Gattaca (1997) — Truly thoughtful science fiction

“We now have discrimination down to a science.”

DnaError’s rating: Huxley would be proud.

DnaError’s review: This is the scifi the way it was meant to be used. No big-budget CGI explosions, no creepy bug-like aliens with big ray guns and leading men with big chins and leading woman with even bigger breasts. Instead, Gattaca, written and directed by the talented Andrew Niccol, presents us with a story about humanity which uses SF concepts and ideas to tell it.

The tale is moody, atmospheric, and tense, set in “the not too distant future.” This is not to say there isn’t any action — far from it — but it’s not breakneck fast. The film is about Vincent Freeman, the “faith birth” who struggles to remain hidden in the world of Gattaca as a “stolen helix.” An investigation into a murder threatens to reveal his status as a man with a “DNA Error,” which is effective is keeping the story moving and the questions coming.

The performances shine; Ethan Hawke’s character of Vincent Freeman who struggles to find a loop hole in Gattaca’s tight genetic elite is a contrast to Uma Thurman’s cold, antiseptic Irene Cassini who plays by the rules and accepts her fate. A mention too must be made to Jude Law, as Jerome Morrow, a man who gets a kick out of bringing down the society that spurned him.

Even with the refreshingly intelligent SF script and stellar performances, the movie’s cinematography is yet example of creativity in the world of SF movies. The world of Gattaca is cold, blue, and corporate, much like a modern office building. Not directly menacing, but stifling and full of ennui. The world outside is warm, yellow, and comforting, but also starkly modern and artifical, with blocky square buildings and little if any vegetation. Great visual moments, such as a sunrise over a field of solar-collectors, mark the film.

This is the way SF was should be. Intelligent and emotional, well-structured and complex story that uses modern science to ask the old question, how strong is the desire for freedom? This movie is a must see for any serious scifi fan or anyone who loves great movies.

Lissa’s rating: Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, and Cytosine. See? I remembered from Cellular and Molecular Biology! All right, all right, I looked it up. Sheesh. Yeah. Like YOU remembered either.

Lissa’s review: If you are into scifi at all and you have yet to see this movie, drop everything and go out and rent it right now. Then come back and read this at your leisure.

Hey — what are you waiting for? Go!

Oh good, you’re back. Now, was that not one of the BEST science fiction-futuristic type movies you’ve ever seen?

How I missed Gattaca when it came out is beyond me. It very likely had to do with a lack of transportation to get to theaters to see new releases. Maybe I wasn’t too into it because Uma Thurman is in it, and I really don’t like her as an actress. But I should have seen this one much earlier, although admittedly it’s always nice to find a great rental on the shelves.

Gattaca, which is much less of an action movie than I thought (not a bad thing), takes place in the future after mankind has discovered how to genetically manipulate offspring. A few oddballs still have babies the old-fashioned way, but most parents pay to have their children genetically enhanced. On the surface, this seems like a great idea because risks of so many diseases are reduced. But with new technology comes unforeseen consequences, like serious discrimination against those that are not genetically modified.

It’s an absolutely fascinating premise, partly because it’s not so outlandish as one might think. Parents will often do anything to give their child an advantage, and some of the measures people take these days don’t seem too far away. I mean, there are music classes for eight-week old babies these days, baby yoga, baby this-and-that…. They’re talking about how you can start to choose the sex of a baby. Editing out imperfections is probably only not available simply because we don’t have the science, not because there’s not the desire. And who am I kidding? If there was a way I could ensure that my child would not have heart problems, Down’s syndrome, mental retardation, high risk of cancer, or even the hearing loss I’ve got, I’d certainly consider it. What parent would take the risk their child might suffer if there’s a way to prevent it?

Of course, all technology comes with a social price, and Gattaca explores that premise through Vincent, played extraordinarily well by a very hot Ethan Hawke. Seriously. I haven’t been a fan of his slacker look, but this is the grown-up Todd Anderson and oooh, he is nice to look at! He’s matured considerably since his Dead Poets Society days, and if I ever had any doubt about his acting ability, I retract anything I might have said.

Anyway, the said social price I was discussing before the drool set in is that anyone who is not genetically engineered is considered invalid, and is basically exempt from society. Vincent is an invalid, technically condemned to a life of menial labor, but is flat-out refusing to accept it.

It’s interesting to watch the lengths that Vincent goes to in order to achieve his dreams. He takes on the identity of Jerome Miller, a competitive swimmer engineered to be the best at everything and brought down by an accident genetics could never have prevented. The actual Jerome is played far too well by Jude Law, whom I don’t consider all that attractive, but does a great job with dark, bitter roles like this. And Vincent succeeds beyond what anyone would have deemed possible. He succeeds in his career, his love life (although I don’t understand his attraction to Uma Thurmon, who WAS admittedly perfect for her role), and despite the fact it’s supposed to be impossible, he’s fooling the world. For now.

Of course. It’s always “for now.” But the resulting questions, chase, and plot twists are well crafted and for the most part avoid cliché. I don’t know that anything that happens can be truly called unexpected, but it’s well crafted, well written, and extremely well acted, so who cares? And Ethan Hawke wears a three piece suit for most of the movie. If the above arguments didn’t convince you this one’s worth seeing, that one should.

I really wish, in a critic sort of way, I could find something bad to say about Gattaca. It makes a review more interesting. But I really can’t. I wouldn’t go so far to say Gattaca is the best movie ever made and everyone should see it this second, but it’s extremely well done on every level and yes, you should go see it if you haven’t already and if you like science fiction. Or if you really want to drool over some exceedingly good-looking people pondering the consequences of genetic manipulation. Either way, it’s a good thing!

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