by Adam Ferenz
October 1997, 106 minutes. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Loren Dean, Gore Vidal.
Andrew Niccol’s opus, Gattaca, is not only among the smartest work of science fiction-different to Sci Fi-of the 1990s, but among the best films of that decade. From the opening sequence, during which the narrator, Vincent, describes his origin, through to our view of him as a child growing up, then moving away as a young man, we are introduced to a world similar to but vitally different from our own. This is a world in which genetic testing determines everything about you. Your life, in total. How others view you, and, perhaps, how you view yourself. Of course, as the tag line for the film says “there is no gene for the human spirit” and it is this theme which is so expertly explored. What makes us who we are? Is it the circumstances of our birth, our flesh and bones, or is it our desires, our determination, and our feelings? Where the film lands is clear. What makes the film great is that instead of being judged, the characters are explored in relation to how their beliefs have affected them.
The plot itself is basic: Vincent, now in his guise as Jerome, lives in a world where everyone is placed based on their genetic markers, based on testing done at birth, which determines probabilities of everything from physical to mental disorders and likely age of death. These are the Valids and the Invalids. To the former, he has become a “borrowed ladder” because he has faked his way out of the latter, to which he belongs. Vincent works at Gattaca, a space agency, as a navigator, on a coming mission to Titan. However, the chief mission director has been murdered and Vincent, observing the scene amidst a crowd, leaves behind an eyelash. This leads the police, of which his brother is a member, to search for him. Throw in Vincent’s blossoming love affair with the brilliant technician, Irene, and the very real consequences for being the perpetrator of a major fraud, and Vincent is in potentially dire trouble. That he escapes it is at times in doubt. What matters here is the journey, and that is where the film differentiates itself. (more…)