There are many science fiction films, one could argue, that are truly depressing. “Logan’s Run” (1976), “THX 1138” (1973) “1984” (1984) act as strong examples to the idea. Usually combining elements such as future-shock totalitarian governments, horrifying and controlling artificial intelligence dominating mankind, or perhaps questionable predictions of the mental state of humanity for decades to come. “GATTACA” is a film that stands out from the predictable conventions of the modern sci-fi film from over the past thirty years by a long mile. Perhaps one of the most chillingly realistic and shockingly horrid visions of the future to have ever been created for the screen and yet sadly so few went to see it upon theatrical release.
In a world where human beings careers, futures, medical conditions and life expectancy are determined at birth, where genetic perfection is considered more valuable than endeavor or intelligence we see such a possible Earth that isn’t too far away from our own now but with a vastly different set of basic human morals. GATTACA follows the story of Vincent Freeman (played by Ethan Hawke), one of the last babies on Earth to be born without genetic manipulation to make him superior (a ‘faith’ birth as characters in the story call it). As such Freeman is allowed to work in the lowest jobs society can offer for people who lack such genetic ‘perfection’. As it just so happens Vincent is unhappy with the unfair disadvantage that society has given him and has dreams of one day becoming an astronaut, working on an orbiting space station off Saturn’s moon Titan. In order to achieve this goal Vincent must take on the identity of another person, Jerome Morrow, played by a very cynical Jude Law who before being crippled in a car accident has a perfect genetic make-up.
What follows is an extremely uncomfortable and compelling vision of the future, created by the astutely observational mind of Andrew Niccol, a filmmaker who gave us the screenplay for “The Truman Show” (1998) as well the visually stunning “Lord of War” (2005). Most of Niccol’s films involve analysis and critique of modern societies and how people are structured into class systems whether they know it or not. The undercurrents of such themes of prejudice are not forced upon the viewer but can certainly be felt running parallel with Vincent’s desperate struggle to deceive the system. A feat that is only given more tension when we learn that Vincent suffers from a dangerous heart condition, yet another obstacle he must conceal to the suspecting upper echelons of the aerospace corporation he works for.