Right from the opening credits, ‘Gattaca’ promises to be a different experience. That promise partly delivers and even falters slightly in some parts, but for all its alluring qualities, I have always preferred imperfect sci-fi movies that have something new to say; something resonant, something that even mirrors the society that we currently live in, rather than perfectly polished ones. ‘Gattaca’ may not boast of the biggest budgets, and may not have the swankiest of set pieces, but it gets one thing right that is in my opinion, the core of a good sci-fi experience: a good human story.
For me, despite all the geeky science stuff about time travel, alternate dimensions and realities, and space and its vast, infinite multitude, surely getting me excited and in awe beyond what I can admit, the experience is complete only when there is a good human story, a beating heart at the core of it. That is where ‘Gattaca’ scores, telling of an undying spirit amongst the forces and structures of the man-made world holding it down, and its journey of soaring, quite literally, regardless. Along with the indomitable human spirit, ‘Gattaca’ has a setting that may as well be considered a genetic interpretation of the sociological state of things today, into the future, another potent move that makes the film stand out as a relevant sci-fi flick. However, these are only a fraction of the things this film chooses to dabble in and yet manages to emerge victorious on its merits as a film, some of which we discuss in the sections that follow. Read on.
Summary of the Plot
As the film states its timeline to be in the “not too distant future”, the world has come to normalizing artificial birthing methods, accompanied with eugenics, the science of selective genetic proliferation and birthing, and genetic discrimination. The children birthed through profiling and eliminating genetic disorders, maintaining only favourable genetic traits are termed ‘valids’, and invariably so, the ones that are a result of what we consider normal birthing without genetic pre-emption or selection are termed ‘invalids’, clearly indicating the rift between these two factions of citizens inhabiting the future world, and how the society treats them in the process. The distinction, and the discrimination both happen through biometric identification.
Other than the ‘invalids’ lacking favourable genetic traits that anyway leads to discrimination in employment opportunities against them, it is observed that they generally have a higher probability of genetic disorders and a reduced life expectancy as compared to the valids, adding to the discrimination. As a result, the valids are open to more professional and better employment opportunities while the invalids are reduced to lesser, menial jobs.
Amid the societal setup, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is conceived normally and turns out to be one of the invalids, with his profile indicating the possibility of several frailties during his lifetime and an estimated lifespan of 30 years, 30.2 to be completely precise. His parents too consider him an aberration and plan to conceive another child through genetic selection, Anton. The competitive nature between the two is a given and the two frequently indulge in a game of “chicken” at the beach, wherein the first to return to shore from swimming in the ocean loses. While Vincent usually loses at the game, he manages to win during one rare instance, even saving Anton from drowning. Vincent dreams of going to space, something that he is repeatedly told he would not be able to achieve owing to his invalid status, but his resolve in this matter is unwavering as he soon after decides to leave his home to pursue his dream.