Gattaca is one of my all-time favorite flicks.

It is not new — it came out in 1997 — and yet it remains, I think, one of the most underrated movies ever.

It was written and directed by the New Zealand born auteur Andrew Niccol, who, before and after Gattaca, has been inexplicably silent.

It stars Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law. (Ultra-leftwinger Gore Vidal [RIP] plays an apt supporting role.)

In 1997, Gattaca was nominated for an Academy Award: Best Set Decoration.

Gattaca — the title of which is based on the initial letters of the four DNA nitrogenous bases (guanine, adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine) — is set in the near future.

It is a slightly cyberpunk, highly biopunk thriller that presents a vision of society driven by liberal eugenics.

Vincent Freeman, played by Ethan Hawke, is an imperfect man who desires to travel to the stars. But given his genetic make-up (he’s born with congenital heart condition), society, led by an elite bureau of planners called Gattaca Corp, has deemed Vincent “unsuitable.” He has therefore been relegated to the status of “underclass,” one of those human beings useful only for menial work. And yet not disclosed in his DNA is the fact Vincent’s will is unbreakable.

Thus he assumes a fraudulent identity: the identity of one Jerome Morrow. The real Jerome Morrow (played brilliantly by Jude Law) is a perfect genetic specimen who as a result of a botched suicide attempt is a paraplegic. The two of them, learning among other things how to deceive DNA sample testing, conspire to send Vincent on a space trip to one of Saturn’s moons. They succeed at passing one genetic test after another, using samples of the real Jerome’s hair, skin, blood and urine. Ultimately, a colleague of Vincent’s (A.K.A. Jerome Morrow) is killed, and so Vincent is at long last scheduled for his space mission. At which point, however, another colleague begins to suspect Vincent’s true origins, and the police investigate.

Vincent, understand, is one of the last “natural” babies. He is myopic and his DNA says that he is likely to die at age 30. He has an estranged younger brother named Anton (played by Loren Dean), who is now a police detective pitted against Vincent. For me, the most moving moments in this very moving movie are the swimming contests — one told in flashback, when the two brothers are young, and one in the present — and when, afterward, Anton asks Vincent how as a genetically deficient human being, he nevertheless won the swimming contests, Vincent answers that he won because he didn’t save his strength for the swim back, since he was always willing to risk everything to succeed…

Gattaca is a timeless movie — timeless, I say, because it is a profound testament to the human spirit and to that fundamental act of will which we each possess, and which each individual alone can choose to activate, or not.

It is a movie that hammers home the devastating truth that we are each the shapers of our own clay.


  • Nick

    May 24, 2010

    I, too, thought this movie did a great job spotlighting the horrible conditions in New York’s state correctional facilities.

  • E.A. Blair

    May 24, 2010

    Ha – I remember that movie – but as I am generally down on movies these days, I will not comment on it’s quality.

    What is funny about this idea, is that it is nothing new. Elites have always separated themselves out from the “unwashed masses”, and come up with new ways to prove their superiority.

    Without the benefit of DNA testing, India has a hereditary class of underlings – the untouchables known as “Dalits”

    Apparently some Russian Noblemen thought that the serfs had black bones as opposed to their white ones.

    The more things change…

  • Ray

    May 24, 2010

    Pretty obscure, Nicky, pretty obscure, but I like it.

    Likewise E.A. Blair with all this talk of Russian Noblemen and serfs with black bones.

  • stan downey

    May 25, 2010

    this is the most boring post of yours i ever read and that is saying a lot

    here is an idea get with the times instead of boring us with antiquated essays about “rugged individualism”

  • Hunter

    April 9, 2015

    From the moment Vincent is born he is told he’s going to die…. Gattaca is much more than a story about the elite vs the rest of us and one mans struggle to achieve his dreams. Vincent is assured of his early death the moment of his birth. Because he is labeled with such a short time frame, no one is willing to invest in his future. From daycare to employers and even his parents, no one has faith that Vincent will live past the time given to him. He is looked at as an outcast, only capable of doing the jobs that the engineered people won’t do. The underline “concept” of the movie is deception and how things are not as they appear. False impressions sometimes drive people toward a normally unreachable goal. Much like a battle ship, the elite are not very mobile and have procedures built into orders of operation that prevent spontaneous movement and those processes can be manipulated. People who are faced with certain death are on what Sung Su refers to as “on deaths ground,” where people suddenly become capable of extraordinary things and become super human. Just like today, there is a discrepancy between geneticist’s and how perfect of a being they can create. While most individuals are engineered using similar methods, not all are equal. Only the most perfect beings are held in the highest regard. Women only seem to be concerned with your sequence score and your potential, not who you really are. Jerome Morrow should have been the best by his sequence score “quite a catch” but when he was put to the test he was only second best. The human will knows no bounds as eloquently put by Mr. Ray Harvey. This is truly a great movie and highly recommended.

  • Ray

    April 10, 2015

    What an eloquent and insightful comment you leave me, Hunter. Thank you very much.

    And thank you for dropping by.

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