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The movie Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol, reveals the theme of social stratification based on the human DNA. I have chosen this scientific fiction film because it can be easily analyzed from one of sociological perspectives. The best theoretical perspective that fits for the sociological analysis of the film is a conflict outlook. At the same time, the functionalist perspective can be also applied to the movie analysis. There one can distinguish classism and genoism because people are subdivided into classes, according to their DNA. If a person was naturally born, his/her genes could not be perfect. Therefore, such individual is considered imperfect. Therefore, the film Gattaca can be analyzed from the conflict perspective, representing the dispute between high and low classes of the society.
The setting of the movie takes place in the nearest future. The humanity has achieved good results in genetic engineering. People can choose the best genes to conceive their children. The protagonist Vincent was naturally born; thus, he is considered as a scrum of society. The medical care workers predict that the risk of heart disorder is 99%. The estimated life expectancy is 33 years (Niccol). In several years, Vincents parents decided to design a perfect brother for their son, who would have no diseases and inclination to disorders. When the boys grew up, Vincent could not compete with his ideal brother. Therefore, he left his familys home. After several attempts to find a good job, he decided to buy a gene of a genetically perfect man Jerome. Thus, Vincent got the work of his dream and fell in love with a beautiful woman. Although his life was under hazard and danger to be exposed, he did not give up and achieved his main goal, i.e. to go into space. He broke the stereotype that even a genetically imperfect human could be better than the perfect one. Nevertheless, the movie ends controversially. The reason is that Jerome burns himself when Vincent is in his space travel.
Best Theoretical Perspective
The conflict perspective is the best theoretical outlook for analyzing and understanding this movie. This Conflict Theory focuses on dividing people into groups based on their abilities and power. Mooney, Knox, and Schacht write, the conflict perspective views society as composed of different groups and interest competing for power and resources (10). This outlook can be observed in Karl Marxs works. According to his theory, every society should be divided into two groups, i.e. those who have everything and those who have nothing (Mooney, Knox, and Schacht 10).
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Some people are considered as the perfect members of community. The others are the very dregs of the population. However, Marxist Conflict Theory focuses on the economic inequalities and addresses social stratification openly. On the contrary, Non-Marxist Conflict Theories focus on non-material values. They divide people into classes, basing on their values and interests. For instance, a German sociologist, Ralf Dahrendorf, believed that power, rather than property, defined social class (Grimes). Thus, when addressing social stratification, his theory sees it as a subtype of social differentiation. This concept sees stereotypes and prejudices as the features of the society along with the conflicts of interests. The main stereotype of this theory is that people who possess more power can rule those who have less of it. Both Marx and Dahrendorf have based their concepts on the conflict between classes and divided the members of society into the best and worst ones. Moreover, the Conflict Theory is a macro level principle because the powerful organs control the weak ones. For example, the elite of society have power and money and establish the government to divide people into classes. Thus, the subdivision occurs at the macro level because it touches upon the whole community but not a small group of individuals. Therefore, classism is a major belief of conflict theorists.
Application of Concepts to the Movie
In the movie Gattaca, social stratification based on the DNA is a main example of conflict theory. From the very beginning, the viewers can notice that all citizens are subdivided into naturally born and genetically created individuals. Those who are born in a natural way are considered weak and useless. Meanwhile those people who are made artificially are the perfect members of society. The first episode of such stratification can be seen at the beginning of the movie when the protagonist Vincent tells about his conception: They used to say that a child conceived in love has a greater chance of happiness. They dont say that any more (Niccol 09:15-09:22). The protagonists parents were convinced of prejudice that naturally born children have no chances to live worthy lives. Thus, their second child, Anton, was artificially designed. Vincent and his sibling were often compared. Anton was always better than his brother. The conflict theory can be applied to this scene. One son was genetically perfect while the other one was imperfect. It made him feel discriminated and oppressed. Consequently, he could not endure such attitude; and, being tired to compete, he left his parents house.
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The following scenes of the movie show two different classes of people valid and in-valid. This type of stratification does not exist in reality; however, the film represents it in the best way. Invalid individuals have many imperfections, such as myopia, health problems, small height, mental disorders, etc. For these reasons, they can work only at the lowest positions. They make the hardest and dirtiest work. On the contrary, valid people feel power because they are perfect. They hold the highest positions at work and show the best results in different spheres of life. Thus, the conflict between the upper class and lower one is evident. The first one has a possibility to have genetically modified children because this procedure is expensive. The lower class cannot afford it. Moreover, the upper one has an access to the best working positions while the other one has to adjust to the worse ones.
The movie represents the attempts of the community, namely, Gattaca Corporation, to purify human race. However, such purification leads to an increase of prejudice. The reason is that the workers of the company believe that they are higher and better than the others. The film reveals another concept of stratification, which can be called genoism. The term appears in the movie when Vincent is trying to apply for a job. He says, Why should anybody invest all that money to train me, when there are a thousand other applicants with a far cleaner profile? Of course, its illegal to discriminate genoism its called but no one takes the laws seriously (Niccol 15:49-16:12). Withal, imperfect individuals were constantly discriminated, which led to Vincents lie and his use of a genetic identity of the member of elite, Jerome. Thus, one can conclude that prejudice, discrimination, and stratification may become the reasons for illegal actions and insubordination.
The movie Gattaca addresses the topic of social inequality and stratification, applying the concepts of the conflict theory, such as classism and genoism. First, viewers can observe that social stratification was based on classes. People with a better economic status could alter genetic codes of their children-to-be while indigent individuals did not have such a possibility. Then, the society divided its citizens basing on their genes. As a result, the conflict between them appeared. Consequently, it implies that stratification is wrong because it causes discrimination and prejudice. Moreover, class and gene stratification led to negative consequences because the protagonist pretended to be another person. It ended fatally for Jerome. Although Vincent achieved his aim and proved that imperfect people could be not worth than perfect ones, he did not think of Jeromes feelings. Therefore, the latter one committed suicide.
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If I was going to create the movie on this topic, I might address it from another perspective. Probably, I would apply a functionalist outlook to show that every group of people can positively influence the society. I would try to show more latent functions, i.e. consequences that are unintended and often hidden (Mooney, Knox, and Schacht 9). For example, the result of genoism could become a mass strike or outrage of those persons who were considered as imperfect. However, I think that the film addressed the issue of stratification in an appropriate way.
Writing about this movie from a sociological perspective has helped me see that people are always subdivided into classes even today. Sociology helped me see below the surface of this film. I understood that Dahrendorfs and Marxs theories can be applied to many modern situations. For example, today, wealthy people have more power than middle-class or indigent individuals. Thus, they can dictate their rules to community and discriminate those ones who do not fit their standards. In the movie, classism and genoism have become the examples of conflict theory and showed that such subdivision of people is often based on prejudice and stereotypes. Therefore, the film has helped me understand the main principles of the conflict theory and distinguish between Marxist and Non-Marxist Conflict Theory.