Gattaca (1997)

 

Directed by: Andrew Niccol

Written by: Andrew Niccol

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman

Gattaca could reasonably be described as a futuristic murder mystery populated by GM supermen. But that would miss the point so spectacularly as to be not worth the effort at all. Andrew Niccolís directorial debut is a slow thoughtful masterpiece on the strength of the human spirit, despite what circumstances they have to face. The fact that it is set in the Ďnot-too-distant-futureí is just a minor plot device.

Niccolís vision of the future is one of society being divided into two groups, natural births, known as in-Valids, and genetically engineered Valids. In-valids are discriminated against due to their inferior genes, and are forced into menial jobs with no aspiration of anything better. Enter Vincent (Ethan Hawke), a natural birth, who dreams of going into space despite a potential heart problem. He doesnít give in, and enters into an arrangement with paralysed Valid, Jerome (played by the superb Jude Law). Vincent will pose as Jerome, using his superior genetic matter, and in return, will keep a roof over both their heads. With Jeromeís identity, Vincent walks into a job at Gattaca, a space exploration company, but problems arise when a mission controller is murdered. During a sweep by the forensics team, one of Vincentís natural eyelashes is found at the scene, and the police begin searching for the in-Valid Vincent. Fearing his subterfuge will be uncovered, Vincent spends a paranoia wracked week, worrying that his dream of space flight will be destroyed.

It doesnít sound exciting, and it isnít really, but thatís only half the story. Gattaca is in fact an elegiac paean to Vincentís struggle to succeed against the odds. Essentially a treatise on the evils of discrimination, Vincent is an unashamedly heroic character, striving to improve himself, despite the hopeless situation he finds himself in, effortlessly outworking his colleagues, belying the fact he had to cheat his way into the company. As a story, itís extremely symbolic, but it never feels it. Itís wonderfully understated, the acting is superb, and Niccolís directing is simple and beautifully shot, never letting the sci-fi elements clutter the story.  The love story between Vincent and Irene could be slightly corny in other hands, but here itís simply and effectively played, and weaved perfectly into the story. The only down side to this film was the complete lack of commercial success it garnered when it was released, which only goes to show thereís no justice in the world. Ah well. Thereís more than enough of the poetic variety in Niccolís for us all.

 

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