Viking Night: Gattaca
By Bruce Hall
January 24, 2012
These are wonderful times we live in. Yes, there is global economic miasma. In some places, the very strands of civilized society seem to be unraveling around us. And yes, an alarming segment of the population cultivates lifelong intellectual convictions by distractedly scanning headlines on a global information network dedicated largely to hard core pornography. All of these things are true. But if you have the time and the means to be reading this, consider yourself lucky. We live in a world more full of opportunity and possibility than at any other time in history.
What if I were to describe a future world so sterile, ordered, shiny and perfect that Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman are considered second class citizens and it sucks to be Jude Law? Believe me, if it ever sucks to be Jude Law, everyone else's life just got a whole lot worse by default. Lucky for us, it's only in certain high concept sci-fi movies that to be born impossibly attractive and talented is pretty much the same thing as being a crack baby. But that's not the first thing you'll wonder about when you watch Gattaca. First, you'll spend a few minutes digging around in your head, trying to remember where you've seen it before.
This is the kind of film that just had to have been based on some obscure pulp novel written by one of those brilliantly tragic 20th Century cats who died penniless and face down in a glass of whiskey because even his mother hated him. Gattaca sports a slick, retro-noir universe filled with Truman era hairstyles and pin striped double breasted suits. Every building looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. All the cars have big fat fenders and nice round windshields. When people speak, they converse in the curt, ironic tones your grandparents might have used, had they been comic book characters instead of people. But this world is actually not the product of a forgotten Heinlein novella, but from the mind of first time writer/director Andrew Niccol.
If only we could all be this good at something we try for the first time. There's even a running voice over, which would normally be corny. But Gattaca has a lot of interesting and relevant things to say, and it does them well enough that soon it seems natural to do so using a plot device straight out of a Humphrey Bogart film. You'll have forgotten all about it ten minutes in. Which is about the time you find out just what kind of world this is going to be and sure enough, it's one where even Jude Law would eventually pray for death.
Ethan Hawke is Vincent Freeman (remember that no character is ever named "Freeman" without an obvious reason), a man unfortunate enough to have been born on the cusp of the genetic revolution. You know all that crazy talk about how you'll one day be able to design your own children as easily as picking out upholstery on your new Toyota? Well, that day is here, but Vincent's parents decided to save a buck and conceive a child the old fashioned way. What they get is a bouncing baby boy, genetically predestined to die of heart failure at 30. That's hard news to handle as new parents, not to mention an irresistible weapon to save for those difficult teen years: