The world we live in is filled with various forms of bigotry, but in this 90s dystopian thriller, we get a glimpse at yet another: geneticism. To an extent, folks who are not financially secure, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied White males are already living with the consequences of being the undesirables, but in this new world, where the rich can use eugenics to ensure that their children will have only the best genetic makeup, those with unmanipulated genes (the “God children”) suffer most of all.
Vincent (Mason Gamble) is such a person, conceived naturally by parents who, in the heat of passion, decided to take their chances. What nature gave Marie and Antonio Freeman (Jayne Brook and Elias Koteas) was a son with the high probability for a host of genetic problems and an estimated lifespan of 30.2 years, an “in-valid” who wasn’t even allowed entrance in schools because he is seen as too great a liability.
After his parents use genetic selection with their next child and have another son, Anton (Vincent Nielson), whom is perfect in every way, friendless Vincent becomes even more despondent as his younger brother not only proves himself to be faster and stronger, but is handed various opportunities simply because of his genetic privilege.
Vincent (Chad Christ) is brilliant and dreams of an aeronautics career, but this is a career reserved only for the “valids”, one which he can’t even train for. After years of playing a game of chicken with Anton (William Scott Lee) and always losing, Vincent not only wins but also saves his brother from drowning. This fuels his desire to pursue his dream by any means necessary and he leaves home.
Years pass, with Vincent (Ethan Hawke) taking odd labourer jobs reserved for in-valids in order to survive, until he finally has the opportunity to work for Gattaca Aerospace Corporation… as a janitor. A mixture of happenstance and some investigative work, he meets German (Tony Shalhoub), a black market identity salesmen, and Jerome (Jude Law). Jerome has a near perfect genetic makeup but genes can’t prevent you from severing your spine and become a paraplegic, which is exactly what’s happened to the former Olympian due to a car accident.
German proposes using a combination of corrective and coloured lenses, DNA samples in the form of shed skin, blood pouches, hair and urine samples from Jerome, and even extreme surgery to effectively pass Vincent off as Jerome, where getting his dream job will become a simple matter of passing a DNA test. If things go as planned, German gets a percentage of Vincent’s salary, Jerome gets income and a roommate, and Vincent gets his only shot at his dream.
Witnessing first Vincent’s struggle to prove himself, and then the ease with which everything comes to him when he is able to effectively pass as a valid brings a wealth of current social issues to mind. As Vincent nears his goal of space travel and a murder takes place at Gattaca, we feel all of his hope and fear, not just of being framed for something he didn’t do, but of being exposed as inferior when he is the most deserving person working there. As Vincent navigates authorities and his first love (Uma Thurman), we learn that probability cannot diminish possibility and potential.
While some see Gattaca as a “You can do anything you put your mind to” sort of film, I would argue that those people are missing the point entirely. Vincent had to put in two hours of preparation each day he worked at Gattaca just to be able to walk into the building as Jerome. He had to lie and cheat his way into an interview room only to be told that his brains were irrelevant and his (Jerome’s borrowed) DNA was all he ever needed. He endured a life of people who didn’t know him confidently telling everything he could not do because of his genetic makeup and had to subvert the system oppressing him in order to get a job he was overqualified for. If Gattaca is anything, it’s a cautionary tale on the dangers of using eugenetics to create (even more) genetic discrimination. It’s a testament to how insidious and exclusionary existing forms of privilege are and how they keep the worthy out even as they coddle the mediocre.
I give this one 4.5 stars.