Saturday 1 January 2011

Film: Gattaca (1997)

Yet another film which I finally got around to seeing after meaning to for many years.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it is set in a not-too-far distant future in which children's genetic make-up can be adjusted at conception, a process routinely done by those who can afford it. This is not just to avoid any genetic disabilities but also to produce flawless people of superior all-round physical and mental ability. Such people, known as "valids", have huge advantages in life and are routinely appointed to the best jobs. But not everyone is born with such advantages - many are "in-valids". So what do you do if you have a burning desire to go on a mission to the outer planets, but lack the genetic superiority which is a basic requirement of being an astronaut? Particularly when instant genetic tests are carried out frequently at workplaces, as a matter of routine?

This is the problem facing the protagonist Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke). He finds a way of tricking the tests with the aid of a crippled valid whose identity he takes, and is duly selected for a forthcoming space mission. But he lives in constant fear of discovery; a situation exacerbated when he becomes involved with a colleague (Uma Thurman, so glossily perfect that she seems alien). Then a murder occurs at his workplace and an intense investigation follows in which he becomes the prime suspect. Will he be able to survive this and take his place on the mission?

Gattaca succeeds on three levels: it's a gripping thriller, relying on psychological tension rather than car chases or explosions; it foreshadows issues around human genetic manipulation which are likely to be with us in reality all too soon; and it is a human story of a fight for identity and achievement over and above that which is written in the genes. The direction is restrained and the film has a pared-down minimalist feel without an unnecessary scene or word; the score by Michael Nyman complements it perfectly. I am not a fan of dystopias, which is basically what this film portrays, but it is still one of the best SF movies I've ever seen.


Fred said...


I don't recognize the title, but the plot sounds vaguely familiar. Is the film based on a story?

Happy New Year!

Anthony G Williams said...

Fred, as far as I can see the film wasn't based on an existing story.

And a Happy New Year to you too, and to all followers of this blog!

The Gray Monk said...

Happy New Year Anthony, another film I must make a point of seeing.

Fred said...


OK--just wondering if I had read it somewhere. It sounds interesting. I just added it to my netflix queueueue.

Bill Garthright said...

I didn't recognize the title, either, but I remember it from your description, Tony. I must have seen it on TV.

And a Happy New Year to you, too.

Jesse Astle said...

Gattaca is one of my favourite sci-fi films and would suggest it to anyone looking for a deep, sci-fi thriller.

It's not based on any specific story, but it does share a lot of themes in common with various science fiction plots.

Fred said...

The Mock Turtle,

That's probably why it seems somewhat familiar to me.