A not too distant future. Genetic engineering has become more than common. People decided that if science was advanced enough to create genetically perfect beings, why not do it? Who cares about God’s mysterious ways or Nature after all? Parents can now assure that their offspring will only inherit the best of them. DNA has become the only thing that matters. Right from birth, scientists can tell if a child will experience myopia or heart trouble sometimes in his life. And from that diagnostic, they class people either “valid” or “invalid”. The valid, or the genetically advantaged, will have access to any position in society they want, no questions asked, while invalids are relegated to proletariat. Discrimination isn’t related to wealth or race anymore, but simply to your blood. Scary, isn’t it? What the film advances is that as exact as science can be, it will never be able to judge the potential of human nature.
Ethan Hawke stars as Vincent, a boy who was conceived naturally. Hence, he has these little flaws here in there, but does that really make him useless? Society thinks so, and he’s restricted from following his dream and become a navigator at Gattaca, the world’s top space travel agency where only the elite can work. No matter as much he trains or studies, he won’t get in as long as his DNA doesn’t match his ambition. That’s when Jerome comes in. Jerome has the best genes you could wish for, but that hasn’t stopped fate nor the car that hit him and crippled him to a wheelchair. He decides not to waste his priceless DNA and has Vincent take his place. To pass as a valid, Vince will have to pass constant tests and verifications, using Jerome’s urine and blood. But he also has to avoid leaving traces of his bad genes by scraping off his body any loose hair or skin every day. And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, the director of Gattaca is murdered and police investigators start combing the staff for suspects. Will Vince get busted?
This is a very smart film, the debut from New Zealand writer-director Andrew Niccol, who wrote one of the best films of the 90s, Peter Weir’s “The Truman Show”. Both films explore some of the same issues, such as whether the supposed good of society is more important than individual freedom. “Gattaca” is the kind of science-fiction that’s about ideas instead of FX. Yet it’s still is visually interesting in the way it creates a believable futuristic society. This is a very good, intelligent film that warns us against the danger of aiming for perfection. Isn’t it flaws that make life fun? Or more precisely, who’s to say that someone who needs glasses or who has health problems can’t do anything good with his life?
The film also wanders a little bit into romance, as Vince is attracted by Uma Thurman, but the gorgeous actress isn’t much more than a love interest. Another of the film’s flaws is the whole subplot involving Vince’s genetically superior but underachieving brother, which basically consists of a series of macho swimming races. Little things like that kind of mess up the intensity of “Gattaca”, but as the film says, you can’t discard something just because it ain’t perfect. This is a thought-provoking film, an effective wake-up call to those who glorify science.