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Gattaca (1997)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Vincent (Ethan Hawke: Snow Falling on Cedars) was not genetically engineered like most people are in the future world which he inhabits. In spite of his “genetic shortcomings” Vincent has very high ambitions. Ever since he has been a child he has wanted to travel into space.

Vincent’s world, in which the State and corporate spheres appear to have merged into a contiguous establishment, has a ubiquitous concern with genetic evaluation. Careers, mating and most other aspects of personal futures are determined by genetic potential. Vincent has a 99% probability of heart disease and a projected life span of only 30 years. This was determined from blood samples taken when he was born. Given these conditions Vincent’s ambition of traveling in space seems unlikely to be fulfilled.

Vincent scouts out Gattaca (the space center) through being employed there as a janitor. As a genetically imperfect specimen he normally would not meet Gattaca’s employment standards but cleaning the building is something for which the screening is not as stringent as it is for space travelers. Vincent discovers the elaborate body matter and DNA based security mechanisms of the Gattaca complex.

Where there is a demand the market will provide solutions through those willing to work at the margins. Vincent discovers there are entrepreneurs who skirt the rules of the genetically determined order. He meets a matchmaker who pairs him with Jerome (Jude Law: Wilde). Jerome is a former Olympic class athlete who has had an accident and broken his back. Jerome is confined to a wheelchair. However, Jerome has what Vincent lacks - the body matter: blood, urine, hair, skin cells, etc. needed to satisfy the genetic prerequisites and sampling of Gattaca. Vincent has the desire and Jerome has the necessary means to satisfy the artificial constraints of their corporate establishment. Together they can get Vincent into space.

Armed with Jerome’s DNA and body samples Vincent enters Gattaca and passes the requirements for the space program. He is the navigator who makes the flight plan for the Titan mission. The only person who has doubted Vincent’s identity, a mission director, is murdered. The remaining director (Gore Vidal) assigns Irene (Uma Thurman: Robin Hood she wonderfully portrays Maid Marian) to work with the police who will be investigating the murder. Irene also has the ambition to travel in space, but has a less than perfect genetic make-up and may not make the grade. She and Vincent begin a relationship complicated by the murder investigation and Vincent’s “double identity.”

Gattaca is very good soft science fiction. Its main focus is on social and human concerns rather than hard genetic science. It explores aspects of a possible future which is becoming more likely with new discoveries. Some have taken Gattaca to be skeptical of progress and technology; however its protagonist’s ambition is space travel. Rather than techno skepticism, I think the main theme is captured succinctly by the movie's tagline: “There is no gene for the human spirit.”

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