Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ghettos in Gattaca and In Time

While I initially saw many common threads in the characters of Gattaca and In Time, the setting of the stories were clearly exploring different issues.

Both worlds seem to be a world not too different than our own in the not too distant future, only with a twist that zero's in on a relevant topic.

In 1998 Gattaca premiered to a world that was close to unraveling the human genome. Decoding the basic building blocks of what determines an individual's potential raises many uneasy questions about ones sense of agency in the world. The biological twist in Gattaca imagines a world in which ones life potential is determined at birth based on genetic makeup. If you (or more importantly, your parents) lack the important genes, you're out of luck.

In Time speaks to a world where the population is rapidly growing in an increasingly unstable global economy. In Time has an economic twist that literally makes the hours of ones life the global economic currency. Everyone is given one year of life when you reach the age of 25; After this you must earn minutes faster than they are spent. Once you're out of credits, it's game over.

A biological issue vs. an economical issue.

Then I stumbled across this bombshell when reading The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World:
"There is another big difference between nature and finance. Whereas evolution in biology takes place in the natural environment, where change is essentially random (hence Richard Dawkins's image of the blind watchmaker), evolution in financial services occurs within a regulatory framework where - to borrow a phrase from anti-Darwinian creationists - 'intelligent design' plays a part." - Niall Ferguson Pg. 356
I sat up and reread this paragraph as the setting for both movies were pulled into alignment.

Notice that the "big difference between nature and finance" has been eliminated in Gattaca. The random selection of genes has been reduced to a precise (read: constricting) regulatory framework.

On the surface the difference is biological vs. economical, but when you reduce the setting in both movies to the fundamental mechanics at work, they share the same common denominator.  

Both movies are exploring the self-determining nature of humanity through the use of regulatory frameworks (for better or for worse). To elaborate, Niccols seems to be exploring:
  • How humanity self regulates, manipulating social frameworks in order to ensure and control their destinies. (Genetic/Economic)
  • The systematic injustices of the framework instituted by those playing God, even trying to become God. (Perfection/Immortality)
  • Parents who chose to give birth to a child knowing they will be on the wrong side of the regulatory framework and are destined for a mediocre life of limited potential. (Often time the social frameworks determines your potential at birth, eliminating self-agency)
  • Children born into the wrong disposition have severely limited mobility. (Born with ghettoed genes or into a ghettoed neighborhood/"Time Zone").
  • How those who benefit from the framework think they are succeeding in their pursuit of perfection but are really losing their humanity (Embodied in the films by the disillusioned member from the elite who supports the protagonist and eventually commits suicide)
  • The cost is paid by those who don't benefit from the framework, consequently having their humanity crushed (Embodied by the plight of the protagonist)
  • How these new rules and regulations in the framework are disadvantageous to previously good traits (Intangible attributes, such as determination, fortitude, courage loose value in a rigid social framework)
In both cases we see clearly how this regulatory framework creates ghettos.
While in Gattaca the genetic walls are intangible; they are just as real as the quite tangible "Time Zone" walls of In Time. In both cases a suffocating ghetto is created - a ghetto in which the protagonist is determined to break out of.

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