Vanilla Sky and Gatteca: Comparing and Contrasting the Two Movies

Vanilla Sky and Gattaca are the two movies that I am going to compare and contrast. While these movies have very different stories, some of the main themes are the same. The most obvious similarity is that both movies take place in the future. Both movies have some major technology that has changed life, as we know it now. The main differences are in in how the story is told, the details and how they were shot.

Vanilla Sky is about a millionaire living in New York City named David Ames. The opening shot is a bird-eye view of the city. There are several choppy images in succession. David lives a “perfect” life. The movie takes place in the future. He has a beautiful home, always gets the girl he wants, and has plenty of friends. Later in the movie, after an accident, David’s face is deformed and he becomes miserable and alone. Many things go right for him and then they take a major turn for the worst. At the end of the movie, we find out that David is dead and that he has been cryogenically frozen. There are clues throughout the movie to hint at this, which I will discuss later.

Gattaca also takes place in the future. It is about genetic engineering. In this movie, everyone is engineered in a lab to be everything the parents want their child to be. He or she (your choice, of course) will be healthy, strong, smart, and successful and will have a long life, if you so choose. All diseases are written out of the genetic code. The main character has not been engineered in this way. He is what is referred to as an “in-valid.” He is discriminated against. When looking for a job, employers do a urine or blood test and that is it. He dreams of going up to space, he and eventually does. To accomplish this, he poses as a crimpled “valid” who had been injured in an accident without anyone’s knowledge.

Both Vanilla Sky and Gattaca are futuristic. Vanilla Sky takes place sometime in the somewhat near future and deals with cryogenic freezing of bodies after they are deceased. There are also other things in the movie that are futuristic. For example, at David’s (the main character) birthday party, there is a hologram-playing saxophone. Gattaca deals with genetic engineering of humans. In this movie, everything in a child’s life is planned out and manufactured before birth. They even know what a person is likely to die from.

Both of these movies are formalistic in style. Neither movie sticks to the conventions of current life. Both movies are very stylistic and stretch the boundaries of what is real and what is not. Vanilla Sky seems to be the more formalistic than Gattaca. In Vanilla Sky, many shots and images are distorted and unclear. Some of the shots are done out-of-sequence. The colors were bright at times and more sedate and dreamy other times. Color was definitely used to help create the “lucid dream” image. For these reasons, Vanilla Sky was relatively hard for me to follow. Gattaca, while primarily formalistic, used more realistic aspects, especially in many of the camera shots. This movie was easier to follow. I didn’t get confused like I did sometimes with Vanilla Sky.

Both of these movies seem to be primarily revisionist. They, for the most part, appeal more to the intellect than to the emotions. These movies make you think “what if” these two futures were possible. They make you think about what would happen and what the possible consequences could be.

After watching Vanilla Sky, I thought about the possibility of cryogenic freezing. Would I want to do it? How could it go wrong? There are many ways, David’s “lucid dream” being an example. Instead of everything being perfect and peaceful, it turned into an eternal nightmare. I can also see how this technology could be misused. Another issue is that of population. If countless people choose to be frozen and then re-thawed when a cure to their disease is invented, the population would shoot through the roof. There might not be enough resources and that could lead to major problems.

Gatteca raises other questions. If genetic engineering took place life it does in the movie, there are a multitude of potential problems. If everyone is “perfect,” then our standards will just be raised. There will always be something to discriminate against. The main character was an example. He seemed to have been born when the extreme genetic engineering was just picking up. He wasn’t engineered to be perfect. Consequently, he was unable to get his dream job without posing as someone else. I could also see how this technology could fall into the wrong hands. If someone wanted to use this for evil, there are definitely ways that it could be done. For example, you could create a very strong, powerful and smart individual to take over the world. Or entire armies could be created. The possibilities are endless. But how could it be guaranteed that nothing would go wrong? It couldn’t be. There is always the possibility of an error. That is what scares me about this concept.
Vanilla Sky does have a more emotional feel to it. Sophia, for example, is David’s love interest. A great deal of the movie shows the two of them together. She is not the main point of the movie, though. Gatteca also has a “love interest,” although the relationship is not as intense or focused upon as in Vanilla Sky. After all, in the end, David decides to be un-frozen and go back to life (150 years later) instead of staying in a dream with Sophia.

In Vanilla Sky, after David goes to the cryogenic freezing place, they tell him that a risk of the “lucid dream” is that is can turn into a nightmare. “The subconscious can play tricks on you,” as the women puts it. This made me think about Freud and other similar theorists. This dream David is living in is quite interesting. The fact that he can’t distinguish between Julie and Sophia at the end is notable. He ends up killing Sophia because he thinks she is Julie. Throughout the movie, during the part, which is later revealed, to be a dream, David talks to a prison psychologist. He talks about what happened and the psychologist doesn’t believe him. He thinks David is either lying or crazy. The fact that David dreamed all of this suggests that maybe David doesn’t really know what happened, either. Why did he start seeing Sophia as Julie? He didn’t believe it himself until he looked at her dead body and saw the mole on her chest. Sophia had that mole, which he loved so much. He knew it was Sophia, not Julie, and that he had just killed the love of his life. It was at this point, I suppose, when he really lost it. He ran out of the room and looked at his face in the mirror. It was once again deformed, even though plastic surgery had fixed it. I think the deformed face is a symbol of his unhappiness and perhaps unworthiness. To him, he is only good when his face is nice. This is also the way society treated him.

