The 59 Sci Fi Challenge: #3 Gattaca (1997)

Dave is partaking in a death-defying one man high-stakes challenge that involves him watching movies. This is it.

Gattaca Ethan Hawke Andrew Niccol Uma Therman Jude Law

1997 features several times on the 101 sci fi films list, which statistically makes it one of the book’s favourite years for scifi. Starship Troopers, Open Your Eyes, Men in Black and The Fifth Element I had all seen, but one film of 1997 has eluded me for the last 15 years (yes, 15 years, I know, I remember the Spice Girls as if it were yesterday aswell).

Gattaca, for those who don’t know, is set in a dystopian (some might say utopian) future ruled by gene manipulation. Genetic advances have allowed for babies to be born free of disease, defects or even negative personality traits. DNA profiling is widespread, allowing potential employers or law enforcement to see every detail of your physical and mental performance.

The result is a caste system in which those with the best genes get the best jobs, while those born naturally are ostracised.

Also, shit gets real high-tech

Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is a natural-born and through a series of elaborate DNA methods, assumes the identity of gene-perfect Jerome (Jude Law), in order to achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut. And Uma Therman is there for some reason.

Gattaca was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who also wrote and directed last year’s massive disappointment “In Time”. A lot of parallels can be drawn between the two: they’re both set in dystopian futures with discriminatory caste systems, they both have a protagonist at the bottom of the social ladder who climbs his way to the top, they both have a female character from the top of the social class who empathises and they both have a 1940s film noir style and feel.

The difference is that Gattaca is good. Where the plotting, pace and acting of In Time was a complete shambles, Gattaca is a tightly-woven thriller with clearcut rules and interesting characters. Hawke is brilliant as the underdog and symbolic champion of the human spirit (go humanity!), Jude Law is thoroughly enjoyable as a booze-swilling cripple and the interactions between the two make for some of the movie’s best and most human moments. On the downside, Uma Therman doesn’t get to do much besides act as a springboard for Vincent’s motivational dialogue (go human spirit!) It’s a role that felt thrown-in for the sake of having star power and a love interest.

Gattaca Uma Therman

What are you doing here, Uma?

Gattaca is as impactful now as it was 15 years ago and its setting of the “not too distant future” feels even more threatening in these days of advancing scientific breakthroughs (go science!). It’s message that “with hard-work and determination you can achieve anything” may come off as a little “Mighty Ducks”, but it’s a noble one and the film is so well put together, you can’t help being endeared to Vincent’s attempts to overcome adversity (go Vincent!)


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