Wealthy parents can already buy their children the best education, the best jobs and the best opportunities. Now suppose that they could buy them the best genes as well. Andrew Niccol takes the modern caste system to its genetically engineered extreme in Gattaca, an artfully designed look at a world set in “the not too distant future.”
Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is an “in-valid,” a member of the naturally conceived underclass, who gets ahead in the world by purchasing a “valid” identity from Jerome Eugene Morrow (Jude Law), a superachiever who lost his social privileges when a car accident crippled him for life. Vincent gets a job as a space navigator and is days away from taking off on his first mission when one of his bosses is murdered. The police come looking for clues, and there they zero in on traces of his DNA.
Gattaca is not so much a story about the perils of cloning as it is a tone poem on life lived in an oppressive society, where one is judged daily for simply being oneself.
Various elements in the script and casting suggest a possible gay subtext, but the film could just as easily be a metaphor for religious persecution as well. Indeed, natural children are called “faithbirths” and “godchildren,” and Vincent in particular wonders what moved his mother to “put her faith in God rather than science.”
Thankfully, there are none of the speeches against playing God that mar similar sci-fi efforts. Niccol does not belabour the obvious, at least not in words, but relies instead on suggestive imagery and occasionally ambiguous concepts that are open to several possible interpretations. (What, for example, are we to make of the 12-fingered pianist?)
The film has its flaws — the murder mystery is not all that mysterious, and the ending is almost disturbingly pat — but, then again, Gattaca is all about accepting our shortcomings and transcending them, and that is a task the film achieves quite admirably.