STARRING: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Gore Vidal, Jude Law, Xander berkeley, Jayne Brook, Elias Koteas, Maya Rudolph, Ernest Borgine

1997, 112 Minutes, Directed by: Andrew Niccol

gattaca2.jpg (10005 bytes)Description: Gattaca depicts a near-future society in which one's personal and professional destiny is determined by one's genes. In this society, "Valids" (genetically engineered) qualify for positions at prestigious corporations, such as Gattaca, which grooms its most qualified employees for space exploration. "In-Valids" (naturally born), such as the film's protagonist, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), are deemed genetically flawed and subsequently fated to low-level occupations in a genetically caste society. With the help of a disabled "Valid" (Jude Law), Vincent subverts his society's social and biological barriers to pursue his dream of space travel; any random mistake--and an ongoing murder investigation at Gattaca--could reveal his plot.

Hardly a day seems to go by without some researchers claiming to have discovered the gene for this condition or the gene for that affliction. If we are to believe these researchers, everything from obesity and myopia to homosexuality and manic depression can be attributed to our genetic make-up. Humanity, as we know it, seems to be reduced to a genetic sequence.

Of course, if the sum of our being can be attributed to genetics, then it only follows that it can be engineered. That is the premise behind the sci-fi thriller Gattaca. Set in a "not-so-distant future" (as the opening credits inform us), Gattaca deals with a future where it is possible genetically engineer all these "defects" out of new-born children. Not only can you as parent request that your children will not one day be afflicted by any debilitating heart diseases or other illnesses, you can also specify that they not suffer from any other "defects" - such as the tendency to fall prey to depression, acts of violence, "suffer" from homosexuality, etc.

Obviously people genetically engineered this way (think Hitler’s Übermensch come to real life and you’ll get the picture) will have an edge in the workplace over those who are not.

"One of the few recent science fiction movies that do not rely on a brain dead plot and special effects pyrotechnics . . ."

And thus the plot of Gattaca: Ethan Hawke, one of the genetic have-not’s in this brave new world (called "in-valids" in the movie) wants to desperately become an astronaut, but obviously cannot because of his untampered-with birth. He thus begins a deception by posing as a so-called "valid" to become an astronaut at a major space exploration company. He does this "borrowing" the blood, urine, hair and skin cells of a "valid" who has been crippled in an accident to pass the numerous tests one have to undergo to get and stay in the training course. But then a murder occurs at the company, some of his real hair gets picked up and soon the Ethan Hawke character is the prime suspect. Can he maintain his deception when the human body sheds several million cells each day - every single one of them betraying his true identity?

Gattaca is a rarity. Along with Contact it counts as one of the few recent science fiction movie efforts that do not rely on a brain dead plot, extensive special effects and pyrotechnics, but instead on an interesting plot and its characters. However, unlike Contact, one isn’t that much drawn into its basic premise. To start with, some of the science is plain wrong. (Urine samples for instance cannot be used for genetic testing as is claimed in the movie. Or that is according to Sidney Perkowitz's excellent book Hollywood Science: Movies, Science & the End of the World. Read it today!)

Besides, Gattaca is the old "man shouldn’t interfere with nature" theme rehashed and speaks more to our age’s current misinformed technophobic fears than anything else. Say genetics and everybody thinks eugenics - the old Nazi humbug of creating perfect Aryan types. Furthermore, the film doesn’t always maintain the level of suspense required to make it a completely engrossing affair. Like the future it portrays, Gattaca is too detached and sterile.

However, despite its flaws, Gattaca is to be commended. It is a step in the right direction for the sci-fi genre, being more cerebral than visceral. So soon after viewing the blood and gore ridden Alien Resurrection it was truly refreshing to see a film that doesn’t rely on violence and explosions at all. Instead it has a more novelistic approach as it meticulously constructs its 1950s retro Blade Runner-like future world - and this emersion into plausible other worlds is after all the point of sci-fi.

Just imagine if the world of Gattaca really existed one day . . .


Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: Old-fashioned in that it has a story and a message . . . Cautionary tale about the misuse of genetic science may be as sterile as the future world it depicts, but it's still solid science fiction - something lacking in many recent movies bearing the same label . . .


# 52
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time


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