Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index


Directed by Andrew Niccol (1997, Columbia Pictures)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law

A genetically imperfect man strives to become a space navigator in a genetically engineered "perfect" society.



3 stars

October 21st, 2001 on TV  
    This was a very neat look at the power of desire in somebody's view of the future. The focus was entirely on Vincent, though, which made many other parts of the movie seem incomplete.

I am not a fan of voiceover movies, but this one did a good job of presenting what was happening. In a science fiction movie, often the creators want to show so many of their ideas that it can really get bogged down in the details. Instead, this movie tells us of the changes in society, while also showing us what has happened and how the world reacts to those who have not followed the changes.

Vincent is a love child. He was conceived in the back of a car, without the benefit of a geneticist. Without the modifications, he is degenerate, what we would call normal. His parents are constantly protecting him, because he may have a heart condition. In this movie, the heart condition looks more like asthma. He is expected to live about 32 years, but ends up living way beyond that. 

When his parents decide to have another child, they do it the "right" way. They hire a geneticist to make his brother, Anton, perfect, in every way. Nothing is left to chance. They grow up as good friends, but also rivals, because Vincent knows that Anton will always be better than him. In a race to see who can swim the farthest, Vincent has always lost, until one day, he goes all out, leaving his brother far behind. He ends up having to rescue Anton, who slips beneath the waves. For a young man who later claims that he didn't leave any energy for the return trip, he makes it back in time, easily carrying his brother to safety -twice.

Vincent desperately wants to go into space, but being a degenerate, he has no chance at all, since there are so many others, all genetically enhanced, who make the same applications. So he hires a man from the black market, who sets him up with a genetically engineered man his own age and stature, who has broken his back. Jerome was an Olympic swimmer (as far as I can tell), but is now crippled. If he was high profile enough to win a silver medal, wouldn't somebody recognize him, even if he was from another country? 

Jerome provides Vincent with a new identity, with urine and blood, hair and skin samples for all the tests that are required. He even records his heartbeat for the treadmill test. Jerome stays in his large apartment all the time, it seems, rarely going out, living simply to provide Vincent with a new life. 

And Vincent, who has studied astronavigation extremely hard, proves that he is very gifted. He soars up the ladder at Gattaca, the company that is sending people on a mission to Saturn's moon Titan. I think it would have made more sense to say they were going to "Saturn's largest moon, Titan", instead of "Saturn's fifth moon, Titan", because this would give a clearer idea of why they were going. The number is irrelevant, since new moons are constantly being discovered, anyway, and the number will certainly shift.  I liked the description of the moon, though, even if it did make use of cigarettes.

Anyway, with the mission in a week, everything looks good for Vincent, as he has been selected to go. Until the program director, who was opposed to the mission for some reason, is murdered. The murder is the weakest part of the show. It turns out, after a long search, that the flight director killed the man, removing the final obstacle to the launch. He confesses mere days before the launch, but it doesn't really make sense. Because the launch could be delayed for another 70 years, he overcame his genetic non-violent tendencies? It must have taken a lot of effort!  Why would the launch be delayed for 70 years, anyway? Earth passes Saturn every year in our orbit. Little details might have to change, but with the way Galileo's orbit was modified after it could no longer use the extra booster from the Space Shuttle (after the Challenger explosion), it seems that a navigator could easily correct for the differences.

With a sweep of the office, they find an eyelash that belongs to Vincent, as he was careless for a moment. That is the only unregistered "item" in the entire office, even though the cleaning staff is in there regularly. Perhaps one of the janitors met with a friend for lunch, brushed up against him, and acquired an eyelash... that would be a plausible story. But it would ruin the suspense of the movie, because we know the eyelash belongs to Vincent.

There are several close encounters, as Vincent is tested again for blood and urine, and is stopped at a checkpoint looking for contact lenses and blood samples, is chased from a restaurant and assaults a guard so that he can get away. It is hilarious that when the police officer enters the restaurant and tells people not to panic or leave the building, the first thing they do is panic and start to leave!

