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Gattaca and Fahrenheit

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Over a period of time sci-fi authors and composers have presented their texts and films using cautionary tales of our soon to be dystopic society. They use informing techniques to instil the fear of a futuristic dystopic society into the minds of readers and viewers. These authors and composers also bring forth the concepts of conformity, mind-control and censorship. The novel, Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury, and the film Gattaca, composed by Andrew Niccol, were not only stimulated to act as cautionary tales but were also influenced by events occurring at the time such as McCarthyism, the post WW2 duration, and the start of eugenics. Fahrenheit 451, is a sci-fi novel that informs the reader of the potential damaging capabilities of technology and mass media. Bradbury also expresses his concerns that individual interactions with others will become shallow, insincere, and devoid of any emotion. This is portrayed through Mildred and the way she is consistently focused into the parlor walls and her technology which makes her unaware of her surroundings.

Her lack of emotional presence is presented by the way Montag walks into the room and initially describes it as “not empty” then “indeed empty”. The use of this paradox is to emphasise to the reader that although Mildred is physically present, her emotional existence is absent. Further into the novel, the reader understands that Mildred’s attempt at suicide alludes the fact that she is in great pain and that her obsession with technology is an escape from confronting the emptiness of her life. Her unawareness of her own suicide attempt signifies that although she is alive she lacks the ability to truly live.

Fahrenheit 451 does not only demonstrate that these scientific developments trap people and deprive them from their sense of freedom and happiness, but also that these developments brainwash society to be loyal to governing powers and be put under strict government control which brings forth the concept of censorship. This concept is exposed by the symbolic burning of books which ensures that no one in society is superior to the other. This is further highlighted by Captain Beatty when he states, “Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy”. From this statement it is evident that Beatty has a past of reading literature and how he uses his past of reading books to manipulate Montag into believing precisely what Beatty wants him to.

This scene demonstrates to the reader how easy it is to manipulate those who are only given limited information by a totalitarian government, consequently putting society under strict and unjust government surveillance. Similarly, the film Gattaca also expresses Niccol’s contextual concerns on the potential destructive elements of technology and how it will lead to a futuristic dystopic society. In 1997, when the film was being produced, genetic engineering was still in its infancy. Consequently, Gattaca does not only play the role of a sci-fi film, but also as a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing science and technological advances surpass ethical and moral stances. During the film, Niccol shows how scientific development constricts people with natural genetic qualities to be discriminated against. Genetic discrimination against those who are genetically imperfect is shown by the way they are only given menial jobs such as janitors whereas the superior jobs, such as being an astronaut, are known to belong to those who are valid.

The character, Vincent Freeman is an ideal example of this. Vincent was born naturally and was classified as invalid. The viewers see Freeman’s determination to become a ‘valid’ as the film progresses. This is emphasized when he mentions, “Each day I would dispose of as much loose skin, fingernails and hair as possible, to limit how much of my invalid self I would leave in the valid world.” Genetic discrimination is also evident at the corporation, where identity is not verified by documents or cards. Instead, samples of blood and/or urine are provided to emphasise that only those with superior genes can gain access to work at such a prestigious workplace. The film also brings out the fear of our futuristic society losing the ability to see every individual’s own uniqueness and potential due to genetic manipulation.

This is portrayed by the character, Jerome Eugene Morrow, who is confined to a wheelchair after his failed suicide attempt. He gives up his own identity and DNA to Vincent, almost as if he no longer wants to be the same man, no longer wants to be ‘valid’. Jerome refers to eugenics when he mentions, “with all I had going on for me, I was still second best.” This sentence is the perfect example of how society does not grade individuals according to their natural abilities but their created ones. Another component that contributes to a dystopic society is the way in which everyone has lost and forgot themselves in technology. This is conveyed in the workplace, Gattaca Corporations, where the valid workers act in a robotic sense and do not communicate with anyone outside their desk, losing themselves in their computers.

This highlights the unhappiness of living a valid life where everything is centered on themselves and their ability to deliver, leaving no room for a sense of freedom. Hence why Eugene attempted to break out of this robotic routine via suicide. To conclude, it is evident that these cautionary tales, Gattaca and Fahrenheit 451, both express Andrew Niccol’s and Ray Bradbury’s respective contextual concerns for the fate of society by alluding that scientific development and genetic manipulation will deceive individuals into being mind-controlled by a totalitarian government, thus leading our futuristic society into a dystopic state.

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