Comparing Control And Power In Shaffer’s “Equus” And Niccol’s “Gattaca”

Equus & Gattaca are similar in the way they develop similar ideas around power and control in society, though Shaffer & Niccol have different approaches to this concept through filmic or theatrical methods.

Gattaca, like Equus, explores the control and influence that higher divine powers can exert through sound motifs. Equus noise, made of the choric effect sound motifs of hummings, thumpings, and stamping, is prominent in the play. These audible devices highlight the power of the deity with a foreboding, provocative effect that intensifies as his influence on Alan increases. Niccol’s film shows Niccol’s Gattaca organization demonstrating the divine power granted to scientists. It hovers over the characters as a godlike presence. The constant background announcements over the Gattaca public address system, serves to remind the audience of this dictatorial authority, reinforcing the influence and involvement of the corporation in the actions of the robot-like employees.Alternatively, Shaffer draws on allusions to Equine dominance to further enforce the concept of a transcendent power. This is evident when Dora refers directly to horses in religious contexts, with “The glory of His nostrils is terrible!” and Alan mimics “He devours the ground in fierceness and anger!” These references highlight the horse’s power, which grows and metaastasizes in Alan’s mind as he seeks out this power. Shaffer uses selective language to emphasize Equus’ pure power. Alan’s descriptions are focused on Equus’ physical strength, using words like “big” or “huge,” and he also pays attention to the powerful parts of his body such as “neck”, “flank”, and “hooves”. Niccol uses angled shots to demonstrate which characters have the ability to excel in particular situations. This is clearly evident in the opening flashback scene. Vincent, as a young boy, is shown on the floor from a high angle. The scientist, who has the godlike ability of manipulating genetics, looks down on Vincent.

While both protagonists of the texts face the threat of the divine authorities dominating their lives, Shaffer & Niccol simultaneously use character development to examine complex shifts in power and how they relate to the loss or gain of it. In Gattaca’s dystopian world success is a matter of having the perfect gene identity. Eugene, who was unable to give up his first name, insists that Vincent call Eugene “Eugene”. This symbolizes Vincent taking control of his destiny. Eugene is the one who offers Vincent power. The shot’s composition conveys this transfer. Vincent stands taller than Eugene. Shaffer creates a relationship between Alan, Equus and Shaffer based on sexual dominance. This explores the possibility of power being gained by controlling. Alan describes riding horses as a sexualized experience, noting intricate details about how their necks twists and sweat shines through the folds. This sexual association comes from Alan’s experience riding Equus. He enjoys the feeling of power and the satisfaction of being able to command the horse.

Shaffer & Niccol explore how power can be lost in relationships. Gattaca features slow montages with close up fade-in shots that focus on the careful effort required to present the appearance of a man who is genetically superior and powerful. Vincent takes on a new style in Mis-en–scene. He is seen wearing a monotone suit and slick combed tresses. Vincent’s adherence to Gattaca norms is evident in this example. He is not only submissive but also under their control, and lacks the freedom to choose his own path. Vincent loses control over his professional and DNA lives after he has slept with Irene. Niccol creates a connection between Vincent’s moment of weakness, his past through Vincent’s melancholy theme song and the sepia colors and beach setting. Vincent is made visible metaphorically and physically. The audience can see that Vincent can take more control of his own life if he chooses to live as his “invalidself”. Vincent’s “invalid self” is shown metaphorically and physically by the director. This gives Vincent the illusion that he can control his life, even though he has the power to follow his dreams.

Gattaca is similar to Alan. After a sexual encounter, Equus provokes Alan and makes him commit the “crime.” This scene shows Alan’s weakness through the use of stage movements. The horses run around and jump at him, while he slashes at their heads, naked in the darkness, and jumping high. These chaotic movements, accentuated by lighting, signify the disorder in Alan’s mind. Equus forces him to lose control and exposes his mental and physical vulnerabilities. The violence of this crime is connected with Alan’s pursuit for power. This is the reinforced idea that Alan is a “Godslave”. He has the power to master Equus at times, while being subordinate to his higher powers.

Gattaca & Equus’ intricate relationships allow them to explore how power and control can influence our lives.