On Gattaca

Gattaca certainly has a fantastic moral message, as indicated by Philosophical Films:

The moral message of the movie is that we can rise above our genetic predispositions, with specific emphasis on our pre-determined physical abilities. The movie’s message also applies to our ability to overcome pre-determined behavioral traits – an issue more typically involved in the philosophical debate about determinism. The prime example of this in the movie was the revelation that the Director Josef committed the murder, even though his genetic profile indicated that he was completely non-violent.

According to The Geek Twins article, “10 Things You Didn’t Know About “Gattaca”“:

On October 24, 1997, the movie Gattaca was released in theaters. Set in a dystopian world where everyone is judged by their genetic profile, one man buys someone else’s genetic identity to become an astronaut. Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law, the movie has become a cult hit and a milestone in science-fiction film. You may have seen the movie, but here are a few things you probably didn’t know.

1. Gattaca Was The FirstGattaca was the first film directed by Andrew Niccol. He went on to wanted to direct another of his screenplays, The Truman Show, but that movie ended up being directed by Peter Weir. Gattaca was also Jude Law’s first American movie role. Niccol had to re-write his character’s dialogue to fit Law’s accent

2. Gattaca Comes From DNA – The name Gattaca is based on ATCG, the first letters of DNA’s four nitrogen bases (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine). The four letters are used in the notation of genetic sequencing.

3. Gattaca’s Futuristic Building Was From The Past – Many of the exterior and interior shots of the Gattaca Corporation were filmed at the Marin County Civic Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Though it was built in 1960, it had a futuristic look that Niccol wanted for the film. The Civic Center was also used for George Lucas’ film, THX 1138.

4. Gattaca’s Futuristic Cars Were From The Past – Niccol wanted to avoid the typical sci-fi trappings of floating cars and spacesuits. Niccol also didn’t have the budget to create futuristic cars for the movie, so he used existing cars such as the Citroen DS Cabriolet and the Studebaker Avanti, because of their futuristic design.

5. Gattaca Got Too Close For Comfort – The original ending for Gattaca featured images of Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and Jackie Joyner, along with text stating that if genetic screening had existed in their lifetime, they would never have been born. All three suffered from genetic flaws; Einstein had dyslexia, Lincoln had Marfan’s Syndrome, and Joyner had asthma. It also ended with the text that “you” (the viewer) wouldn’t have existed, either. The ending was cut, because test audiences were uncomfortable with the suggestion that they were genetically inferior.

6. Gattaca Started An Argument – The movie has inspired a term called the Gattaca argument, which is based on the idea that genetic engineering will lead to a divide between the rich and the poor. The fear is that as science makes it possible to screen humans for diseases in vitro, the desire to screen out other “undesirable” traits will be too great a temptation. Gattaca portrays an extreme vision of a world where people are defined entirely by their genetics, not on their abilities.

7. People Wanted It To Be Real – The movie was promoted with a fake ad in the Washington Post for a company offering to genetically alter embryos with the tagline “Children made to order.” The ad had a list of genetic traits that could supposedly be added to the child, along with a phone number. Thousands of people called the number, wanting to have their unborn children altered.

8. The Eighth Day – The original title for the movie was The Eighth Day, a reference to the Bibilical days of creation. By the time the film was completed, another movie had been released called The Eighth Day, so Niccol had to change the title to Gattaca.

9. Gattaca Is The Most Plausible – In 2011, NASA declared Gattaca the most plausible science-fiction movie ever made. The idea of a world defined by genetic traits is one that many scientists fear will come to pass if genetic screening becomes more common. By contrast, Armageddon is considered by NASA the most implausible scifi movie ever made.

10. Gattaca Was a BombGattaca was a box-office flop when it was released, making only $12 million in theaters, not even recovering the budget of $36 million. However, it has gained a large following on home video.

Upon watching it for the first time recently, I thought it was a very good film full of interesting ideas.

According to Roger Ebert:

What is genetic engineering, after all, but preemptive plastic surgery? Make the child perfect in the test tube, and save money later. Throw in perfect health, a high IQ and a long life-span, and you have the brave new world of “Gattaca,” in which the bioformed have inherited the earth, and babies who are born naturally get to be menial laborers.

This is one of the smartest and most provocative of science fiction films, a thriller with ideas. Its hero is a man who challenges the system. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) was born in the old-fashioned way, and his genetic tests show he has bad eyesight, heart problems and a life expectancy of about 30 years. He is an “In-Valid,” and works as a cleaner in a space center.

Vincent does not accept his fate. He never has. As a child, he had swimming contests with his brother Anton (Loren Dean), who has all the right scores but needs to be saved from drowning. Now Vincent dreams of becoming a crew member on an expedition to one of the moons of Saturn. Using an illegal DNA broker, he makes a deal with a man named Jerome (Jude Law), who has the right genes but was paralyzed in an accident. Jerome will provide him with blood, urine samples and an identity. In a sense, they’ll both go into space. “Gattaca” is the remarkable debut of a writer-director from New Zealand, Andrew Niccol, whose film is intelligent and thrilling–a tricky combination–and also visually exciting. His most important set is a vast office where genetically superior computer programmers come to work every day, filing into their long rows of desks like the office slaves in King Vidor’s “The Crowd” and Orson Welles’ “The Trial.” (Why are “perfect” human societies so often depicted by ranks of automatons? Is it because human nature resides in our flaws?) Vincent, as “Jerome,” gets a job as a programmer, supplies false genetic samples and becomes a finalist for the space shot.

The tension comes in two ways. First, there’s the danger that Vincent will be detected; the area is swept daily, and even an eyelash can betray him. Second, there’s a murder; a director of the center, who questions the wisdom of the upcoming shot, is found dead, and a detective (Alan Arkin) starts combing the personnel for suspects. Will a computer search sooner or later put together Vincent, the former janitor, with “Jerome,” the new programmer? Vincent becomes friendly with Irene (Uma Thurman), who works in the center but has been passed over for a space shot because of low scores in some areas. They are attracted to one another, but romance in this world can be dangerous; after kissing a man, a woman is likely to have his saliva swabbed from her mouth so she can test his prospects. Other supporting characters include Gore Vidal, as a mission supervisor, and Tony Shalhoub as the broker (“You could go anywhere with this guy’s helix under your arm”).

Hawke is a good choice for the lead, combining the restless dreams of a “Godchild” with the plausible exterior of a lab baby. The best scenes involve his relationship with the real Jerome, played by Law as smart, bitter, and delighted to be sticking it to the system that has grounded him. (He may be paralyzed from the waist down, but after all, as the movie observes, you don’t need to walk in space.) His drama parallels Vincent’s, because if either one is caught they’ll both go down together.

Science fiction in the movies has recently specialized in alien invasions, but the best of the genre deals with ideas. At a time when we read about cloned sheep and tomatoes crossed with fish, the science in “Gattaca” is theoretically possible. When parents can order “perfect” babies, will they? Would you take your chances on a throw of the genetic dice, or order up the make and model you wanted? How many people are prepared to buy a car at random from the universe of all available cars? That’s how many, I suspect, would opt to have natural children.

Everybody will live longer, look better and be healthier in the Gattacan world. But will it be as much fun? Will parents order children who are rebellious, ungainly, eccentric, creative, or a lot smarter than their parents are? There’s a concert pianist in “Gattaca” who has 12 fingers. Don’t you sometimes have the feeling you were born just in time?


4 thoughts on “On Gattaca

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