a day seems to go by without some researchers claiming to have discovered the
gene for this condition or the gene for that affliction. If we are to believe
these researchers, everything from obesity and myopia to homosexuality and manic
depression can be attributed to our genetic make-up. Humanity, as we know it,
seems to be reduced to a genetic sequence.
Of course, if the sum of our being can be attributed to genetics, then it
only follows that it can be engineered. That is the premise behind the sci-fi
thriller Gattaca. Set in a "not-so-distant future" (as the
opening credits inform us), Gattaca deals with a future where it is
possible genetically engineer all these "defects" out of newborn children.
Not only can you as parent request that your children will not one day be afflicted
by any debilitating heart diseases or other illnesses, you can also specify that
they not suffer from any other "defects" - such as the tendency to fall
prey to depression, acts of violence, "suffer" from homosexuality, etc.
people genetically engineered this way (think Hitler's Übermensch come to
real life and you'll get the picture) will have an edge in the workplace over
those who are not. And thus the plot of Gattaca: Ethan Hawke,
one of the genetical have-not's in this brave new world (called "invalids"
in the movie) wants to desperately become an astronaut, but obviously cannot because
of his untampered-with birth. He thus begins a deception by posing as a so-called
"valid" to become an astronaut at a major space exploration company.
He does this "borrowing" the blood, urine, hair and skin cells of a
"valid" who has been crippled in an accident to pass the numerous tests
one have to undergo to get and stay in the training course. But then a murder
occurs at the company, some of his real hair gets picked up and soon the Ethan Hawke
character is the prime suspect. Can he maintain his deception when the human body
sheds several million cells each day - every single one of them betraying his
is a rarity. Along with Contact (1997) it counts as one of the few recent
science fiction movie efforts that doesn't rely on a brain dead plot, extensive
special effects and pyrotechnics, but instead on an interesting plot and its characters.
However, unlike Contact (1997), one isn't that much drawn into its basic
premise. To start with, the science is highly dubious. It is highly dubious whether
any of the genetic engineering portrayed in the film will ever be possible - or
so I am told by some experts in the field! Besides, Gattaca is the
old "man shouldn't interfere with nature" theme rehashed and speaks more to our age's current misinformed technophobic fears than anything else. Say genetics and everybody thinks eugenics - the old Nazi humbug of creating perfect
Aryan types. Furthermore, the film doesn't always maintain the level of suspense
required to make it a really engrossing affair. Like the future it portrays, Gattaca
is too detached and sterile. Besides, it is unlikely that the Ethan Hawke's
character would escape detection for so long with the lots of security measures
in place at the space corporation.
despite its flaws, Gattaca is to be commended. It is a step in the
right direction for the sci-fi genre being more cerebral than visceral. So soon
after viewing the blood and gore ridden Alien: Resurrection (1997) it was
truly refreshing to see a film that doesn't rely on violence and explosions at
all. Instead it has a more novelistic approach as it meticulously constructs its
1950s retro Blade Runner (1982)-like future world - and this immersion into
plausible other worlds is after all the point of sci-fi. Just imagine if those
genetic experts are wrong and it is possible to create the world of Gattaca...
Review by James O'Ehley from The
Sci-Fi Movie Page.