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Written by Connie Skibinski
Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman
Loren Dean, Mason Gamble, Chad Christ
Science fiction, Dystopia
1998 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards for best original score; 1999 London Critics Circle Film Awards for screenwriter of the year; 1997 Catalonian International Film Festival for best film and best original soundtrack.
Date of Release
Gail Lyon, Michael Shamberg
Setting and Context
Set in the “not too distant future” on Earth (America).
Narrator and Point of View
The film is narrated by the protagonist, Vincent Freeman. It is also told by a series of Vincent’s flash backs.
Tone and Mood
The beginning of the film is clinical, harsh and didactic to emphasise the lack of humanity due to the emphasis on genetic engineering. The ending is extremely optimistic as Vincent is triumphant, against all odds.
Protagonist and Antagonist
The primary protagonist is the invalid Vincent. The main antagonist is his brother Anton who treats Vincent as his inferior and threatens to thwart his attempts to get into the Gattaca institute. Society as a whole can be also seen as adopting the role of antagonist, as it is societies preconceptions which restrict and oppress individuals that are not genetically engineered.
Vincent’s eyelash is found at a murder scene, despite Vincent’s careful attempts to remove all traces of his inferior DNA. Vincent fears that he will be matched to the eyelash and people will realise that he is an imposter pretending to be Jerome, and not the real Jerome Morrow. If Vincent is caught and it is realised he is a ‘faith birth’ he will not be allowed to reach his ultimate goal of travelling to Titan.
Minutes before the flight, Dr Lamar does a final test on Vincent. He reveals that he knew Vincent was an invalid all along. The doctor does not stop Vincent from boarding the spaceship, as Vincent expects, but tells him get on because he admires his determination.
The flashback to the swimming scene where Vincent beat his genetically superior brother Anton. This foreshadows Vincent’s ultimate victory at the end of the film, as well as the triumph of the human spirit against all odds.
“For the genetically superior, success is easier to obtain” is an understatement because it doesn’t illustrate the extent to which the genetically inferior are marginalised and subordinated.
Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques
The film makes great use of sound effects to make the Gattaca Institute appear cold and dispassionate. The diagetic echoes of footsteps throughout the film mirror the lack of humanity in the futuristic world. Filters on the camera are also significant. Vincent’s flashbacks of the past are shown through a golden glow to represent nostalgia and the beauty of the natural world. This is a strong contrast to scenes shot inside the Gattaca building, which is clinically over-lit to create a sense of discomfort.
The film is filled with mythological allusions. Vincent’s mission is to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. In Greek mythology, the Titan were an immensely strong race capable of challenging the gods. In Roman mythology, Saturn was the father of the gods. These mythological allusions parallel notions of strength and superiority in the film, as well as Vincent’s triumph over a number of difficult challenges.
The film is also centred around scientific allusions. The very name ‘Gattact’ is made up of the letters G, A, T and C, which form the genetic code from DNA. The main characters Eugene and Vincent also have these letters in their names. Scientific images also appear extensively throughout the film, such as Jerome’s staircase, which is shaped like the double-helix model of DNA. Finally, Vincent’s symbolic contemplation “Maybe I’m not leaving … maybe I’m going home” echoes the speech of scientist Carl Sagan that all humans are ‘starstuff pondering the stars’.
The paradox is that Jerome Morrow, who was genetically engineered for perfection, failed whereas Vincent, a ‘faith-birth’ achieves success.
There is an explicit parallel between Vincent Freeman and Jerome Morrow. Though Vincent ‘becomes’ Jerome, the two are very different. Vincent is genetically inferior but has great determination and passion. Jerome is genetically perfect, however, he lacks drive and is extremely miserable. This parallel is emphasised in the final scene. Vincent steps triumphantly into the spaceship, representing an optimistic culmination in his efforts throughout the film. This is juxtaposed with the tragedy of Jerome’s suicide, as he feels cheated by the societal system which promised him greatness. A classical score is played while the scene constantly cuts between Vincent’s success and Jerome’s demise. A low angle shot is used to represent Jerome as powerless, while a high angle shot illustrates Vincent’s power.
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