Sunday, October 9, 2011


Dystopian? yes!, post-apocalyptic? no. Gattaca is an ultimately optimistic film which champions good old fashioned moxy vs the genetic advantages of good looks, intelligence, height and longevity. I'd seen it before and I enjoyed it again, it's a fascinating sci-fi idea and it's done well but still I find it ultimately dissatisfying as a film and I thought I'd take the time to explain why Gattaca fails, for me.

The story is one about a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, a genetic 'rube'. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste, but still the product of tedious sticky fumblings in the back seat of a Buick Riviera... and he can only dream of getting out... getting anywhere... getting all the way to the FBI.

Well no, not the FBI, the space program actually, our hero's goal is to be of part a manned mission to Titan. This is a career which is not open to someone who hasn't been genetically engineered for it, and it is the foundation of my first niggle, which is:

#1 Why?

Why does he want to go to space so badly? If he was going to be the first man on the moon or something, I could understand it, but Space travel is presented to us as something routine in this society. Ethan Hawk's character, ( Vincent ) even tells us that there are twelve launches a day, "sometimes more".

I mean what is the root of the obsession with space travel?- I suppose simply because 'it's there' and because it's something that he's been told that he cant do, and "his moxy's gonna show 'em all" but as a driving purpose, just seems very abstract to me. Particularly when you think about all the bizarre lengths that he goes to, to achieve it.

Not understanding the grounds for this desire makes him difficult to relate to.

Still, people do have goals and obsessions in real life that often chosen for arbitrary reasons, so let's just let this one pass and move on to niggle #2:

#2 The Sterile Future.

He scrubs himself all over constantly, he never has a hair out of place, he hoovers his keyboard when he's done. I mean I do get that, stylistically, the future presented to us is one of 'manufactured perfection' and that the sterile look and the clipped dialogue are there to reflect this idea of 'manufactured perfection' but why have all the genetically enhanced been given the 'obsessively neat' gene?

It makes no sense; surely, in a society where people can get an instant genetic reading ( from a single hair or some saliva ), the 'cream of the crop' genetic elite folk would NOT be particularly neat? Surely they'd be the opposite? They'd be dropping their cells all over the place. They'd have long hair, they'd flaunt it baby! They'd look like The Dude!

After all, the only people with anything to gain from obsessive neatness are those with poor genetic material, and therefore obsessive neatness would become extremely suspect: hoovering your keyboard at work would be a dead giveaway.

#3 The Deal.

Out of nowhere, for plot reasons, we have a shady operator appear who can facilitate identity theft. A man who has located, convinced, hidden and transported an excellent identity donor and secretly brought them into the country, a man who can provide extensive sterilisation equipment as well as latex-reproduction fingerprints with tiny blood sacs, and a man who can single-handedly perform advanced dental-reconstruction, and an optician service as well as all of the procedures involved with limb-lengthening surgery.

All this, on his own, in your home, for 25%. -Really?

Even allowing for advances in 'future-medicine', this is one particularly resourceful and talented man! It could be argued that perhaps he represents one individual in an organisation that trains its members to perform this multitude of tasks but even so, that's still a particularly comprehensive organisation!

And all for 25%, really? Not a lump sum in advance or anything in case... well y'know this fairly precarious project goes tits-up at any stage?... No? 25% of his future earnings, that shows a lot of confidence.

Okay it's probably best not to think about it.

#4 The Rubber Johnson.

It's a small detail this but it does kinda bother me, because it just seems unnecessary. Vincent needs to provide blood and wee-wee at work ( I don't know why a little needle has to puncture everyone's finger everyday, in a painful and unsanitary identification process, when a strand of hair or some saliva will do, but that's the way it is ).
Also, there seems to be random wee-wee tests. In the case of random wee-wee tests, the doctor stands and stares at the old john-thomas. Why is this?

I really don't get why this must be so, I mean it would be easy to believe that in the future people continue to piss in private, it's a much bigger ask to believe that he wears a convincing rubber willy to piss out of; the doctor has a good long stare and even complements him on it. It's asking us to think about and believe in a situation that we don't want to think about and which is both completely incredulous and highly unnecessary.

Honestly WTF is that about?

#5 He smokes.

A man with a genetic predisposition to heart failure, a man whose in the space program and practically killing himself to feign peak physical fitness, smokes. Why does he smoke? because cigarettes look cool and kinda 'noir' and the stills from the movie will look great and that's more important than a believable story, that's why.

#6 What's with the enormous house with the spiral staircase?

Even if we swallow that the DNA broker needs no money up front, where is Vincent supposed to have gotten this big fuck-off house from? On the off chance that cleaners are very well-paid in the future ( and if they are, that's another good reason not to bother trying to join the space program ) Why a house like this? With a spiral staircase? I've read that the staircase is supposed to reflect the shape of a double helix to reinforce the whole genes thing but I'm sorry a spiral staircase is not the same shape.

A twisted rope ladder would provide a better model for the actual shape of DNA and, for one guy in a wheelchair and another guy undergoing limb surgery in both his legs, a twisted rope-ladder and a spiral staircase seem equally practical.

#7 Gore Vidal and the murder sub-plot

For all my complaining the murder sub-plot is kinda cool because for the majority of the film we don't know whether the protagonist is guilty or not and it does give the film a lot of its tension, but it does kinda have a sloppy resolution.


It turns out that Vincent's not the murderer, it was his boss (played by Gore Vidal ) all along. Once the project to Titan has been green-lighted, Gore happily confesses to the crime as he knows that the project cannot be delayed because if it is, the next opportunity wont be for 70 years.

The project was going to be put back, the project can now go ahead. These are the two his reasons for murder and confession. So now we happen to have two characters in our film who are inexplicably obsessed with getting to Titan, that's it... Titan. Not 'Space Travel' ( they have twelve launches a day remember) but the trip to Titan in particular.

Good old Titan: whatever the fuck you find there, I hope it was worth it lads!*EDITLakes of methane apparantly


To be fair, by the time the murder is solved the film has long since changed it's focus to the relationships between the main characters so perhaps it really is unimportant.

Gattaca is, at its heart, a philosophical investigation of that unquantifiable factor that spurs individuals to 'achieve in the face of all odds' and it can certainly be argued that so long as it succeeds at that then it should be forgiven its failings as either a murder mystery, a plot-driven thriller or a fully fleshed out dystopia.

It is a parable, and a very pretty one, if a little cold-feeling. For me though, these niggles really 'grind my gears' because collectively they undermine what could have been a much more powerful story.

If not in it's plot, then at least its superficial appearance, Gattaca reflects the great film-noir &, and it has some fantastic attention to detail: on the scanners, an infinity symbol ∞ appears next a genetically engineered person's name, denoting their "infinite potential." Next to a Vincent's name, a dagger† appears. In taxonomy, a dagger next to a taxon indicates extinction. This is awesome.

But in the end, despite its awesomeness it justs asks too much of me plot-wise for me to really get into it. It's good, but it's not a masterpiece and I feel like it could have been.

Is what I reckon.

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