Release Date: October 24th, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Andrew Niccol Actors: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Xander Berkeley, Jayne Brook, Elias Koteas, Tony Shalhoub, Ernest Borgnine, Alan Arkin, Cynthia Martells
brooding and thought-provoking drama, “Gattaca” contains perhaps the least amount of science-fiction of any science-fiction film. Set in the not-too-distant future, it examines an evolved form of discrimination and an equally advanced determination to circumvent it, personified by an everyman who must rise to the status of a hero – for himself. With no superpowers and no over-the-top conquering of global oppressions, he’s a simple, unaltered human, susceptible to the imperfections of a biased societal evolution – or fate. And yet, in a character study project, he’s an astoundingly remarkable protagonist.
In the future, genes are controlled so precisely that genetic perfection in children is a standard practice. But for Vincent (Ethan Hawke), one of the last of the naturally conceived, he’s cursed with an uncertain life expectancy, a fragile heart, and usefulness as menial labor only. His brother Anton (William Lee Scott), however, is a son worthy of his father’s name – one whose genetic makeup was created to be as flawless as possible. As he grows up, Vincent dreams of abandoning Earth and traveling to Titan, the 14th moon of Saturn – but it’s a feat assigned solely to the elite humans preprogrammed with impeccable composition.
Refusing to play the hand he was dealt, Vincent pays a shady dealer of human lives (Tony Shalhoub) to aid him in altering his identity. Locating a “valid” upper-class specimen named Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), who was recently in an accident that confines him to a wheelchair, Vincent is able to assume the invalid’s identity. It‘s not an easy task, as it requires that Vincent pass constant, random, urine and blood screenings to ensure that he is of the designated genetic superiority. He must also take care not to leave skin particles or hair anywhere in Gattaca, the enormous training facility for astronauts and space flights, which is continually monitored. He must even collect trace evidence from the real Jerome to leave behind at his workstation in the event that his personal items are screened. Turning intolerance into a science, everything is set against Vincent’s success. And when the mission director for the next Titan launch turns up brutally beaten to death, Vincent becomes a primary suspect, further hindering his chances at reaching his seemingly unattainable goal.
The sentimental, stirring music by Michael Nyman is immediately noticeable, right from the opening credits, continuing to play during key scenes all throughout the film. With haunting themes, jazzy moments, and forlorn melodies, the score continually sets the perfect mood and tone for this singular adventure. The muted colors and spacious sets also help to define the alternatingly romantic and tragic atmosphere that presides over the hapless heroes.
One of the few projects to depict worldwide genetic manipulation without portraying a totalitarian government as the antagonist, “Gattaca” is an anomaly among science-fiction films. The setting is primarily science-fact (or futuristic fiction with as few unlikely elements as possible), yet the story is predominantly melodrama, with bits of noirish romance mixed in for complexity (involving Uma Thurman as love interest Irene). Taking this unusual aura, “Gattaca” builds suspense through steady turmoil and conflict rather than utilizing jargon-driven devices to force an explosive, action-packed climax. A murder/mystery subplot is also added to build the anticipation and paranoia of the lead characters, though scenes of burgeoning love and friendship occasionally take priority over advancing the story. And while the acting may not always be solid, or certain scenes take too long to deliver, the fixating premise and the commentary on conviction defeating arbitrary inequities make for an unconventional and wholly entertaining experience.
– Mike Massie