Gattaca and the Gene for Schizophrenia
Published in Open Minds, Spring 2005 Issue
Someone called me a while ago, and said there was a great new UCLA study that just required a 1.5 hour interview and a blood test to determine if there was a gene for Schizophrenia. “Don’t worry,” the relative said, “You’ll get $100 for it.” As someone who has been diagnosed manic-depressive, sometimes depressive, acute schizophrenic episodes and perhaps schizophrenic, I was a little scared — a gene for schizophrenia is like maybe a convenient way of saying a person was better off if they were never born.
I have a video of a 1997 sleeper movie, Gattaca, that was made during the Clinton presidency of a society that determines everything by a blood or urine test, who goes to Harvard, who gets a hug from their father, and eventually who goes to the stars. In this era of Mars discovery, let us also remember the parallel argument that is happening in America and perhaps all society, the exploding subjects of genetics and cloning.
Besides the fact that both my parents and sibling went to very competitive colleges and have worked almost their entire lives, I somehow am a genetically inferior mess due to well, maybe thinking about things too much and being in therapy (both medicated and not – too long). As a member of NAMI of Massachusetts and their web designer, I find this particular situation is the norm, people look at us, compare us to our siblings and parents, and say “What’s the problem? Why isn’t this person a glaring success?”
Believe me, failure and the fear of failure seems to be the undermining thing in all mental illness, and when we start addressing this psychiatrically, perhaps we will realize that a gene doesn’t always make schizophrenia, maybe it is the product of a number of things, one of these the success, financial and otherwise, of relatives that just don’t seem to care.
Well, back to Gattaca, Ethan Hawke as the pathetically near-sighted, too short, and not all that attractive Vincent Freeman discovers at an early age that he is not all that free with a younger brother who has been the subject of a breeding technique producing perfect human beings. Well Ethan leaves home, goes underground, changes his name and becomes obsessed with one thing, leaving this Earth that has condemned him to a life of genetic impurity. The point of Vincent’s pain is not that he is oldest, but that he was stupidly born of parents that loved each other too much, and had the pain of watching a younger brother beat him in almost everything, except one thing, and this is important, swimming.
What Vincent has to do to escape his genetically inferior heritage is mind-numbing, breaking his legs so he is taller, exercising frenetically, hiding his athsma and a weak heartbeat, learning to wear contacts, being sure none of his skin sheds on his suits and gives him away. Yet what we love and fear so much about Vincent is his tenacity against all odds, his true intelligence, his one goal – to see the big universal picture, to escape Earth even for a little while, and not through death.
Maybe that’s what upsets people so much about the mentally ill, their tenacity against all odds, their unbearably successful relatives that just don’t care (maybe most of America really wants to be friends with them and not us), and not just intelligence, but true intelligence, born not of a school, but from something within, something deeper that somehow defines intelligence not as a sterile IQ score or as a school degree, but a connection between what we think and what we love.