Gattaca, dir/wr. Andrew Niccol, st. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Loren Dean, Gore Vidal, Xander Berkeley, Alan Arkin
Before writing The Truman Show, a film in which its lead character begins to sense an emerging conflict between the gnawing sense of aspiration and purpose in his soul and the artifice of the meticulously constructed world around him, Andrew Niccol wrote Gattaca, a film that shares The Truman Show's central thematic motif of a protagonist imperceptibly imprisoned within his own environment. But whilst Truman's gate-keepers are employees paid to keep the secret and toe the line, actively promoting the subterfuge, Ethan Hawke's Vincent Freeman is betrayed by his own DNA. He plays a 'God-child', a human born without the aid of the genetic selection which has facilitated an unofficial class divide. His parents are told at his birth of the statistical probability of his many defects, yet as he grows, Vincent develops an insatiable passion for the cosmos and enrollment at the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation - a kind of Wall Street-ian NASA - much to the chagrin of his Father, and in particular, his younger 'valid' brother Anton (Dean), naturally possessed of a smug entitlement at the very thought of the superior blood that is pushed around his body. But enroll Vincent does with the help of Jerome Morrow (Law), an athlete and a perfectly engineered specimen until a car accident consigned him to a wheelchair. With the help of Jerome's tissue samples, and in his new guise of a 'borrowed ladder', Vincent edges ever closer to heading out amongst the stars.
Gattaca is ostensibly a very simple triumph-over-adversity tale the likes of which cinema has given us a thousand times over. The genre endures because their films are quite literally escapism at its purest. Not escapism to a twilight world of heroes and daredevils, but escapism from ourselves. And indeed we need not even look far into our own world to recognise the poignancy of one that has to carry around the cause of one's own exclusion. The allegorical allusions are profound, but Niccol grounds us firmly within Gattaca's utopian cosmopolis with a Noir-y aesthetic that makes great use real-world locations such as Antoine Predock's futurist CLA Building and Frank Lloyd Wright's modernist Marin County Civic Center, as well as smart details that range from the hum of the 60's-styled motor cars, to the double-helix-inspired staircase in Jerome's appartment, to the sepia-tinged colour-grading by cinematographer Sławomir Idziak. It's also an ideal vehicle for Law, whose stoicism and tonally anemic performance is a perfect fit for a disillusioned character such as Jerome, a man who was destined for so much only to tragically achieve so little. Aside from its wryly anempathic colour palette, there is little warmth to be found in Gattaca. Naysayers of the film will accuse it of as much. But where it does manifest itself, in small pockets, like the scene in which a pre-infiltratee Vincent and his cohorts of 'in-valids' clean Gattaca's roofs whilst the elite-carrying ships blast off from the nearby launch site, or the fleeting notes and phrases of longing composer Michael Nyman coaxes from his minmalist score, it suddenly reveals itself to be a movie that's so much more than the sum of its precision-engineered parts.