Movie Review: Gattaca


Maybe it’s just the literary nerd in me but I really like movies which open with a quote of some kind, and the more obscure the better in my opinion. Gattaca opens with a pair of whoppers, the first is a poignant quote from Ecclesiastes 7:13, “consider god’s handiwork who can straighten what he hath made crooked?” and the second is by Willard Gaylin, “I not only think that we will tamper with Mother Nature, I think she wants us to”. Both quotes very succinctly and accurately explain the central concepts of the movie, without spoiling the plot ahead of time.

Gattaca makes good use of colour to illustrate a mood or impression, for example there are a lot of muted tones, this is especially prevalent during the opening credits where we are greeted by a lot of icy blues and greys, which set the scene for the cold, clinical world to which we are being introduced.

Micro details are also equally important in this movie, we are treated to a drawn out sequence of shots involving skin, hair and nail samples, and it shows both the focus the movie places on DNA but also the lengths that Ethan Hawke who plays the main character, Vincent Anton Freeman (and also impersonates Jerome Eugene Morrow) will go to make himself clean and acceptable, and even valid.

Something that I liked about this movie, was that they made the choice not to date it by providing a specific period in which it is set. Often movies, especially in the 80s and 90s, would set it in what felt like a far off year, say 2012 for example, and by the time that year comes around, and as of the date of this review, goes as well, their predictions for the future are laughable or at least naive, but Gattaca managed to avoid that and create a future that could easily be plausible. I think it’s especially good because this movie is supposed to act as a cautionary tale regarding man’s hubris, and pursuit of perfection regardless of the cost. It would certainly have lost some of it’s impact had it dated itself, after all had it taken place in 2012, then you’d think, ah well we’ve already avoided that happening, and you’d pop the blinkers back on and ignore any indication that we are heading towards exactly the type of future portrayed in the movie.

Something I felt Gattaca presented to us quite well was the premise of constant observation, and tests to our identity. We in the real world, live in a society shaken by acts of terrorism, this has resulted in tighter and tighter restrictions, as well as overall reductions to our personal freedoms, to the point where we are constantly being asked to verify who we are. Gattaca presents the end result of this, where regulations and control are part of the same daily rituals that we live with, just like brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast.

Also just like communism, genetic engineering sounds like a good idea in practice, for example to fix genetic defects that otherwise might result in the death of a child in utero, or shortly after birth but we are an irresponsible species, who cannot even look after the planet which sustains us so I strongly believe, that eugenics can and will result in a negative outcome. Perhaps very much like the world presented in Gattaca, where genetic engineering has created a underclass who are not only perceived to be inferior, but are literally limited by their genetic potential, and it’s a slippery slope from there, and it could be so easy to justify.

Perhaps the most devastating and overlooked scene in the entire movie, at least in my opinion was shortly after Vincent’s birth, his father, evidently disappointed in his son’s failure in the genetic lottery, decided not to call him Anton (after himself) as he had initially planned. Instead he saved that particular ‘honour’ for his second born son, who he and his wife did opt to have engineered/enhanced.

Now for what I consider to be the best and most poignant line in the movie, which for context was spoken by Vincent, as he recalled his childhood and his relationship with his brother Anton (played by Loren Dean), and that was: “by the time we were playing at blood brothers I understood there was something very different flowing through my veins…and I’d need an awful lot more than a drop If I was going to get anywhere”.

In fact their relationship strikes right at the heart of the issue that the movie raises, Anton and Vincent; the genetically perfect son, who has everything going for him and doesn’t need to try to succeed. The less than perfect son, who tries so hard, and is still being held back by his DNA. Nowhere is this better reflected than in the scene where they play chicken, swimming out far into the water, waiting to see who gives up first, usually Vincent, but in the particular scene I am thinking of not only does Anton give up, but he almost drowns, saved my Vincent. He reveals to his brother than the reason he was able to beat him was because he “never saved anything for the swim back”. It just felt so real, it showed very honestly how hard he had to work to get as far as he did and hinted at the bittersweet conclusion to the movie.

In Gattaca, we discover that Vincent was born with a 1 in a hundred chance of developing a heart condition. So I admire that despite essentially being guaranteed an early death, he pursued his dreams, against societies expectations and wishes, against all rational thought, against his own biology, and he succeeded. He was able to beat his brother because he was willing to just keep going. It proved that sometimes, it’s not the brains or the brawn, or even the functioning heart that wins out, it’s sheer determination. You just have to keep pushing yourself, because exhausted or not, if you are the last man standing then you’ll come out the other side a winner.

Back to casting, I’ve never been able to make my mind up about Jude Law (who played the real Jerome Eugene Morrow), I mean he’s obviously a very talented actor, check out his roles as Gigolo Joe in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, W. P. Inman in Cold Mountain, Alfie Elkins in Alfie and Dr. John Watson in Sherlock Holmes if you need proof. But this role was truly one of his best, and he was an exceptional supporting actor in this movie.

Speaking of Jude Law’s character, he was consistently petulant and superior throughout the entire movie, taking digs at Vincent’s expense. I honestly expected him to sell Vincent out in the end, but his desperate race to the upstairs apartment when visited by the detective, showed just how much he has grown to care for Vincent, and that really swung it for me in this movie. That scene was second in terms of emotional impact only to his final scene where he, without Vincent to need him, immolates himself, clutching his silver medal, a symbol of his achievement and failure.

The music during the final moments is beautiful. Vincent walking towards his destiny, leaving earth a ‘freeman’ finally having achieved his lifelong goal and his ladder that got him to the stars takes his own life his only comfort a silver medal. Upon release this movie flopped, but it’s a phenomenal film, and truly earns a 9/10.


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