambition of working as an astronaut in Gattaca. In voice overs, Vincent explains how he constantly scrubs and rids himself of his loose skin, hair and fingernails, while Jerome provides him with his own samples of genetic material, while there are numerous close ups of these elements.
This marks the end of the flashbacks, as the film’s backstory is now explained. A key subplot of the film is now revealed – the mission director has been murdered, and investigators are trying to find the killer.
Scenes 10 – 12: Vincent/Jerome and Jerome/Eugene’s celebration (“I’m going up” to “I’m proud of you Vincent”, 35:40 to 41:35)
This is the first scene after the flashbacks, situated in the film’s current time. Vincent/Jerome tells Jerome/Eugene that he will be going into space in a week (“I’m going up”) and the two go out to celebrate, following Jerome’s advice – “we have to get drunk immediately.” The scene then cuts to an elaborate dance hall which starkly contrasts to the squalid apartment. The dance hall is bright, spacious and ornately decorated and filled with people in intricate attire. This perfectly suits the celebratory mood of the scene.
As the two begin to drink, we are provided with more insight into Jerome/Eugene’s character. When Vincent asks Jerome what he’s going to do while he’s in space, Jerome is hesitant and avoids the question. He then mutters “I’m going to finish this” while finishing his glass of wine. This deceptively simple line is actually clever foreshadowing to the final scene where Jerome commits suicide, hence finishing his life. In this exchange, Jerome’s true loneliness is made apparent and we strongly empathise with him. Vincent tells Jerome that he should be going to Titan, because up there his legs won’t matter. Jerome replies that he’s “scared of heights”. Whether this is a truthful confession or sarcastic remark, it illustrates Jerome’s lack of determination and drive. As Jerome/Eugene is representative of the plight of the valids, this suggests that valids typically lack the strength and determination that comes from overcoming obstacles. This is further supported by Vincent’s statement “Jerome had been genetically engineered with everything he needed to get into Gattaca, except the desire to do so.” It is bitterly ironic that the valid who was capable of anything became subjected to a lonely existence in a squalid basement, while an in-valid destined for nothingness has a chance to reach the stars.
Scenes 14 – 16: Vincent/Jerome and Irene roof scene and first date (“I see I’m not the only one who looks up” to “I guess it must be the light”, 48:46 to 1:01:00)
The first significant interaction between Vincent/Jerome and his Gattaca co-worker Irene occurs when he approaches her on the roof while she watches a space ship taking off. She tells him that she had his DNA sequenced (in reality it was Jerome Morrow’s DNA, not Vincent’s DNA), and that thinks he is “everything they said he is and more.” This is ironic, as his true DNA indicates that he is not who he claims to be. Irene shares her shortcomings with Vincent, telling him that she could never be an astronaut because, despite her superior genes, she has a risk of a heart attack. When Vincent tells her “if there’s anything wrong with you, I can’t see it from where I’m standing”, Irene hands him a lock of her hair and encourages him to test it, in order to discover her genetic flaws. This is indicative of her mindset at the start of the film, that genetics are an honest mark of a person’s greatness. Her appearance also aligns with this view, as her professional suit and clean bun align her with the Gattaca elite. Vincent tosses away the hair strand, claiming that the wind blew it, representing his attitude that a person’s DNA is not an accurate representation of who they are, and that he will like Irene regardless of her genes.
The scene then cuts to Vincent and Irene’s first date. When Irene arrives at the apartment to pick Vincent up, she sees Jerome staring out the window, illustrating the parallel between the two characters. Vincent and Irene go to a piano concert along with the rest of the Gattaca staff, while the police investigators search for the murder. After the concert, the pianist throws his glove into the audience, and Vincent realises he has twelve fingers. When he comments “twelve fingers or one it’s how you play”, Irene undercuts this by stating “that piece can only be played with twelve.” Again, Irene shares the view of the elite.
Scenes 18 – 21: Vincent/Jerome and Irene’s second date (“You’re luckier than most” to “That’s not true Irene”, 1:06:00 to 1:13:40)
The second date marks a dramatic change in Irene’s attitudes. This is initially indicated by her costuming as her hair is out and she is wearing a gold dress, a departure from her previous slick bun and black attire. The music at the dance venue is loud and playful, and the place is ornately decorated with chandeliers.
Their date is interrupted when the police investigators arrive. They had discovered and eyelash with Vincent’s true DNA at the crime scene and are now looking for an invalid named Vincent Freeman; the detectives are convinced that if they can find him, he is the murderer. When Vincent sees them, he flees with Irene, kicking an officer in the process. Suspenseful music plays as they run down back alleys. In the process, Vincent begins to reveal the truth to Irene, and the two kiss passionately.
The scene then cuts to the beach where they fall in love. The camera zooms in to crashing blue waves, continuing the water motif throughout the film. The camera then pans up to a room with glass walls, where the two are lying next to each other asleep. A strong sense of peace and tranquillity is evoked. In the morning, Vincent uses sand and rocks to rub the excess skin from his body, while Irene washes all makeup off her face. There is a deliberate parallel between the two lovers.
Scenes 21 – 23: Investigator visits Jerome’s apartment (“I need you to be yourself for the day” to “It is possible”, 1:15:00 to 1:23:18)
This scene is full of dramatic action, as the investigator, convinced that Vincent/Jerome is the invalid Vincent Freeman in disguise, arrives at Jerome’s apartment to test his blood and analyse his DNA.
