Gattaca (Rated PG-13, 106 minutes)
Gattaca has been a film that I have been pushing off for a long time; people have constantly told me to see the Andrew Niccol flick, yet for some reason I did not feel the need. Meanwhile, I am a huge fan of Niccol’s directorial effort Lord of War and his beautifully written The Truman Show. And like those movies, Gattaca is a brilliantly smart concept: it explores the idea of a genetic commodity. Now, once racism is gone, the world will need to discriminate against something: and that something is genetic superiority.
Instead of having natural births, children are made in genetic labs to ensure that they have the best DNA of the mother and father: essentially ensuring that these children will separate themselves from the genetically inferior children of natural births. Soon corporations illegally start to discriminate against the inferior who are now called invalids; meanwhile, the valids are able to get any job they please and the poor invalids are stuck doing the menial tasks. So not only does this film speak against discrimination, Gattaca is still very relevant because the separation of the valids and invalids could represent the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.
On top of this, sits the idea of free will versus predetermination; should people be told what they are capable of or should the public determine their capability. And this idea resonates with me on a personal level; history shows that human capacity can be surpassed out of sheer will. And in this case, Vincent’s (Ethan Hawke) need to prove everyone wrong by going to Saturn’s moon is the MacGuffin of this entire picture: it even serves as the driving force behind the murder, which is the backdrop behind Vincent’s story.
With this said, the futuristic look of this picture is aided by its subtlety; for instance, last year’s Her has a beautiful production design where the advanced technology is present, but not ‘in your face.’ And Gattaca has that same feeling; though there are advancements in eugenics, the technology feels adequately placed as if this could be a realistic future. The only thing that feels out of place is the cars’ sound effects, which sounds like a leftover clip from a 50s B-movie soundboard. Additionally, there is the blue and orange color palette, which is expected in a futuristic movie, but I can forgive this common trope because of the awesomely subtle production design.
But the real driving force of Gattaca is the brotherly relationship between Ethan Hawke’s Vincent and Jude Law’s Jerome; Vincent’s inability to connect with his real brother, helps him to bond with the ‘hard to like’ Jerome, a valid whose identity he is paying for. But again, this is not always a functional relationship; Jerome is an alcoholic who uses the bottle to compensate for his new disability, which prevents him from further pursuing his Olympic career. But Jerome is more than a coddled one dimensional character; his Olympic ‘silver medal,’ an achievement that most would be proud of, is a constant reminder that even at his best he was unable to succeed. Which begs the idea, how ‘perfect’ can one be if all are created by eugenics? And while Vincent’s drive to go to space is interesting, Law gives an underrated performance that elevates him from his ‘pretty boy’ status.
However, there is an obvious weak aspect of Gattaca and that is the romantic relationship between Vincent and Irene (Uma Thurman). This feels like a section that is tacked on to make the film more accessible to the general public. The romance feels out of place in a very pragmatic world, but I guess that is the point. But in my opinion, the relationship bogs down the third act, which results in a reasonably paced movie coming to a screeching halt. On top of this, the cheesy and vomit-inducing dialogue worsens the already flawed relationship: a smart sci-fi film is turned into a cringe-inducing soap opera. And the worse aspect, is that after ruining the picture with this relationship the movie does not follow through with its story; at the climax the story seems to throw Uma’s character to the side in order to finish the plot.
But this is not the only time that a key plot point feels rushed or thrown away; Vincent’s rarely mentioned heart condition seems to make random appearances in the early sections, but does not appear later. I like the overall concept behind Gattaca, but it feels like Andrew Niccols ‘bit off way more than he could chew.’ But I did not completely hate the film: I just wish it were a tighter and cleaner product. For instance, the detectives investigating the background murder work well off each other and avoid specific cop clichés; however, the eventual investigation and third act reveal is extremely predictable. While the murder is not the point of Gattaca, it could have been handled better. Instead, it adds a flawed concept to a third act, which is already falling apart.
With that said, the ending is beautifully tragic; it is the perfect end to the movie that worked in the first two acts. The cheesy predictable ending is improved by the sad truth of fleeting life: it makes the viewer question the society’s idea of superiority. The conclusion proves that genetics cannot hold back sheer will power; and while this sounds preachy, this flawed movie’s ending resonated with me long after I saw it. And though I cannot completely forgive its shortcomings, I respect this movie for attempting to tell a complicated story with mainstream tropes. Unfortunately, the last thirty minutes hinders a mostly solid flick.