Movie Review: Gattaca

Plenty of things to talk about this break! Last night I watched Gattaca, a 1997 movie about the “not-so-distant future” that my brother’s been talking about for years. Neither of my parents had seen it, so we grabbed it for $2 from AT&T Video on Demand and sat down to watch it.

Gattaca (written and directed by Andrew Niccol) is technically science fiction, but it doesn’t feel like the movie industry’s usual sci-fi. It’s about a guy who grows up wanting to be an astronaut. The only problem? His genome predicts all sorts of health issues, and death by age 30. In this society, this is enough to label him as an “in-valid”, making him unable to get a job not only at the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation, but pretty much anywhere. Genetic discrimination. (And since all this information can be gleaned from the genome, the “best” sperm and eggs can be chosen in vitro, making the movie about “modern” eugenics as well.)

Given this setup, you can pretty much predict how the movie’s going to go. The protagonist, Vincent Freeman, has to become part of Gattaca without being revealed as an in-valid. Of course, things are additionally complicated with a romance plot, on top of everything else.

I’d go a step further and say the movie feels constructed at parts: it’s clear Niccol had a certain story to tell, and certain things needed to happen in order to tell that story. (The characters’ names, we realized today, are all very carefully chosen.) However, all four of us were still very invested in the main character’s dream, worrying every time he was close to being discovered, and feeling sad during the ending. Rather than a masterpiece, I’d say it’s an almost heavy-handed look at this potential future. But that gives it a bit of verisimilitude…it’s not the processed, smooth script of the mainstream movie industry.

The love plot’s a little out of place. The “family history” part is also sort of forgotten for much of the movie. And certain lines are very deliberately phrased a certain way. But there are lots of surprising subtle touches as well, some of which we didn’t notice until after the movie, and some of which I probably still haven’t picked up on. There are pieces missing, but everything that is there seems solid. (All of this makes a movie hard to review, for one thing.)

There’s pretty much no comic relief, unlike many other movies. This is fine, as long as you know it’s going to be a fairly serious movie.

So? If you do genetic work, or you’ve thought about eugenics, or you’re interested in (anti‑)discrimination…and you don’t hate speculative fiction movies (cause that’s what this is, more than what “science fiction” has come to mean)…you should watch Gattaca. It’s not that long, and it doesn’t feel that heavy cause it doesn’t try to be more than it is: one man’s story. It’s not perfect, but you’ll probably come out of it glad you watched the movie.

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