I recently spent a whole month researching and writing about aliens. For a science fiction writer like me, learning about astrobiology—the scientific search for and eventual study of alien life—is an immensely valuable source of inspiration. However, there is more to Sci-Fi than aliens and outer space.
I think I always knew this on some level, but the first movie to really make me understand it was Gattaca. Growing up with Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who, I thought I had a pretty good feel for what science fiction was all about. While Gattaca didn’t totally break the mold (it does have spaceships, after all), it stretched the limits of the genre as I understood it at the time.
It was also a movie that raised a lot of questions and did not always supply the audience with easy answers. Take this scene where the Mission Director at Gattaca talks about “a new measuring stick” for human potential.
Mission Director: We have to ensure that people are meeting their potential.
Police Detective: And exceeding it?
M.D.: No one exceeds his potential.
P.D.: If he did?
M.D.: It would simply mean that we did not accurately gauge his potential in the first place.
I really don’t want to agree with the Mission Director’s point. I’m pretty sure, given the overall themes Gattaca explores, that the movie doesn’t want me to agree with him. And yet it’s really hard to argue against the Mission Director’s logic here.
You can’t really “turn it up to eleven.” You can’t really “give 110%,” because that’s just not how percentages work. People may underestimate you. You may underestimate yourself. But you do have limits. You can’t do more than you’re capable of doing, you can’t achieve more than you’re able to achieve… can you?
So I don’t really know how I feel about this exchange of dialogue, except that maybe the Mission Director’s logic started from a faulty premise. Maybe the very idea of “a new measuring stick” for human potential is wrong. Maybe human potential isn’t a thing that can be measured at all. Maybe it’s not a quantifiable thing, at least not in the way the Mission Director presumes that it is.
But I don’t know. Have you seen this movie? Do you agree with what the Mission Director is saying? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments!