Gattaca has a few nice moments. They pop up every now and again to remind you how silly the rest of the movie is. Take its message. It isn’t the usual science fiction pablum of how humanity is superior to any given alien race. No, this is a story about genetic engineering. So, instead, we discover that humanity is superior even to its modified self. Or at least just as good. It tells us we could be Beethoven, too, if we only worked hard enough.
Ethan Hawke plays our hero, Vincent Freeman. (Subtle, isn’t it?) He’s dreamed of going into space since he was a kid, despite the fact that his parents had him the old fashioned way and the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation only accepts genetically modified applicants. Like his younger brother, Anton — if the latter had any interests other than proving to Vincent why their parents didn’t make the same mistake twice. Vincent knows he can’t get into Gattaca unless he can pass for a “Valid.” So he makes a deal with one to swap identities.
That isn’t easy, genetically speaking. Jerome (Jude Law), the Valid who becomes Vincent’s “borrowed ladder,” has to provide blood, hair, and urine to fool Gattaca’s testing equipment. Vincent has to make sure he doesn’t slip up and leave any untoward traces of his real identity lying around. So he clips and scrubs his body religiously. But not enough. When the director of Gattaca is murdered, one of Vincent’s eyelashes gets swept up by the CSI team. The cops don’t know where he is, but Vincent instantly becomes suspect number one.
This is really the problem with Gattaca: there’s too much going on. Vincent and his brother; Jerome, who has serious problems of his own, which is why he agreed to be a ladder in the first place; Vincent’s career; a murder investigation; and, of course, the usual love story. Uma Thurman is Irene, a Valid who isn’t quite valid enough to ever get picked for a really good mission. One of the good scenes has Irene presenting Vincent with a strand of her hair so that he can check out her vitals, as it were. But he gives it to the wind instead: he doesn’t care.
It’s a nice moment; yet it demonstrates how superficial all of this is. If Vincent were truly a Valid, it would mean something that Irene’s “defects” are of no concern to him. But he’s not. He’s even more defective than she is. So of course he doesn’t mind. Why should he? That she doesn’t know any of this only means that his romantic gesture is little more than a lie — to Irene, and to us.
The movie is slow-going and the Gattaca sets are wide and pretty, which fooled a lot of people into thinking this was a serious movie with serious themes. But there’s not a bit of it that stands up to serious thought.