You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

National Review's Science Fiction Fantasy

National Review's The Corner is counting down the top twenty conservative movies of all time. And checking in at number twenty is "Gattaca," a 1997 science fiction story starring Ethan Hawke and Jude Law. Wesley Smith writes it up.*

The film, which I've never seen, is set in the future, when your genetic makup determines your destiny--what job you will do, how much money you will make, and so on. Hawke's character dreams of becoming an astronaut but cannot, because he is not "genetically enhanced" and lacks crucial physical traits, including sufficient height and perfect vision. So he buys the DNA of a disabled athlete, played by Law, and used that information to gain acceptance to astronaut training. But then complications ensue and, well, you'll have to see the film or read the Wikipedia entry to see how it all turns out.

It sounds like a fine movie, one I'll add to my Netflix list. But what merits its inclusion on the list of great conservative movies? Smith offers this interpretation:

The movie is a cautionary tale about the progressive fantasy of a eugenically correct world—the road to which is paved by the abortion of Down babies, research into human cloning, and “transhumanist” dreams of fabricating a “post-human species.” Biotechnology is a force for good, but without adherence to the ideal of universal human equality, it opens the door to the soft tyranny of Gattaca and, ultimately, the dystopian nightmare of Brave New World.

OK, I get the slippery slope argument about how abortion and stem cell research might lead to Brave New World. I don't buy it, but I get it.

But since when is a "eugenically correct world" a progressive fantasy? Does Nancy Pelosi sneak away from the Speaker's Office to lead meetings of a secret eugenics caucus? Is Barack Obama's proposal to finance health information technology actually a secret plan to study genetic engineering? 

Film interpretation, I guess, is pretty subjective. But it seems to me that progressives are the ones who recognize the dangers of a society where genetic makeup is so deterministic. After all, progressives are the ones constantly calling attention to the inequality, which correlates strongly (although not exclusively) with genetic skills. And they're the ones trying depserately to enact policies to reduce that inequality, inevitably provoking cries of "class warfare" and "wealth redistribution" from the right.

Come to think of it, if there's a contemporary analogue to the genetic discrimination of "Gattaga," it's probably the practice of denying health insurance to people with congential diseases. Progressives have long criticized this practice and tried to end it, by enacting laws that would make insurance available to anybody. Conservatives, meanwhile, generally oppose these laws.

Hmmm, maybe Gattaca belongs on a list of the twenty best liberal movies of all time. Over to you, Chris...

*Update: Slightly reworded, since it turns out the countdown is a collaborative effort. 

--Jonathan Cohn