This scene portrays the first moment where Jerome/Eugene displays determination and willpower. Vincent/Jerome calls Jerome/Eugene and explains that the detectives will head to his apartment. He urges Jerome/Eugene “I need you to be yourself for the day”, to which he cynically replies “I was never very good at that remember.” In this exchange, Vincent and Jerome’s positions are almost reversed. Before the phone call, Vincent was gazing out a window while Jerome was hurriedly scrubbing his arms to collect his skin cells. The fact that typically Jerome gazes out of windows while Vincent scrubs indicates that the situations have been reversed.
A key scene occurs when Jerome/Eugene realises that he has to climb the stairs and act like he had never been in the paralysing car accident. With great effort and strain, Jerome pulls himself up the spiral staircase. Close ups of his face indicate that he is in great pain. A series of shot-reverse-shots show that just as Jerome is near the top of the stairs, the investigator is seconds away from the apartment. After the doorbell is rung many times, he is just able to reach the button to invite the investigator in. He then positions himself upright on the lounge and composes himself so as to not draw suspicion. This scene illustrates that, beneath his cynical side, Jerome Eugene is a caring man who will put in effort for something that really matters.
The investigator, thinking that Jerome/Eugene is Vincent, is surprised when the blood test shows him to in fact be ‘Jerome Morrow: VALID’. Seconds after the investigator leaves, Vincent/Jerome walks up the stairs. In a humorous exchange where the two call each other “Jerome”, the parallel between the two is at its greatest. At this moment, Jerome/Eugene has proved that he, much like Vincent, also shares great determination and an ability to defy the odds and achieve what appears to be impossible.
Scenes 23 – 25: Vincent/Jerome confronts the investigator (“My God, you have changed” to “I never saved anything for the swim back”, 1:24:00 to 1:30:00)
After it is discovered that Director Josef is the true killer, Vincent/Jerome confronts the investigator that went to his apartment. The investigator confirms Vincent’s suspicions – that he is his brother Anton. The two have a heated argument. When Anton threatens to reveal Vincent’s secret, Vincent refuses, claiming “Is that the only way you can succeed; to see me fail? God, even you are gonna tell me what I can and can’t do now.” They bring up the time when Vincent beat Anton, and Anton challenges him to a third swimming contest.
Unlike the others, this swimming scene takes place at night, with the pitch black sky and dark waves emphasising the danger and seriousness of this final competition. They swim so far out that Anton urges them to head back, but Vincent refuses to back out. When they are both on the verge of drowning, Vincent explains “This is how I did it: I never saved anything for the swim back.” This quote indicates Vincent’s mindset throughout the whole film and his awareness that, in order to succeed, he would have to put in every effort, even if the consequences were high. This reflects that, because of his genetic shortcomings, Vincent’s hard work was far more important than his actual skills or abilities.
Scenes 26 – 28: Final scenes (“You’re flying today” to end, 1:32:00 to end)
The final scene brilliantly juxtaposes triumphant moments with tragic ones, and moments of chaotic fast-paced suspense with slow, painfully drawn out situations.
The scene is initially positive, with Jerome/Eugene smiling and commenting “You’re flying today, aren’t you.” This moment should be a happy one for both Vincent and Jerome, as it marks the culmination of their efforts over the past months. Jerome reveals a fridge filled with his urine and blood samples for Vincent to use when he gets back, boasting that its enough to last him “two lifetimes”. This deceptively scene foreshadows a tragic truth: that Jerome does not plan to be around when Vincent returns. When Vincent asks him where he’s going, he vaguely replies “I’m travelling too.” He also hands Vincent a small envelope and asks him to open it once he gets into space.
Another crucial moment occurs moments before the ship takes off. This is the climax of the film, as Vincent has to perform one last urine test before he can go on the spaceship. As he was not expecting this and did not have Jerome’s sample, he fears that he will be discovered so close to the end. He becomes dismayed, claiming “Just remember that I was as good as any, and better than most. I could have gone up and back and nobody would have been the wiser.” Dr Lamar tests the sample, and the screen reads ‘IN-VALID’. As Dr Lamar is not surprised, we learn the shocking revelation that he was aware of Vincent’s secret all along, but deemed him worthy of going into space, despite his genetic inferiority. Though Vincent expects that his chance is now over, the doctor switches the profile on the computer to that of ‘Jerome Morrow: VALID’ and simply says “You don’ want to miss your flight Vincent.” A close up indicates Vincent’s face, full of gratitude and disbelief.
The final moments of the film are emotionally gripping, as the camera cuts between Vincent and Jerome, while a lilting classical score plays. Vincent’s situation is one of success. He walks slowly and confidently onto the spaceship, surrounded by his co-workers, the walls painted an optimistic green. As Vincent walks towards the spaceship, Jerome opens the door to a confined space and crawls in. Vincent enters the ship and attendants close the door behind him. Immediately after, the shot changes to Jerome, closing the door and locking himself into the confined space. While Vincent’s situation is clearly optimistic, Jerome’s is ominous. A panning shot shows the crew inside the ship and focuses on Vincent, with his eyes shut with anticipation, while Jerome looks at his silver medal, a symbol of his failing. As Jerome pulls a switch and flames come out, we are finally aware that the confined, cramped space is the incinerator, and Jerome’s life has ended with tragic suicide. Seconds after, the spaceship takes off, and the camera zooms in on the flames at its base. Hence, through a series of cleverly edited pieces, there is a striking juxtaposition between Vincent’s ultimate success and Jerome’s tragic demise.
Despite this tragic moment, the film concludes on an optimistic note. Vincent gazes at the stars in space and reflects upon everything he has achieved. He opens the envelope Jerome gave him and sees that it contains a large lock of his hair. In this way, Jerome is also in space. The final quote is greatly significant, as Vincent ponders “For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess, I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. 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 quote provides a fitting conclusion to the film.