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Why This Scene in 'Gattaca' Reminds Me of Life With Muscular Dystrophy

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The movie “Gattaca” is one of my favorite movies as it touches on many meaningful themes and can be interpreted many different ways. It’s set in the not too distant future where parents have more control on the genetics of their children by artificially selecting the best features of themselves. However, in reality, our knowledge of human genetic variation and its contribution to complex traits is still very limited, so more likely be happening in the more distant future.

Vincent (played by Ethan Hawke) unlike most individuals from his generation was conceived the natural way. His genetic variations were interpreted at birth and it predicted many imperfections including a heart disease and almost certain risk of premature death due to heart failure. Despite his horrible genetics, Vincent’s sheer determination and dream to go to space is what drives him to overachieve in his life and shows that there is no gene for human spirit.

My form of muscular dystrophy is late onset, which means people live relatively healthy lives until their late teens or early adulthood before their muscle weakness becomes noticeable or starts impacting their lives. At the moment, healthy children do not have their genomes sequenced so they are unaware they are carriers of disease and that they may be affected later on in life.

I’ve always wondered, what if I knew as a child that I would not be able to walk up stairs without struggling by the time I was 24, and hence have other parts of my life severely impacted? Would a child be able to comprehend their fate, would it lead to depression and therefore be a huge burden to carry? Or would I have processed it all and then use my childhood and teenage years to experience everything I wanted to experience before my mobility is cruelly taken away from me? It’s something that I ponder on late at night when I can’t sleep. I’m guessing many others with a late onset disease, do also.

The most memorable scene in “Gattaca” is where Vincent challenges his brother Anton to game a chicken, to see who could swim the furtherest from the beach before one of them would give up. Anton, who was engineered for perfection had no excuse to lose to his brother and had never lost to him at anything growing up. This day was different. Vincent out swam his brother and had to drag him back to shore saving his life. As grown adults, Anton challenges him again and Vincent has to drag him back to shore, again. When Anton asked how he has been doing all of this, Vincent responded, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”

This scene best captures the determination of rare disease patients and their need to prove themselves to others. We may have a diseased gene but our spirit is stronger than most!

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Photo courtesy of Gattaca Facebook page

Originally published: August 17, 2017
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