I had extremely high expectations coming into this flick and my report is: This is a cool movie! How professional a comment, I know, but really, it is the most accurate I can be without writing a doctoral thesis on how clever this movie is. So here goes:
In the not-too-distant future, Ethan Hawke is a genetically “natural” (read: inferior goober) person who poses as a genetically elite (read: good looking) person (Jerome Morrow) in order to work at Gattaca and thereby go into space. Along the way he meets Uma Thurman who, after running a DNA screen on him, finds him irresistible.
He also lives with the man he is impersonating, played by Jude Law. A murder occurs, and the story progresses. Lovely people drift past the camera with the serene boredom of the perfect.
The coolest thing about Gattaca is the fact that the coolest elements of the film are not battered into your skull, Men In Black style, but rather left to see if you get it. Thank god for a semi-sci-fi thriller where you get to use your brain!!!
The plot winds in a lovely double helix just like the FABULOUS staircase in the real and false Jerome’s house – except for the mutation of some stupid macho theatrics in the 3rd reel (wow, see, the plot is slightly flawed just like Hawke’s real character!).
GATTACA is in itself a joke, kind of – the letters G,A,T, and C are like a quaternary code for genetics (as compared to binary 110010110) – they stand for the 4 nucleotides that are the building blocks of like, guanine, thymine, adenine, and cytosine. Excuse my spelling, docs, I didn’t have a Gray’s Anatomy handy (thanks Catherine for the words!).
Anyway, except for these letters being bold face in the credits, there is no mention of this clever joke.Also, in the building of the company Gattaca, there is the constant hum of announcements in Esperanto! The most sterile and artificial of languages and it mutters in the background the entire time. Brilliant! (thanks Alan for identifying it for me!)
The story is as elegantly shot as it is written. For $22 million dollars, the production designer Jan Roelfs (who must shop at Ikea) made the world look chilly, sterile, and expensive. But I mean this in a good way. The design is as clean as the setting. The production team of writer/director Andrew Niccol & cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (not enough credit goes to the locations people!) have succeeded in creating a movie about a controversial and philosophically challenging subject without being heavy handed.
They have also created a surprisingly detailed presentation of a culture totally used to the invasiveness of pervasive genetic screening – everywhere there is testing. Instead of a badge, Gattace employees get a fingerprick and a quick blood sample screening to get into work. Even dating is screened by the genes, regardless of intent to reproduce. With the bat of an eyelash, everyone’s complete potential and shortcomings is available printed out – with so much intimate information available to anyone with a mini-vac, they respond by becoming interpersonally colder and more distant.
It does seem that they successfully eradicated communicable diseases – in an AIDS-wary culture, the amount of automated fingerpricking is kind of scary. But once a candiate is deemed perfect enough one can fall into bed with no worries.The exposition is in a lovely “in those days” kind of remembrance – and “those days” are still in our future. It’s not handled in a Gene Roddenberryesque narrow minded way but in a well thought out sociological treatment.
The generation gap between the adults whose parents had no benefit of genetic tinkering and the kids generation (that of our hero) who are more sharply defined by their level of tinkering is prominent. Hawke’s character finds connections with older folks who are less perfect than the the engineered and lovely youth swarming about them.
Bonus points for casting Hawke, who can be awfully pretty in one shot and butt ugly in the next – like he’s phasing in and out of his genetic disguise. Uma Thurman (real life offscreen squeeze of Hawke) is also one who looks perfectly lovely and then bizarrely weird. I like her but every film, her voice is inflectionless and pitched just so it is like…like i don’t know. But it’s OK here. Then there is Alan Arkin, a wizened detective, kowtowing to a younger detectve who is his genetic superior when we would expect him to be the boss.
Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as a janitor. Perfect looking strangers in cleanlined suits and smooth hair. Awesome locations. Making us figure out why he pops out his contacts instead of telling us. Very refreshing!
I’m sorry that this is an original screenplay rather than based on a novel because I would like very much to know more about the world created in this film. It’s relentlessly interesting (what a phrase!) and only barely flawed by that goofy macho bit towards the end.Hollywood by and large has forgotten how to make a movie that is good all the way through (LA Confidential excepted) it seems but this one is 95% pure. I recommend it highly and hope to God there is no sequel to ruin it.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/28/1997
Time in minutes 106
Director Andrew Niccol
Studio Columbia Tristar