Genetic manipulation and engineering have long been standard tropes in the sci-fi genre as a way of presenting futuristic dystopian nightmares. In his 1997 sci-fi film with Ethan Hawke, filmmaker Andrew Niccol has a fascinating and thought-provoking take on the genre that compels the viewers to think about various elements, including discrimination, social inequality and more.
Famed for being the screenwriter of Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show, Niccol’s knack for the sci-fi genre came full circle with his creation, Gattaca. The film is set in a retro-futuristic 1950s world with vintage automobiles, trench coats, fedora caps, jazz nightclubs, neon lights, classical pianists and old fashion in abundance.
The sublime cinematography reflects the euphoric yet oppressive atmosphere of the society that is quite regressive and divided in a discriminatory manner.
Genetically engineered children are considered superior and ‘valid’ while traditionally conceived are considered ‘invalids’ and reside in the margins. In an extreme case of discrimination, the invalids are not allowed to partake in any significant activity.
Hawke appears as Vincent Freeman, an invalid born out of a love affair, who lives in the constant shadow of his genetically engineered brother, Jerome, played by Jude Law.
While Vincent craves to go to space and transcend the limitations imposed on him by society, he is constantly discouraged. However, ‘valids’ do not have it easy either as Jerome, crippled by accident, is paralysed, alcoholic and depressed.
Jerome becomes Vincent’s unlikely ally and urges his brother to assume a ‘valid’ identity by posing as Jerome. Hawke’s wistful and desperate narration shows his desperation to prove himself. The journey to space is symbolic of his ability to break free from the societal shackles and establish his worth.
While the two brothers successfully manage to swap identities in a manner that would make Charles Dickens proud, a sudden murder of one of the officials at the centre brings them under the constant scrutiny of police and threatens to blow their cover.
Also starring Uma Thurman, the film sees the socio-political repercussions of genetic manufacturing and genoism that are reportedly not too far away. Law’s exceptional performance is in collaboration with Hawke’s ambition. The audience will find themselves cheering vicariously for the success of their elaborate plans.
Gattaca arrived on Netflix on March 1st, 2022. It is worth streaming this compelling and nearly-poetic saga of determination and perseverance set in a dystopian society.