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Gattaca (1997)

In the not too distant future, a young man, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), dreams of escaping from Earth and rocketing into outer space.  But Vincent is genetically flawed--he's got a bum heart and a life expectancy of just 30 years--in a world where such human frailty is no longer the norm and no one's about to waste precious resources on an astronaut with less than an optimal genetic profile.  In order to get around his all too human limitations, Vincent swaps genetic profiles with Jerome Morrow, (Jude Law), a genetically-designed and nearly perfect young man, embittered by the accident that left him wheelchair bound.

The achievement of bio-engineered superiority for some has naturally created a bifurcated society, with the elite gripped by paranoia about inferior "degenerates" trying to pass themselves off, so Vincent's deception requires him to sneak Jerome's urine into sample cups, to wear false fingertips with Jerome's blood for identification pinpricks, even to salt his workstation with Jerome's hair and skin flakes.  Even with all that he still has to deal with the suspicions of an arrogant launch Director (Gore Vidal), a watchful staff physician, and a beautiful fellow trainee (Uma Thurman).  The situation becomes even more fraught with danger when a murder occurs at Gattaca and two cops begin to haunt the place.

All of this works well enough as a mere sci-fi thriller but writer/director Andrew Niccol, who also wrote The Truman Show, is after far bigger fish.  What he gives us here is a timely and thought-provoking argument against the idea that genetics is destiny.  Just as he showed Truman's seemingly perfect world to be anti-human, he shows here that the utopian quest for physical "perfection", because it can not account for the human soul, must result in a dystopic nightmare.  A few of the really fine touches here are the set designs which are cold and sterile; the general absence of women, who will be selected out in a world where fathers can always choose to have sons; Vincent's birth scene, when his own father, realizing him to be an "unsatisfactory" heir, decides not to name the boy for himself; and what is, I think, the best scene in the film, when the genetically perfect Jerome reveals that he envies Vincent's natural birthright, the unengineered will that drives him.

This is a profound film.  It sounds a too seldom heard cautionary note about the limitations of science, even as it celebrates the limitless human spirit.  At one point the Director says : "No one exceeds their potential. If they do it just means we didn't judge it accurately in the first place."  This notion, that human potential is a physical quality, to be quantified, measured and judged, is the all too likely and frighteningly imminent horror that resides at the core of this vile future world.  Mr. Niccol is a polemicist of a very rare sort, for he manages to entertain even as he delivers his jeremiads.  That's quite a feat.  It makes him one of the most exciting and visionary talents to come along in Hollywood in some time.


Grade: (A)


See also:

    -OFFICIAL SITE : Gattaca (Sony)
    -INFO : Gattaca (1997) (
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Andrew Niccol (Imdb)
    -PROFILE : of Andrew Niccol (Ray Pride, New City News)
    -STUDY GUIDE : to Gattaca (Be Cal)
    -ESSAY : Sci-Fi's Biofascism (Stefan Ulstein, Books & Culture, May/Jun 1998)
    -ESSAY: Gattaca: A Must-See Movie: Great Fiction Dealing With BioEthics (Nigel Cameron, September 12, 2003, Breakpoint)
    -ESSAY : Not Exactly "Of Woman Born": Procreation and Creation in Recent Science Fiction Films (Susan A. George, Winter, 2001, Journal of Popular Film and Television)
    -ARCHIVES : Gattaca (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (James Berardinelli Reel Views)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Hollywood Jesus)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Dave Rettig, Christian Spotlight on the Movies)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (James Bowman, American Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Jack Mathews, Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Marshall Fine, Gannett News Service)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Scott Rosenberg, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca ( Jaime N. Christley, Film Written)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Tom Lyons, Eye Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (John Hartl,
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Rob Blackwelder, Spliced Wire)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Donna Bowma, Nashville Scene)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Gattaca (Maitland McDonagh , Princeton)
    -REVIEW: of The Truman Show ( STANLEY KAUFFMANN, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of Simone ( STANLEY KAUFFMANN, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of Script Review: SIMONE, by Andrew Niccol (Reviewed by Darwin Mayflower, Screenwriting)