Heroism in Gattaca (Film)


“Identify and evaluate what human qualities Gattaca considers to be heroic. Do you agree with the film’s views?”

Gattaca is a film that conveys many messages regarding what human qualities constitute heroism. Vincent Freeman is usually the character through which these qualities are highlighted and explored. It is often suggested that Vincent’s journey through Gattaca (both the film and the institution) qualify as heroic. Thus, it could be asserted that the qualities that Vincent exhibits throughout this journey are considered by the film to be heroic.

A hero’s plight, as remembered by history and represented by Hollywood, seldom deviates from its clichéd formula: a self-sacrificing, determined, courageous, and possibly oppressed person who is, at first, not popularly expected to succeed, ultimately achieves their dreams and receives some form of reward – often a woman. Vincent’s journey through Gattaca cannot be entirely seen through this filter of glowing commendability. Rather, Vincent is a character whose negative qualities conform to Greek mythology’s definition of a hero: a person, often of divine descent, endowed with great courage and strength, and favoured by the gods. A Greek hero’s title can be maintained whilst they exhibit qualities such as; disobedience, anti-social tendencies, selfishness and arrogance.

Vincent’s courage is demonstrated repeatedly in the film. His courage can be observed, at the widest level, through Vincent’s choice to cheat the system. The legal implications of Vincent’s path, although not specified, are suggested to be extreme – thus his willingness to be subject to such imperilment underlines this aspect of his courage. Vincent is assured by his family and society, from a young age, that: “…the only way [he will]…see the inside of a space shuttle is if [he is]…cleaning it. This condemnation should discourage Vincent from aspiring to a better life, but it only seems to cement his ambition. For a person to stand up against an entire institution, and his own family, could be seen as courageous. However, it is through circumventing the system, that many of Vincent’s less commendable qualities are made explicit.

It would be expected of a hero to challenge that which is unjust, rather than cheat it. Vincent’s aforementioned actions are considered by his society to be criminal, thus his heroic image would appear to be diminished. However, in the eyes of Greek mythology, these actions diminish his character no more than many Greek heroes’ flaws, for example; Odysseus’ hubris, Jason’s unfaithfulness, Ballerophon’s murderous habits or Zeus’ promiscuity. This path of dishonesty, however, leaves Vincent’s character open to criticism once again, as it accounts for his more violent episodes.

Vincent brutally beats an innocent police investigator, whose only crime was doing his job. Vincent’s actions, although reprehensible, are comparable to those committed by many Greek heroes. Heracles’ more antisocial tendencies is one example of this.

It is interesting to note that the name of our hero’s mother is Marie - a variant of “Mary” – who was/is a pivotal figure of western “mythology”. A characteristic of a Greek hero is often divine decent thus Vincent’s divine ancestry is subtly alluded to. This quality in Vincent accounts for other qualities that are central to the profile of a Greek hero: being blessed with strength and favoured by the gods. The strength of Vincent can be observed through his courage, and his being endeared by the gods, in his ultimate success and his dreams being granted.
Self sacrifice is considered by many to be a compulsory quality in a hero. However, Vincent is entirely self interested - he acts only to further his own cause. Not once in the film does Vincent help anyone directly – with his most selfless actions being the possible inspiring of Lamar’s son and supplying Eugene with “closure”. This quality, again, has parallels in the characters of many Greek heroes.

Arrogance is another “unbecoming” quality that Vincent demonstrates near the end of the film, as he says: “Just remember…I was as good as any, and better than most...” Again, this quality is very common in Greek heroes.

A protagonist’s background of oppression can often be the prelude of their path to heroism. Vincent does deal with much adversity - with his society and family dooming him to a life of unattractive public service. This criterion of the heroic formula is common to both western and Greek mythological heroes.

All of these heroic qualities present in Vincent’s character, serve to supply him with the title of a “hero”. However, Gattaca is a film that deals with far more than heroism and its human application.

Gattaca, for the most part, utilizes Vincent and his heroic qualities as a means of communicating its more central themes of; discrimination, identity, society, the human condition and eugenics. Vincent is a; victim of discrimination, a “particularly detested segment of the population”, a social outcast, and the medium through which the film’s disdainful views on eugenics are conveyed. Without Vincent and his role as a hero, these themes would have been communicated to a far less convincing extent.

Overall, Vincent’s heroic qualities serve to convey Gattaca’s unique view of heroism: that heroism can be constructed of an anachronistic conglomeration of heroic characteristics and qualities.

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