Gattaca doesn’t deal so much with psychological issues. The main character has a huge amount of willpower and fights the system. He is told that he will never amount to anything and that he wont accomplish his dream, and due to shear determination (and a little bit of fraud), he does accomplish it. There isn’t the major emotional turmoil that there is in Vanilla Sky, however.

Another difference in these two movies is how the futuristic idea is presented. From the very beginning of Gattteca you know that the movie is about genetic science and the lives of those who live in that time. Vanilla Sky is a bit trickier about the cryogenics. There are clues throughout the movie. For instance, on several occasions Benny the Dog is shown on the television. Benny was cryogenically frozen and brought back to life. There are interviews with the company that does this, and at one point the man says that the company has people currently frozen. The fact that this company is showed repeatedly leads to the reveal at the end that David has been frozen and is in a “lucid dream.” Another clue is that while in a bar, David talks to a man who says that he can help David. He tells David that he can control everything, that he has the power over “all of this.” I saw this movie twice, and I caught more details like this the second time around. The “vanilla skies” are another clue that is given throughout the second half of the movie.

Another area that the two movies differ is in the aesthetics. Vanilla Sky has a very pleasing aesthetic. Toward the beginning of the film, at David’s birthday party, a Monet painting is shown. He talks about the “vanilla skies” that Monet painted. Later in the film, after David is dead, the shots of the sky resemble the sky in the painting. The sky is colorful, dreamy and serene. They are quite beautiful, as was the painting.

Gatteca, however, has a completely different feel. The movie was really anaesthetic. Everyone was the same in this movie. In Gatteca, everyone dressed the same, looked the same, and pretty much acted the same. There was really an almost clinical feel to the movie. This certainly dulls the senses. It was rather boring to watch all the faceless, nameless drones.

Gatteca also made me think of Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory about everything being identical. In a world where everything and everyone is engineered to be “perfect,” there is no room for creativity or beauty, at least not in an unique and new way. All of the movies (if there was even a need to have movies), art and other formerly “creative” field would become identical and bland, just like the people. Vanilla Sky doesn’t really seem to have this problem. In fact, the way this movie was created was different from the countless other movies out there. The plot was unique and fairly new. It was not just another version of dozens of other movies before it that were the same.

Both Vanilla Sky and Gatteca deal with conspicuous consumption. Both movies take place in consumer-driven worlds. The people in Gattaca live in a world that is completely manufactured, and they are created to be successful. Vanilla Sky especially deals with this issue. David is a millionaire. He lives in a huge home with all kinds of expensive things.

This is also an example of commodity fetishism. He has money and things, so he is supposed to be happy. This is not necessarily true, though. Another thing that I noticed was that when David was “good looking,” everything went fine for him. He got the girls and was happy. When his face was deformed, he was alone and miserable (at least for awhile). Gattaca also deals with this commodity fetishism. Parents choose their children to be smart, strong and successful.

They want their children to have everything in life. The children might become “successful” and make money, but there is no guarantee that they will be happy in life. There is no guarantee that they will have fulfilling relationships with others. There is no gene for that.

Gattaca seems to support false consciousness. Everyone is so enwrapped in the system of genetic engineering that no one questions it. No one asks why they need to use these tools to create babies. Nowhere in the movie does anyone ask, “What is wrong with an in-valid?” They have been taught that they are bad and not to be trusted, so everyone goes along with it. If a bunch of people started having children the “old” way, maybe the system could change. This would be very risky for the children, though. They would be tormented and possibly even killed by “valids.”

Vanilla Sky doesn’t really deal with this issue. The movie is primarily focused on David’s life and everything that goes on with it. There really isn’t much of a “system” to question or not question. The only “system” might be that which is responsible for the cryogenic freezing. No one asks if it is right or moral to freeze people like that. I guess, if I had to say that this movie did or did not support false consciousness, I would say that it didn’t. The only people that would see a problem with the freezing are, indeed, frozen, so what are they going to saw about it? That said, wouldn’t really use false consciousness to describe Vanilla Sky.

Both of these movies were good. I enjoyed watching both of them. At first, I thought they were more similar then different, but now I’m not sure. The main theme of “the future” is the same, but many other aspects of these movies are different. I couldn’t say which movie did a better job of communicating its message or theme because they are so different. Gatteca is clearer about it’s plot and theme, while Vanilla Sky is a bit more hazy and “artful” about it. At the end, it all makes sense, but I had to watch it twice to really get it all. Perhaps for this reason I liked Gatteca better. I prefer to at least be able to make sense of everything by the end of the movie. Nevertheless, both movies have their place in entertainment, and I enjoyed them both.

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