‘Gattaca‘ promises to be a unique experience right from the beginning. That promise is partially fulfilled and even falls short in certain areas, but despite its allure, I have always preferred imperfect sci-fi films with something new to say; something relevant, even mirroring the society in which we currently live, to perfectly polished ones.
‘Gattaca’ may not have the greatest budgets or the swankiest set pieces, but it gets one thing right: a solid human tale, which is, in my opinion, the basis of a good sci-fi experience.
Despite all the technical science stuff about time travel, alternate dimensions and realms, and space and its vast, infinite multitude, which gets me excited and in wonder beyond what I can admit, the experience is only complete for me when there is a strong human tale at the core of it.
That’s where ‘Gattaca’ shines, portraying the storey of an unbreakable soul trapped by the forces and structures of the man-made world, and its adventure of rising, very literally, despite them.
Along with the indestructible human spirit, ‘Gattaca’ has a scenario that may be called a genetic interpretation of today’s societal condition of affairs projected into the future, another powerful move that distinguishes the picture as a timely sci-fi film.
These are just a few of the things this movie decides to dabble in and yet succeeds on its own merits as a picture, some of which we’ll go over in the parts that follow. Continue reading.
The Plot of ‘Gattaca’ (1997) Movie
The world has come to normalise artificial childbirth procedures, along with eugenics, the science of selective genetic proliferation and birthing, and genetic discrimination, according to the film’s timeline, which is set in the “not too distant future.”
The children born as a result of profiling and eliminating genetic disorders while maintaining only favourable genetic traits are referred to as ‘valids.’
While those born as a result of what we consider normal birthing without genetic pre-emption or selection are referred to as ‘invalids,’ highlighting the schism between these two groups of citizens inhabiting the future world and how society treats them.
Biometric identification is used to make both the differentiation and the discriminating.
Apart from the fact that ‘invalids‘ lack desirable genetic features, which leads to discrimination in work possibilities, it is also noticed that they have a higher risk of genetic illnesses and a shorter life expectancy than valids, adding to the discrimination.
As a result, valids have access to more professional and better work prospects, while invalids are relegated to lower-paying, low-skilled professions.
Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is created naturally and grows up to be one of the invalids, with his profile indicating the likelihood of many frailties throughout his life and an anticipated lifespan of 30 years, 30.2 to be exact.
His parents, too, see him as an outlier and intend to have another child, Anton, through genetic selection. The two are naturally competitive, and they frequently play “chicken” at the beach, in which the first person to return to shore after swimming in the ocean loses.
Vincent typically fails at the game, but on one rare occasion, he succeeds in winning and even saves Anton from drowning.
Vincent has a desire of going to space, something he is informed he would never be able to do because of his invalid status, but his determination is unyielding, and he resolves to leave his home to chase his ambition.
Vincent does numerous menial jobs over the years in pursuit of his goal, until he is finally offered the option to put himself in the shoes of a valid and pretend to be him in order to go through the space training programme.
Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) is a star swimmer valid who had a promising career before an accident rendered him paraplegic: a rare occurrence for valids who, on average, have a higher survival rate.
Humans known as “borrowed ladders” or “de-gene-rates” are the 1% of the population who survive by consuming the DNA and identity of a fallen valid. Vincent thus becomes a borrowed ladder, gaining access to the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation through Jerome Morrow’s urine, blood, skin, and hair samples, which he must supply daily.
He even scrapes off and incinerates any of his own body hair or nails, anything that could be used to track back to his original flawed DNA, to pass off as Jerome for the daily biometric identification procedure at Gattaca.
In reality, the opening sequence is made up entirely of stylized, blown-up replicas of Vincent’s daily scourings that tumble to the ground.
Vincent is due to fly to Saturn in a week as a result of his excellent work performance, just as his years-long plan is jeopardised when one of the administrators at Gattaca is murdered.
And Vincent ends up leaving one of his own original eyelashes at work, prompting the police to quickly launch a search for the ‘invalid’ Vincent, now working in Gattaca under the guise of Jerome.
Despite a budding romance with Irene (Uma Thurman), a coworker who is at a higher risk for heart failure despite being valid, and the real Jerome becoming increasingly erratic as the launch day approaches.
Vincent narrowly avoids the police’s attempts to pin him as the murderer due to an eyelash found at the crime scene.
He even discovers that Jerome was the cause of his current state: he hurled himself in front of a car when he realised that despite being “made” to be the best, he could not always win.
The investigation bears fruit when it is revealed that the murderer was the programme director of Gattaca, who was afraid of his show being cancelled.
Vincent is let off the hook, but he soon discovers that the investigating officer is none other than his brother, Anton, who confronts him about the illegality of his conduct after discovering what Vincent was up to using Jerome’s bogus name.
Despite the heated exchange, Vincent insists that he got where he is on his own merits, regardless of whether his fate is predetermined by genetic profiling, and the two resolves to compete in a last ‘chicken‘ competition at the beach.
Vincent defeats Anton after a long and arduous battle, surprising Anton with his talent and stamina, while Vincent admits that the true reason he won was because he didn’t conserve any energy for the swim back, which is a fantastic allegory that will be explained later in the section.
While Anton is drowning, Vincent saves him and utilises the stars to help him make his way back to land.
Ending Explanation of the ‘Gattaca’ (1997) Movie
‘Gattaca‘ is essentially a storey about the seven days leading up to Vincent’s first manned mission to Titan, Saturn’s moon.
After years of toil, even though it frequently shifts back and forth between the past and the present to reveal more about what the planet has become in the not-too-distant future, and what got Vincent to where he is now.
That is to say, the finale can be interpreted as being encapsulated in the final day: the launch day.