Vincent starts up a relationship with Irene, a fellow worker, just days before his mission is to begin. She has a potential heart problem, for which she takes probably unnecessary pills, and admires Vincent for the "perfect" person he is. When she finds out that he is not genetically engineered, she hates him, but then realizes the sacrifices he has made, and the way he was desperate to succeed where the world didn't want him and expected him to fail. She realizes that the night they were checked for contact lenses, he had to throw them away, and so he was essentially crossing the street blind to get to her. I think that's the point where she realized that he was more than society said he was, and perhaps she could be, too. 

The police officers suspect somebody inside the company, but even after the flight director confesses, one of them has grown suspicious of Vincent. Since most of the genetically engineered people at this company look pretty much the same, it didn't occur to me until very late in the movie that one of the police officers was Anton, Vincent's brother. For some reason, Vincent was thought to be dead, and his parents are dead, but for some reason, when his "invalid" picture shows up, he is listed with no siblings, either. If they made modifications to the records, wouldn't it have been easier to change him to a "valid" instead of going through the deal with Jerome? 

In any case, Anton figures it out, and goes to Vincent's "home", actually Jerome's home, to take a personal blood test. Jerome answers the door, desperately getting out of his wheelchair and into a "relaxed" position before Anton gets there. Irene is along for the journey, too, and is completely surprised when it isn't the "Jerome" that she knows. The kiss was forced, and I'm surprised that Anton didn't comment on that. 

Eventually, Vincent and Anton meet again, and Vincent proves that he can be just as good as a genetically engineered man, by beating his brother again at the swimming race. Apparently, he isn't reported.

We get to meet a couple of other sympathetic characters in the company, as well. The janitor, with whom Vincent worked until he decided to become part of Gattaca, handles everything that has Vincent's fingerprints. And the man who takes the blood and urine samples, we find out, has known for an undetermined time that Vincent is not who he says he is. But because he has a son who turned out to be less than the geneticist promised, he also admires what Vincent has managed to do with his life. The scene where he lets Vincent go into the rocket even though his urine tested invalid was probably the most powerful in the entire movie.

It looked like the geneticists removed all passion from the human race by tinkering for the "best" that people could possibly be. Because people all talk in monotones, always have great patience, they all get along, and they seem to be all boring! They can even have their romantic dates processed to see if they have the best genetic material while at any given restaurant! It is nice to see that society has improved to the point where people are striving for the greater good, but it doesn't look like a nice time to live. To actually live...

I liked Vincent for his passion, which really stood out against the rest of the passionless society. But I think I liked Jerome even better. He was constantly angry, because he lost his actual life. He said that he enjoyed living in a room, isolated from the world, but we can see that he hated it. When he yells at the cop for taking a blood sample out in the courtyard, rebelling against being called a cripple, and essentially defending Vincent's right to life, it is a big release for him. And that, I think, is what changed his life. As he said, he inherited Vincent's dream, but it was too much for him. He wouldn't need legs up in space, but he could never get there. So in the end, as Vincent is launched into space, Jerome crawls into his incinerator and turns it on. But he hasn't given up on Vincent, as he provides thousands of days worth of blood, skin, hair and urine samples. He has come to believe in life, in the way Vincent beat all the odds, and it was too much for him, because he could not beat easier odds, of living a life as a crippled man.

The movie was very well presented. Society is so different, but it is easy to see how it has changed. We as viewers can see how and why things are being done. The way Vincent constantly scrubs his body, to get rid of potentially flaking skin, makes complete sense in context. Putting him in the situation where his younger brother was "created" after his parents were not satisfied with him made us really care about Vincent, and rebel against the society that he was born into. With a little more work and care given to the outlying aspects of the story, it would have made a terrific movie. Still, it was very enjoyable.

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