For a while now, the Power Cords staff has been casually discussing our favorite sci-fi movies and which ones would make a top ten list if we were to make one (we most assuredly will at some point, just you wait). While I have my own personal top ten list, several movies I had not seen came up in our discussion so I took it upon myself to familiarize myself those films. After going through all of everyone else’s favorites I than decided to scour IMDB and movie forums for suggestions on some of the other great science fiction masterpieces and than proceeded to watch them. Over the several I have watched this past week one in particular has really stood out to me and that film was Gattaca.
What it is: Gattaca takes place in our near future where one’s genetics has replaced race or gender as the primary source of discrimination. Science has progressed to the point where they are able to genetically modify and perfect an unborn child making them far superior than naturally birthed children or “God Children”. The story follows Ethan Hawke playing a God Child and the journey he takes overcoming discrimination in his pursuit of his dream of becoming an astronaut. Ethan Hawke is joined by Jude Law and Uma Thurman leading to a rather exquisite cast and is written and directed by Andrew Niccol who is best known for writing and directing Lord of War as well as writing one of my favorites, The Truman Show.
Why I dig it: Where do I start?
One of the things I was particularly impressed with was the setting. While watching this movie there is no doubt about it that it takes place in the future and it’s the means of how they portray this is what strikes me. Gattaca doesn’t rely on CGI or effects to show off the all of the fancy technologies of the future and as a matter of fact you really don’t see a whole lot that screams future to you. The only real advanced technology we see are finger scanners pricking digits as a source of identification in addition to the advanced genetics manipulation. Other than those things we don’t see a whole lot else. People travel to and from places via cars, people with poor eyesight use glasses or contacts, people still use firearms that shoot lead bullets. We aren’t being beaten over the head with the futurism of the film but instead Niccol uses details in the setting and environment to tell us what year it is.
This subtlety really makes it feel like it could actually happen. This minimalism in advances allows us to visualize the scenario the movie proposes in the next couple decades or so. I know this is a scenario I have though about several times over as well as having come up in discussion with friends a couple times and the fact of the matter is this technology really isn’t too far out there. We have already started moving down this road with the level genetics is at now. Because this feels like something that could potentially happen the entire film has this ominous warning about it that most other futuristic sci-fi movies lack. This dark feel is no way a bad thing because it makes the audience feel that much more involved and connected to this futuristic world, a connection that is often absent in science fiction due to foreign and alien worlds.
It’s not just the way the time period is portrayed that creates a great feel to the film but Niccols does an amazing job making the viewer feel the paranoia and stress that Hawkes character, Vincent, is going through. Vincent has taken the identity of someone with a far more impressive set of genes in his attempt to make it into space. Due to the nature of his ambition there are extreme security measures taken into place so Vincent must be wary of every breath because a single eye lash or skin cell could betray his guise. We already feel on edge due to his situation and then a murder takes place in the building and everyone in the building including Vincent are even more scrupulously scrutinized and watched creating even more tension. Niccols does an amazing job creating tension and conveying the severity and delicacy of the situation again really allowing the audience feel connected to the story.
The story is another great aspect (sorry if this statement is redundant.). In a genre where originality is relatively rare Gattaca does a fantastic job telling a thought-provoking story that still manages a couple of surprises along the way. It is exciting and intriguing and will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has a fast paced feel to it without ever sacrificing character or plot development.
The characters were also particularly strong. The relationship between Vincent and Jude Law’s character Jerome, the man who sold Vincent his fake identity, is marvelous and is a thrill to watch develop over the course of the film. The dynamic between them is fascinating because of the unique situation that has drawn the two together. While the situation is unique their partnership is impressive because of Law’s and Hawke’s performances, not simply the novelty of the relationship. Uma Thurman plays the love interest of Vincent’s and is my only real gripe about the film. *SPOILERS* Thurman is Vincent’s co-worker and throughout the movie we get the impression that there is more to her character than it seems. From her interactions with Vincent the audience get this vibe that she has some sort of secret, that perhaps she is lying about her identity too allowing for some sort of common ground between the two or an unlikely ally who is sympathetic to our protagonist’s motives. I sat their expecting something more from her the entire movie but in the end she was just a nice genetically perfect person with nothing special about her to really define her. This lack of secret or lack of depth ultimately makes her character kind of boring and bland. Maybe I am just being nit picky and had expected too much out her.*END OF SPOILERS*
Gattaca is an awesome movie. It is a film I would recommend to sci-fi enthusiasts and non sci-fi enthusiasts a like. I honestly have no real complaints about the film other than a minor let down with one side character. Gattaca is thought-provoking, original, and has a sense of realism which is frightfully exciting. Before settling on a favorite sci-fi movie list you should definitely watch this film.
A fun factoid about Gattaca: The film’s title is based on the four nucleic acid bases A, C, G, T which DNA is comprised of.