(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

[In honor of GATTACA's 25th anniversary on October 24, here is Mark's original review of that film.]

CAPSULE: GATTACA is a cold film that frequently stretches credibility, but still it stands as one of the more intelligent science fiction films of the 90s. Anatomy truly is destiny in a world where almost everything about you can be determined quickly from a DNA sample. One man with a dream of traveling in space carries out a long identity deception in a world where it should be impossible, by using another man's DNA to fool all the detectors. This is also a philosophical detective story a well as a science fiction film that looks deeply at the implications of too much genetic knowledge. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), 8 (0 to 10)

While some pairs of identical twins lead surprisingly similar lives, frequently they do not and frequently they show different interests and potential. So there are limitations on the information about the adult that can be augured by a DNA examination. That makes it seem to be unlikely that we would ever get to the world as it is shown in GATTACA where everything anyone wants to know about you is encoded into your DNA. However, GATTACA assumes that the world has decided that DNA is the most reliable way of judging a person in spite of counter-examples like Vincent (played by Ethan Hawke) the main character of this story. Vincent has been delegated to the labor class based on his DNA. He looks wistfully at the rockets blasting off from the Gattaca Corporation and dreams of going off into space. He is highly motivated, but nobody notices because his DNA says that he just does not have the potential to be much more than a floor sweeper, permanently a part of the under-class. One wonders how so inaccurate a test could be accepted without question by a society, particularly after age of civil rights and civil liberties advances.

Vincent knows he does not have a chance of being chosen by the Gattaca Corporation for one of their probes into space, so he decides to literally reinvent himself. There is a criminal element who are willing to match him up with a human with a much better DNA structure who can supply him with hairs, urine samples, blood samples and any other kind of sample so that all the samples that Gattaca takes from him will really be from Jerome (Jude Law). Jerome agrees to live with Vincent, providing him with sufficient biological specimens to give to the company and letting Vincent take on Jerome's name. This is a tricky process involving things like false finger tips filled with Jerome's blood form the ID machine that takes a sample. We see how Vincent is occasionally able to substitute Jerome's specimens for his own, but it is never really convincing that he could do that whenever the need arises. Vincent romances a fellow employee Irene Cassini (Uma Thurman) who gets pulled into this web of deception.

The story moves at a languorous pace showing how the world has changed since the conversion to the DNA standard. Andrew M. Niccol who wrote and directed has given us a "not too distant future" that is not entirely convincing, but is still worth seeing. Loose ends abound, but that may be part of the point. For example, Vincent has taken over for Jerome and is telling the world that he is the same person, but Jerome has a "toffee-nosed" British accent and so presumably comes from an environment that would produce such an accent. Vincent does not have a British accent at all. Yet nobody seems to even care to compare Vincent to his claimed background. It is hard to place how far this world is in the future. Women and men at Gattaca dress in almost identical uniforms and women wear their hair in almost masculine styles. Cars make the whining sound of turbines, but still look a lot like the cars of today.

The photography by Slawomir Idziak is just a bit showy, bathing some scenes in yellow or blue light. Particularly in the first half of the film it is often his camerawork that creates the mood in scenes devoid of any music. It gives the world a repressive, sterile, dry feel. Michael Nyman's score when it does kick in is repetitive almost to the point of being minimalist.

GATTACA has a few places where it could have had the details better developed, but it is a complex story, perhaps of the complexity of a novel. It is told without the too common problems of science fiction of too much special effects replacing careful thought. If anything, GATTACA is a film that substitutes intelligence for explosions. This is about people caught up in a sort of cautionary dystopic world. It may not be a likely world, but it has well-developed character in this world. Overall I would rate GATTACA a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

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					Mark R. Leeper
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