"A Matter of Life and Death": The World of Genetic Modification


In the future, genes determine destiny, and a person's "configuration" is predetermined before birth: whether they will have heart disease, be introverted or extroverted... and these "factory settings" are achieved through genetic editing.

Genetically edited babies who win the genetic lottery become society's darlings. The protagonist Vincent in the film is the result of his parents' love, a naturally born child. However, Vincent inevitably has many genetic defects, not only heart disease but also a predicted lifespan of only thirty years. However, Vincent is unwilling to accept his so-called "inadequate" fate. He wants to achieve his dream of going to space through his own efforts.

After relentless struggle and exchanging genes with Jerome, who has excellent genes, Vincent successfully infiltrates the space center and becomes one of the top employees. Just as Vincent is about to realize his dream, a murder case puts him in a dilemma—his eyelash is left at the crime scene, and the police suspect that the owner of this eyelash is the murderer. Vincent has to use various methods to deceive the police in order to conceal his true identity.

This is the world slice described in the science fiction film "Gattaca" released in 1997. In fact, the core of this film is still about the theme of "having dreams makes anyone extraordinary," but the story is set in the future, in a world where genes can be freely edited. This is also the theme that the director and screenwriter want to explore: is genetic editing good or bad for us?

From the outcome of the film, it is not necessarily that the world becomes much better after humans have the technology to modify genes.

  • Vincent is an exception, as he becomes one of the top navigators and is able to defeat his genetically superior brother in swimming through willpower and effort.
  • Vincent, who is judged to have a violent tendency, is not the killer. On the contrary, the supervisor with excellent genes is the one who murders a colleague.
  • Jerome has very good genes, but he can only win a silver medal and even contemplates suicide under immense pressure. In a worldly sense, he is not a healthy and outstanding person either.

Another feeling I got from the film is that class divisions exist at all times. In the past, humans divided themselves into classes based on skin color, race, money, and power. In the future, genes become the new means of division, and because they are manipulable, they will undoubtedly exacerbate class stratification. Even in a true utopian society, class will still exist. The 1968 utopian experiment with mice1 is a good example.

This film can be classified as a cult classic. The theme, plot, and acting are all top-notch, but it did not gain attention at the time or for a long time afterward, until the gene-edited baby incident in China in 20182, which made some people remember this old film.

In fact, genetic editing technology is already quite advanced, but its application has been delayed due to considerations of ethical and moral issues.

Furthermore, the translation of the film's title is excellent. "Gattaca" perfectly captures the crisis situation Vincent faces, and the recurring appearance of hair in the film aligns well with the literal meaning of "Gattaca," making it a classic example of free translation.

Some details:

  • When Vincent was born, he was diagnosed with various genetic defects, and his father didn't even want to give him the originally planned name "Anton," but instead came up with the name Vincent on a whim.
  • In the future, genes will become the standard for judging a person. Irene and other girls secretly conduct genetic tests on others before entering into a formal relationship.
  • The doctor in charge of the tests actually knew about Vincent's true identity from the beginning but chose to keep it a secret. This is because his own son is also a victim of genetic defects, but the doctor doesn't believe that destiny is determined by genes, so he decides to help Vincent, who is in a similar situation.
  • Jerome's disability was not caused by a car accident but by a failed suicide attempt, as he mentioned during their drinking session.
  • The film's title contains the letters AGCT, which symbolize genes.
  • The staircase in Jerome's house has a double helix structure, and in the end, he climbs to the second floor through his own efforts, symbolizing that genetic defects can be overcome.
  • Jerome is right-handed, while Vincent is left-handed. The doctor reminds him to pay attention to details. The victim's injury is on the right side of the head, further proving that Vincent is not the killer.

Memorable quotes:

  • "I gave you the best of me, and you gave me the best of you." - Jerome to Vincent.
  • "I never saved anything for the swim back." - Vincent to his brother.


  1. Utopian experiment with mice: An experiment conducted by American ethologist and behavioral researcher John B. Calhoun in 1968. By creating a "paradise"-like space for mice to live in without worries, except for the limited living space, the experiment witnessed the emergence of class divisions, cannibalism, and other behaviors. After more than 600 days, the mouse society completely collapsed, and all the mice in the space went extinct.

  2. Gene-edited baby incident: In 2018, Associate Professor He Jiankui and his team from the Department of Biology at the Southern University of Science and Technology in China controversially used gene editing technology to modify the CCR5 gene in the embryos of a pair of twins, attempting to make the babies immune to certain aspects of HIV.

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