Friday, January 17, 2014

Movie #239: Gattaca

Gattaca is a late-90s sci-fi movie starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Loren Dean, Alan Arkin, and a bunch of other people in small roles.

It's the near future, and anybody can genetically engineer their kids. You just take the reproductive matter and edit out the shit you don't want. In addition, genetically sequencing a person is as simple as having a hair or a drop of blood or spit, and it's done at birth - all the percentages for ADHD, heart defects, and so on are immediately calculated. People who aren't genetically engineered are relegated to a second-class citizens; they just don't have the chops to compete with people who are designed to be without genetic flaws.

Vincent Freeman (Hawke, and oh what a giveaway!) is what's called a god-baby. That is, left up to god. As such, he's got a heart defect that's supposed to have killed him by age 30, but he's been striving all his life to make up for being born, well, normal (he wears glasses, which is a dead giveaway that he's not engineered). As such, he drops off the grid and arranges with a crippled, suicidal former Olympic swimmer Jerome Morrow (Law) to take his genetic identity to get a job at Gattaca, which apparently does space exploration.

Freeman, posing as Morrow, does his job brilliantly. He has to scrub any excess skin flakes off every day, he wears a bag of urine and (one supposes) a fake dick to get around drug screenings, and he wears a sachet on his fingertip to fool the blood scanner at the door to Gattaca. But then one of his directors is murdered, and one of Vincent's real eyelashes is found at the scene. The cops looking into it (Arkin, obviously not engineered, and Dean, who turns out to be Vincent's younger, engineered brother) suspect the owner of the eyelash because he's an "in-valid", but it turns out that, nope, engineered folks can commit murder just fine.

In the midst of all this, Vincent starts up a romance with co-worker Irine (Thurman), also a god-baby, and has a friend in a lab tech (Xander Berkely), who it turns out figured it out a long time ago and says nothing because fuck these dystopian pricks anyway.

I like this movie, but it's so severe. No one smiles, the world is cold and sterile, and the folks who are genetically engineered seem to have had all joy and humor bred out of them (I can't imagine that's an accident). It reminds me of Equilibrium in a lot of ways, except that the focus is very much on Vincent just getting by long enough to get on a spaceship and go to Titan, rather than bringing it all crashing down.

Indeed, no one in the movie, except Vincent, ever really seems to take the attitude that, "Hey, this sucks." It's just kind of the way things are - yeah, you can kiss a guy, pay some money, and get his whole genetic map. Yeah, if your parents decided (or couldn't afford not) to leave you up to chance, you're probably screwed, because if your profile says you might have a defect, you do (this is completely in keeping with our stupid brains and how we process probability - if something can happen it will, so let's all play the lottery!). I actually like that, because it makes the stakes personal rather than world-shattering, and I find sci-fi easier to swallow when the tech is presented as just a part of life.

Oh, and you can tell it's a late-90s movie, because everyone's still smoking. They've apparently cracked the human genome, but not figured out that smoking in a restaurant makes you an asshole. Dates the movie a bit.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban