Gattaca is the rather unusual title for a fairly good science fiction drama. No, its not a prison riot film…rather, its title is a play on the building blocks of DNA (and also the name of a company in the film). Like its title, there has actually been some thought put into Gattaca, a rarity among science fiction films these days.
In the near future, genetic engineering has become the norm. Most children are conceived in the lab, where their best traits can be honed, and their worst ones can be eliminated. Of course, not all children are born this way. Those born the “natural” way are looked down upon as an underclass, the “de-gene-erates” or “God’s children”.
One such child is Vincent (Ethan Hawke), who, though not perfectly engineered like his brother, Anton (Loren Dean), nevertheless strives for the stars. Literally. His dream is to pilot a mission to Saturn. However, with a congenital heart defect and imperfect vision, none of the space companies is likely to hire him, considering there is a large pool of “perfect” applicants to choose from.
This leads Vincent to desperate undertakings. He contracts with a gene broker (Tony Shalhoub) to assume a new identity. Through him, he meets with Jerome (Jude Law), a perfectly engineered human, left paralyzed by an accident. The two agree to swap identities. Vincent will pretend to be Jerome in order to work at the space-exploring Gattaca Corporation. In exchange, Vincent will support the real Jerome in his accustomed luxurious manner.
But, in the near future, this identity swap takes more work than a simple fake ID. All identification is done through genetic tests. Instead of “badging in” to work, employees are blood tested. Even random drug tests have the side benefit of identity checking. But this intrusiveness has become commonplace, and no one gives it a second thought…except someone like Vincent, who is trying to dupe the system.
The film excels in its details. The extremes that Vincent must go through to pass as Jerome are lovingly rendered. The only leap of faith required is to believe that this society is so cleanly that a single misplaced strand of hair, for example, must belong to an intruder rather than being accidentally carried in by someone else.
For the most part, Gattaca handles its moral issues with interest and intelligence. It may oversimplify some issues a bit too much, but it makes its case persuasively. Visually, the film has very minimal science fiction effects, yet it does generate an effective futuristic atmosphere with its subtle touches.
However, what seems most out of place is the subplot about Vincent’s relationship with his perfect brother, Anton. It exists to demonstrate the differences between a normal human and a “perfect” one, however, the issue could have been handled much more smoothly if, instead, there was more interaction between Vincent and Jerome.
Jerome’s character is sorely overlooked throughout Gattaca. The scenes he does have, however, crackle with energy, and his hasty wrap-up seems perplexing and overly simple. In fact, the end of Gattaca is unsatisfying, compared to what has come before it. The ideas are good, but their ultimate execution is rather clumsy.
Yet, for all its faults, Gattaca is still an entertaining, thought-provoking film. Its three leads are all engaging and well written, and its attention to detail enhances the film in ways big budget special effects can’t.