In a future in which your whole is planned out dependent on your biological make-up, the best physical specimens are the superior class, while inferior individuals are doomed to a life of menial work.
Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is desperate to get into Gattaca, a huge corporation that specialises in space mission, and travel among the stars. However, born with myopia and a defect heart (he’s only expected to live until the age of 30) it seems he has little chance.
But when he meets paraplegic Jerome Marrow (Jude Law), he sees an opportunity to escape his ordinary life, and with a combination of ingenious planning and sheer determination, Freeman attempts to fulfil his dreams…
Classic, Cult or Crap?:
‘Gattaca’ is a nice film. It’s arguable the least cynical of all the Orwellian totalitarian future features. Whereas other ‘1984’-inspired movies focus on the cruelty and mercilessness of an all-controlling Government, ‘Gattaca’ concentrates on a man who will go to great lengths to achieve his goals, no matter how unrealistic they be appear.
Freeman overcomes physical and emotional challenges sent upon him by nature. He takes full advantage of the situation that comes his way when he is introduced to Marrow, an “insider” that is unable to fulfil his potential due to an accident that has left him paralysed. However, the two men concoct a clever and meticulous deceit in order to get Freeman into Gattaca.
The idea of a society which discriminates by genetics is inspired. In an age of designer babies and authorities retaining DNA data on people that haven't even committed any crimes, it is a frightening, yet shocking logical, way for the current class system to be replaced. Add this to the realisation of Orwell’s fears about all-seeing governments (with CCTV everywhere) and the unnerving prospect of a dystopic future seems to be edging increasingly closer.
But wherever there’s a Big Brother or a Gattaca, there’s always a Winston Smith or, in this case, a Vincent Freeman who will challenge his lot to the end. Freeman is one of the last naturally born people, hence his deficiencies; even his brother is genetically superior. Despite being brought up to believe his life can never amount to much, he will not except that his dreams cannot be fulfilled and fights with determination to see them realised.
Hawke is memorable as Freeman, a man lacking in humour and totally obsessed with his mission. The character has come under some criticism for not being likable enough, but the old adage of ‘nice guys finish last’ does come to mind. He may appear humourless and dry but we’ve given enough back-story to justify this apparent lack of character. He is driven and intelligent and proves that the apparently infallible system is indeed imperfect.
Uma Thurman shows up as the love interested, but her character isn’t really given too much to do, and even veterans Alan Arkin and Ernest Borgnine show up as rejects. But it’s Jude Law’s performance as Marrow that claims the acting crown here. Marrow is a wreck of a man, reduced to a wheelchair-bound, alcoholic loner drowning in self-pity. His deception with Freeman gives the drop-out new targets, ambitions and dreams and he begins to live through Freeman’s successes. Law makes the character bitter, but not to the point of being unlikable. In fact, Marrow is quite a pleasant chap, making his fall from high society all the more tragic.
Director Andrew Niccol successfully turns his own intelligent script into a visually stunning movie. The sets and customs are reminiscent of the latter part of the Art Deco movement from the 1930s, which gives the project a nice retro/futuristic counter balance, in the same way ‘Blade Runner’ felt like a futuristic version of the 1940s, which makes for a memorable experience. The film is also very darkly lit, even in daytime scenes - possibly a nod towards the black and white “golden” area which the director seems to love so much.
‘Gattaca’ is a winner because it succeeds where so many modern films fail – it’s a great example of good, old fashion story telling. There’s very little “action” or violence - aside from the murder which causes the law to suspect the existence of a reject in Gattaca – so it relies on strong characters and intrigue. It’s a very compelling tale that will leave you feeling warm inside, and maybe, just maybe, it will inspire you to follow your dreams.
Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke began dating during the filming of this movie. They later married.
The name "Gattaca" is an acronym composed from the first letters of the nucleotide bases of DNA, which are adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine.