gattaca movie review – andrew niccol

Gattaca is a beautiful looking film noir science fiction movie that deals with some of the biggest issues of our time. The movie stars Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman and has been described as ‘a modern day Hamlet’.

Gattaca, released in 1997, is set in the ‘not too distant future’. It’s an all-to-believable future that echoes some themes from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and which takes to it’s logical conclusion some trends that are familiar to us in 2017.


Just because something’s possible doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. Once genes, their role, and how they were inherited was understood, selective breeding to create a master race became possible. It was of course tried in Nazi Germany and there was also a programme for a while in the Soviet Union. Advances in gene therapy have allowed more targeted manipulation of genes, and it’s now possible to replace or remove defective genes to correct errors that cause genetic disease, and the genetic makeup of individuals can be enhanced with chemicals such as human growth hormone.  The first test-tube baby was created in 1978 and the first IVF clinic in the US opened in 1980. Have we entered, as some have claimed, a ‘second age of Eugenics’?

Gattaca’s world is one where a master race – the ‘valids’ – has been genetically engineered. Reproduction is largely artificial and designed to ensure that the best traits of the perfect parents are passed on to disease free children. The movie’s hero, Ethan Hawke’s character, Vincent, is born naturally, outside the programme – an ‘in-valid’, also referred to, at one point in the movie, as a ‘God child’. He has a number of genetic defects, and is estimated to die at age 30. His younger brother is born inside the programme and has none of the genetic problems Vincent has.

profiling and selection

Now that the master race has been created, it seems natural to reserve to it’s members all of the best jobs, whilst the in-valids take the menial jobs. Vincent and his brother Anton take very different paths through life, with Anton working in a professional job and Vincent working as a cleaner in the same facility. We see the professional workers dressed almost identically in expensive suits and gaining access to their workplace by passing through a barrier that checks their fingerprints. Oh wait… that’s almost identical to my own office except that we’re still using swipe cards, not fingerprints – but I predict that we’ll be using fingerprints in the next 3-5 years.

Selection for the best jobs is largely based on DNA genetic profiling. Not too different from the psychometric testing that controls access to some of the best jobs now – it seems a very short leap to firms asking for and checking medical and DNA profile information… if they aren’t already doing it in secret. Genetic discrimination – although illegal – takes the place of race, gender and age discrimination. Society now has discrimination down to a science’.

destiny and expectation

With this setup, we follow two main characters as they navigate through life. Vincent – which apparently means ‘winner’ in Latin – starts with no prospects, but dreams of joining a space mission reserved for only the best of the valids, and the Jude Law character starts with all of the advantages of a valid, becomes a swimming star, but then loses it all when he comes second in a critical race and throws himself in the path of an oncoming car, confining himself to a wheelchair for the rest of his life and taking solace in alcoholism. Having failed in his own dream, Jude Law sells Ethan Hawke his identity by providing him with various types of DNA sample, and Vincent uses this to gain access to the space flight he’s dreamed of. Having thus helped someone else to achieve their dream, Jude Law’s character Jerome commits suicide. He had it all, and then lost it.

film noir and the love interest

Despite being set in the ‘not too distant future’, the architecture, the dress and the jazz music conjure up the 1950s. When a murder takes place and detectives start investigating the staff of the space facility that both Vincent and Anton work at there’s a classic film noir detective story as they start to close in on the innocent but implicated Vincent.

Vincent’s love interest – not very well integrated into the plot, in my humble opinion – is Uma Thurman – a valid although with some imperfections. Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman became a real life couple as a result of this movie, and were married for nine years.

One of the highlights of the movie for me is the spectacular architecture of the space facility, Gattaca – which were filmed at Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1960 Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California. The interiors of Jerome’s home are also stunning.

Our rating: 7/10 – An interesting and thought-provoking story, with some beautiful sets.