As Jerome and Vincent reminisce about their voyage together, and Vincent confronts Irene with his reality, the launch time approaches, and Vincent prepares himself for the realisation of a lifelong ambition.
Despite Vincent’s insistence that he won’t need it where he’s going, Jerome shows Vincent that he had kept enough blood and urine samples for him to use when he returns.
He hands him an envelope and instructs him to only open it once while he is up there. He is requested to take one more screening test just before he is about to board
Which he knows he will fail because he doesn’t have any of Jerome’s samples with him at the time.
Fearing for his life, Vincent gives a urine sample to Dr. Lamar, who later reveals that he had known Vincent was posing as a doctor all along.
Before passing Vincent off as a valid and enabling him to board, he tells Vincent that his kid looked up to him because he, too, aspired to be someone bigger, because despite being valid, he wasn’t “everything that they had promised.”
Vincent boards the spacecraft with his other astronauts, but Jerome commits himself by immolating himself in the incinerator while wearing his silver swimming medal, leaving only one Jerome, just as he had hoped – for his name to live on via Vincent.
When Vincent finally reaches space, he finds a lock of Jerome’s hair attached to the envelope as proof of his DNA identification, in case he needs it.
“For someone who was never suited for this world, I must confess, I’m suddenly having a terrible time leaving it,” Vincent muses after seeing the unselfish gesture. Of course, every atom in our bodies was once a part of a star, according to popular belief. “Perhaps I’m not leaving; perhaps I’m returning home.”
As previously said, the finale also serves as a lovely allegory for the types of people Jerome and Vincent were.
Vincent, like his brother in the “chicken” races, was a man obsessed with his dream of travelling to space: we see him rarely stumbling in his pursuit and his demanding daily regime of embodying Jerome in almost every way possible for years on end
While Jerome frequently acted out erratically and irresponsibly, having nothing to lose, and yet showing the ultimate act of selflessness towards the end.
It’s almost as if Vincent has a personal grudge against the system for failing him all these years, as if he needs to prove something to himself and to everyone else who has been hampered by the inadequacy of the genetic system that has labelled them as ‘invalids.’
Despite his commitment to a cause, Vincent reveals something important about his character evolution in the film’s concluding moments, particularly while he is playing one more game of chicken with his brother.
He reveals that the secret to his victory in that fight was that he didn’t store any for the return voyage.
I wouldn’t call it short-sightedness, but he was so focused on achieving his goal that he gave it his all in winning it, without much thought or consideration for how he’d get back.
Whether it was realising his dream of travelling to space or playing a simple game of chicken with his brother, both of whom had a tense relationship with each other from the start due to the genetic superiority of the other.
Victory had always been a one-way trip for him, as evidenced by the fact that he refers to his trip to space as a one-way trip for his new home. Apart from actually giving him a fresh lease on life.
Jerome broadens his perspective on it being a two-way journey by giving him the skills to do so as well, although through a heartbreaking act of sacrifice.
I see it as Jerome’s redemption after a painful existence following his realisation: the fulfilment of Vincent’s life’s purpose gives HIM purpose after he realised his predestined one wasn’t any good. Indeed, a lovely allegory.
Themes of the ‘Gattaca’ Movie
No excellent science fiction film, in my opinion, has ever existed merely on the basis of spectacular concepts, because they only gain true traction when they begin to reflect or twist on current social situations.
A dystopian future fiction, for example, would never be as compelling unless it extended a current reality and expanded it into the future.
Similarly, ‘Gattaca‘ won because of its societal significance, which stems mostly from its high concept of genetic profiling and identification, which is used to rule nearly the whole universe in the film.
In a society where discrimination is common on a variety of grounds, ‘Gattaca’ takes it a step farther into the future.
Where prejudice occurs not in terms of colour, creed, or sex, but in the most fundamental aspects of what makes our organisms in the first place – genealogy.
What could be more heinous than discriminating against someone who has a supposedly inferior set of cells? It’s oddly amusing while also being terrifying, because, in all likelihood, it didn’t seem too far-fetched.
To top it off, it’s not dissimilar to another of Ethan Hawke’s fantastic films, ‘Predestination.’
‘Gattaca’ is also concerned with the idea of everything being predestined and what value it has. While the former hated not being able to provide a clear solution, ‘Gattaca’ appears to have one, as Vincent smashes the wheel while Jerome is trapped beneath it.
With all the talk about valids and invalids, and Vincent’s lifespan being limited to roughly 30 years at the time of his birth.
He defies those notions and accomplishes what he set out to do through sheer tenacity of vision, leaving nothing to the viewers’ imagination in terms of how predestined his fate was.
Finally, ‘Gattaca‘ is a film that I find to be rather inspiring. It is full of emotional moments, the most of which are courtesy of Vincent, the key character.
It’s true what they say about stubborn souls falling in love with the universe. His goal of space flight came true thanks to Jerome, Irene, Dr. Lamar, even his son, and almost everything in the universe aligning perfectly to make it happen.
Final Thoughts About ‘Gattaca’ Movie
‘Gattaca‘ isn’t flawless, but it’s one of the few sci-fi films from the 1990s that still holds up, not to mention is continuously entertaining, despite a slew of subplots that all contribute to the central storey.
Its premise may not have been novel at the time, especially in comparison to today, when there is no shortage of films about genetic profiling and predestination that eliminate free will.
‘Gattaca,’ on the other hand, finds meaning in telling a human storey first, with sci-fi as a backdrop.
I can certainly understand its unusual cult following, and while it’s a shame it tanked upon its initial release, it’ll always hold a special place in my DVD collection, as it should in yours.