Sometimes in cinema a movie takes current developments and follows a line of thought through to an as yet unseen end. These movies are usually of the science fiction genre due to the intrinsic and unique ability of sci-fi to depict a future that has not yet come to pass; acting as a vehicle for intangible ideas and principles. Sci-fi is unfortunately often met with a rebuff of grunting snobbery, but the important thing to grasp is that it isn't about laser beams, robots or space opera dramatics but simply asking the question - what if? The greatest developments made by humans evolve from this question; literature and cinema are no exception. What if totalitarianism took hold on a massive scale? (George Orwell's 1984). What if we could travel through the "fourth dimension"? (H.G. Wells' 'The Time Machine'). What if humans could bestow the spark of life? (Mary Shelly's 'Frankenstein'). Gattaca is of this breed of movie.
So what if our DNA carried greater social implications? Gattaca is set in a not too distant future in which an individual’s class in society is predetermined by their genetic makeup, whether they like it or not. Gattaca centres around Vincent (Ethan Hawke), an invalid (human of natural birth) who dreams of travelling the stars but is confined to a life of manual labour. His only hope of changing his fate is to impersonate Jerome (Jude Law), a valid (engineered human) who has not lived up to his genetic potential. When you consider that you can’t enter a building without your thumb being pricked or your hair sample being taken, you realise how much of an ordeal awaits Vincent. A mysterious death weeks before a shuttle launch only amplifies this and jeopardizes his plans.
“I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the colour of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science”.
Gattaca displays another common feature of science fiction movies; it carries a deeper emotional connotation at its core which reverberates through every scene. Gattaca, on its most fundamental level, is about ambition and rising above limitations which have been placed upon you by the surrounding world. Titan (a moon of Saturn which Vincent dreams of travelling to) represents a better life, a future which he has determined for himself. (And why not dream, after all “there is no gene for fate”).
An impressive supporting cast of Uma Thurman (as an unwitting love interest of “better” lineage) and the immensely talented Alan Arkin (a detective who is hot on Vincent’s trail) maintain the quality of performance exhibited by Hawke and Law. It is important to also note that style is not sacrificed for substance and there really are some beautiful visual sequences in the movie including my personal favourite; a romantic sequence where Hawke and Thurman walk in a field of mirror solar panels.
In short this is a hugely entertaining and profoundly thoughtful movie. I recently read an ethical discussion on whether insurance companies should have access to the DNA of customers in order to proofread for “risk regions” and determine costs on that basis. Wow, Perceptive too.