by Ken B.
So the setup to Gattaca is that sometime in the “not too distant future” (next Sunday A.D., I assume), medical science and technology have evolved to such a point where many parents choose to put together a designer baby – no diseases, perfect vision, athleticism, intelligence, whatever. Children formed through the natural biological process, undisturbed by computers, are seen as inferior, and are proven as highly susceptible to congenital errors. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) developed normally in his mother (Jayne Brook), and from the moment he is born we know everything: His lifespan will be very short, he’ll likely have a heart condition, he’ll have ADD, and likely have some kind of mental disorder. How do we know? A nurse simply takes a small drop of his blood, places it in a machine, and great rolls of paper with the results come spilling out instantly.
But as Vincent enters adulthood, he has high aspirations. Despite being extremely nearsighted and physically unimpressive (especially obvious in contrast with his brother Anton (Loren Dean)), he wants to go into space, but no one will let him on a mission with his physicality. The solution is to assume a new identity. An underground business sets him up with Jerome (Jude Law), a former professional swimmer who was crippled in an accident. He isolates and stores away bits of his DNA (blood, urine, hair, etc.) and Vincent is allowed to assume both Jerome’s identity and his physical data (at least in the eyes of computers). The goal is that the space organization, with whom he has a desk job, will choose him as part of a team for a one year space mission.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol has made one of the rarest things – a major sci-fi movie with a good intelligence, an intriguing concept carried deliberately, and room for viewers to think for themselves. The screenplay divides its assets well through the 106 minute runtime; Niccol recognizes that people won’t want too much of the romantic subplot between Vincent and Irene (Uma Thurman), but doesn’t undersell its existence or eventual factor in the story. The performances are alright, but not outstanding – Hawke, in the lead, is good for the most part, but a scene towards the end where he lashes out at his brother left me in a state of confused quasi-amusement. Law is the standout of the main cast, to be sure. Thurman is never given a lot of range. Gore Vidal and Ernest Borgnine have small roles in the movie, and it is always nice to see them. It was surprising to see Vidal’s name in the main credits, as the famous writer never did do a lot of acting (the iMDB says he’s only acted in 12 roles)
On the technical spectrum, besides the plot, the most interesting part of Gattaca is the visual style, which uses a lot of sleek architecture as the buildings of the future, as well as plenty of color filters that properly convey the uneasy and odd world the film is set in. However, the score by Michael Nyman is a bit monotonous and boring – there’s no variety or memorability to the compositions.
It’s always worth wondering where the line is for genetic modification. Certianly the technology can be put to brilliant use, removing illnesses and prenatal conditions, but is there an ethical limit when it comes to picking the color of your child’s eyes for no real reason? Gattaca may seem like some to be a fantasy story gone wrong, but maybe Niccol was writing out of fear. The proper knowledge is imminent, and the results, when misapplied, could be disastrous. Our differences and talents as they form are part of what makes human development feasible. With predetermined lives, what’s left?