Monday, January 29, 2018

Dystopian Visions #1: Gattaca (1997) ***

Genetic engineering was a source of public fascination during the 1990s, from Jurassic Park to the cloning of Dolly the Sheep in 1996 and the epic Human Genome Project. Gattaca imagines a future where humans have perfected genetic engineering, dividing the species between those made in a laboratory and those conceived the natural way. Ethan Hawke stars as Vincent, a man who manages to fake his way into the elite society, despite his inferior background as a natural born person.

The most impressive part of Gattaca are the streamlined visuals, a stark vision of a clean Utopia where the upper half lives. We get no glimpse of how the other half lives, except that they do all the manual labor jobs. Fittingly, Ernest Borgnine appears in a cameo as a janitor resigned to his menial life. Famed writer Gore Vidal is also excellent as the "Director" of the society. Uma Thurman and Alan Arkin are under utilized in supporting roles.

Vincent dreams of becoming an astronaut despite his "inferior" genetic status. Vincent manages to slip in unnoticed by using the genetic material (skin and urine samples) of paralyzed Jerome (Jude Law). As Vincent prepares for his mission he becomes a suspect in a murder case. 

Gattaca raises compelling questions on the future of human rights. Will a breed of genetic superiors eventually rule over the rest? Do we already live in a such a situation? Some are born with more advantages than others, what are the obligations of the fortunate to the less fortunate? Gattaca a also a great metaphor for a culture that discriminates and how far some will go to join the chosen few.

In saying that, Gattaca is not the most endearing Sci-Fi movie because it lacks emotional richness, especially the love story. Like a good Star Trek episode, Gattaca introduces a great concept and leaves it there for the audience to mull over. Neither a cult classic, nor a grand visionary statement, Gattaca tells a good story with some striking visuals and enriching ideas.

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