We watched GATTACA in my ‘Ecology’ class today as an intro to a discussion on the past and future of Eugenics. I discussed some of the history of Eugenics in America in a recent post on my other blog, but suffice to say that the Nazis weren’t the only ones with ideas of a superior stock of humans.
GATTACA benefits from a limited number of quality sets, no need for any special effects (other than drawing blood, etc) and a talented pool of actors who really make this thing work.
Ethan Hawke and Jude Law are convincing in their sincerity and ability to put on stone cold flat, serious expressions in a way that doesn’t give me a case of the giggles. Hawke plays a naturally conceived ‘deGENErate‘ that is ‘stealing someone else’s ladder’, meaning he has slipped through the cracks in the system using his brains and complete physical and mental commitment. His desire is to get a good job (at the company, GATTACA) where he can earn transport to Saturn’s moon, Titan. To the film’s credit, we are not subjected to what is there or exactly why he is going – it’s immaterial. Law has the ladder that Hawke steals. Law is a genetic masterpiece, healthy as can possibly be attained, athletic, and brilliant. Unfortunately, luck cares nothing for breeding and he was struck down and crippled by an automobile while crossing the street. By all his own measures, his life is over and he is willing to sell his identity, along with blood samples, urine, hair, and skin to someone willing to pay, but incapable of getting through the door due to illegal genetic testing. Lastly, there is Uma Thurmond, who plays a love interest and co-worker of Hawke who begins to suspect …something. I never know what to make of Thurmond. I guess she’s a good actor, but I often feel like she must be a graduate of the Keanu Reeves School of Acting. The cast doesn’t stop there. There are a number of strong supporting actors who definitely flesh out the world, but there’s no need to go into all that.
The pacing is also slow and steady saturating the film with an incredible underlying tension. (This appeals to a twin peaks- / the returned- loving fan like me). My wife says this movie is nothing like the TV series, because, ‘GATTACA actually goes somewhere, while Twin Peaks is just meandering aimlessly. I disagree, of course. But I also can’t help but see her point.
Often, after suggesting a film to someone, I have this deep feeling of dread that I’ve exposed myself as an idiot with horrible taste in entertainment. I worry about it because it’s spot on, but that doesn’t mean I want to broadcast it. And I certainly don’t want to be around too see that realization on anyone’s face. This time, despite the fact that I roped another class in to watch the film with us and 100% of them left before it was over, I was happy to see that the film was actually better than I remembered.
The message GATTACA makes is clear. And, amazingly, it comes down to another idea put forth by the Father of Eugenics, Sir Frances Galton. That is, nature supplies the material, but nurture makes the man.