GATTACA. An extraordinary science fiction film

Several factors speak to why Gattaca is such an incredibly good film in the context of the genre it represents.

Jakub Piwoński

14 September 2023

There are questions in the science fiction genre that will be asked as long as the answers to them remain ambiguous. One of such questions pertains to the essence of humanity. Who are we? Where are we heading? What happens when we die? Or simply put, how should we live and what should our values be based on? Science and philosophy have grappled with these dilemmas for centuries, and creators of science fiction turn them into stories that stimulate our imagination.

In 1997, a film was created that is one of the best cinematic examples of a story told in accordance with scientific experiences. Suffice it to say that Gattaca, a futuristic shock at the time, was chosen by NASA as the most accurate film ever made. So, we are dealing here with the realization of the principles of hard science fiction, while genetic experiments became the central theme of the plot. Along with references to social divisions.

Gattaca tells the story of two protagonists. One is superior, the other inferior. The theme of the film is their competition for a better social position. Vincent, played by Ethan Hawke, is a second-class human because he was conceived in the traditional way, and his parents did not manipulate his genetic code. In the landscape depicted in the film’s futuristic world, he has no chance of realizing his aspirations. In contrast, Jerome (played by Jude Law), much like Nietzsche’s Übermensch (Overman), surpasses his genetic brother in perfection.

Fate, however, arranges their dreams in such a way that Vincent, the inferior one, wishes to reach for the stars even though he knows it will never be possible for him, while Jerome qualifies for a space mission, but by chance, he gets paralyzed from the waist down. What would a person be without cunning? Vincent decides to commit fraud. There is an identity swap – Vincent pretends to be Jerome, wanting to be included in the social elite and pursue his dreams.

The escape into space is not the only goal of the main character. A woman also appears on his path, played by Uma Thurman. He wants to win her heart despite the class differences of which he is the only one aware. It’s worth noting here that the romance between Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman began on the set of this film. They soon got married, had two children (one of whom we admire in the TV series Stranger Things), and, as is often the case in Hollywood, they divorced in 2005.

When Gattaca was being made, the film’s title was decided at the very end. Initially, it was thought to be The Eighth Day which was meant to reference the biblical time of creating life on Earth. After all, on the seventh day, when God rests on his laurels, on the eighth, as the creator suggests, humans take control of life through genetic manipulations. Ultimately, it settled on Gattaca – this name is composed exclusively of the letters used to denote the DNA nucleotide bases. The four nitrogenous bases of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) are adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine.

Several factors speak to why Gattaca is such an incredibly good film in the context of the genre it represents. The actors performed their roles brilliantly. Law and Hawke each play, in a way, two characters, but in a sense, only one. It is the story of a person who wants something, dreams of something, but cannot reach for it for various reasons, mainly due to physical limitations. Gattaca aims to prove that the body is one thing, but what elevates us to a species pedestal and allows us to dominate in the food chain is our mind. A mind pressed against the wall is capable of fighting for its rights at any cost.

Andrew Niccol is responsible for the direction and screenplay of the 1997 film. I would like to emphasize that this is an important name in the history of the science fiction genre. Everything that the New Zealander of the best origin created is encapsulated in the film Gattaca, which is his directorial debut, or it is also hidden in his earlier screenplay for The Truman Show, which also came from his hands. Later on, it was different, as Niccol gave us films like Simone or In Time, which, while intriguing, have something either pretentious or, conversely, clichéd about them. But one thing I cannot deny him – he has always had an interesting vision that he was not afraid to bring to life.

Niccol is primarily a creator, a keen observer of society. Gattaca should be interpreted as a pamphlet on humanity entrenched in eternal divisions. It is also the story of one of humanity’s greatest desires – the need for control and the fear that arises from its absence. In the film, scientific and religious currents collide, the world is explained in two ways – at its core lies both progress and ethics. We want more, we want better, we want stronger – that is the essence of humanity, understood as an overwhelming need for self-improvement and improvement of our surroundings. After crossing one boundary, another appears, indicating that our hunger for improvement will never be satisfied.

There is a famous scene of a swimming competition in the film. At a certain point in this frantic rush, humanity realizes that, just like the film’s protagonist, they have not managed to muster enough strength to return to the shore. This can indicate either our irresponsibility or, on the contrary, the courage that comes from challenging nature. However, we risk sinking to the bottom.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

See other posts from this author >>>