Cyberpunk Review » Gattaca

February 27, 2007


Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1997

Directed by: Andrew Niccol

Written by: Andrew Niccol

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Vincent Freeman: Ethan Hawke
  • Jerome Eugene Morrow: Jude Law
  • Irene Cassini: Uma Thurman
  • Rating: 8 out of 10

    Gattaca Screen Capture


    Overview: Director Andrew Niccol explores the potential horrors of genetic engineering in Gattaca. Originally seen as a flop, taking in only 12 million on a 36 million dollar budget, Gattaca has developed a loyal following from cable and DVD viewings. Whether or not people find this movie enjoyable or believable, virtually everyone agrees that Gattaca is quality film. Viewers will definitely notice a well paced movie that’s wonderfully acted in artfully composed scenes.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    The Setting: In an unspecified near future time frame, genetic engineering has altered the course of society. Genetic engineering is employed to remove all major defects when conceiving. Upon birth, each new-born baby is given a Genetic Quotient (G.Q.) that details their potential risk areas, including heart issues and susceptibility to diseases. Some couples still ignore the genetic engineering of children and instead go for a “faith birth” – one where potential defects in the baby are left to chance. Unfortunately, these “faith” children now grow up in a world where their genetic pedigree significantly reduces their opportunities. A surveillance society is now in place where people are divided into having either “valid” and “in-valid” status. Highly sought after jobs are only available to those with “valid” status, while “in-valids” are left to handle the menial tasks of society.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    Ethan Hawke plays a flawed “faith birth” named Vincent Freeman who dreams of becoming an astronaut. Vincent is particularly flawed, and is predicted to have a 99% chance of heart failure by age 30. All but the most menial jobs are out of reach for “de-gene-erits” like Vincent, and he is told by both is parents and his genetically engineered brother to lower his expectations. But Vincent decides to defy the odds. Vincent seeks out shady characters in the underclass who put him in contact with wheel chair-bound Jerome (Jude Law), a person with an almost perfect GQ score, who broke his back in a car accident. Jerome agrees to give Vincent urine and blood samples so that he can assume Jerome’s identity and bypass the security measures in place at Gattaca, the huge aerospace corporation.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    Vincent succeeds in fooling Gattaca personnel with the urine and blood samples, and by almost neurotically ensuring that any genetic tissue of his will not be left behind. He scrubs his body daily to remove excess skin cells or loose hairs, and constantly cleans his office space and keyboard to ensure there is no material left behind other than planted samples from Jerome. Due to his immense personal drive, Vincent quickly climbs the ranks of the organization. He is put on a project to design a year-long flight to one of Saturn’s moons.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    Vincent’s dreams are almost coming true, but just as quickly his dreams are jeopardized when the lead flight director is horribly murdered – unfortunately the investigation has turned up one of Vincent’s “in-valid” eyelashes. Worse, his brother Anton is heading up the investigation. Complicating matters further, Vincent has fallen for a fellow Gattaca employee named Irene (Uma Thurman). Irene’s GQ is not good enough for flight, and has accepted her lesser standing in society. Ethan must escape the investigation while still keeping his astronaut and love life dreams alive.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    The Acting: Gattaca boasts a terrific cast in which all key roles are wonderfully delivered. Ethan Hawke provides us with a terrific flawed but inspired faith child. Jude Law is just as good as the crippled GQ has-been, and Uma Thurman performs solidly in a supporting role as the love interest who has given up hope for fulfilling her dreams. The rest of the cast is also solid, including Alan Arkin as a beat cop, and William Lee Scott as Vincent’s brother. Along with solid pacing, the quality of the acting allow us to overlook some of the more problematic aspects of the story.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    The Visuals: Gattaca goes for an understated, high-tech view of the future, where we are only treated to the higher echelons of society. Director Andrew Niccol plays with a number of oppressive color schemes to give us a dystopic vibe. Yellows and blacks are constantly employed, as are dull blue-grays to provide us a sense of hopelessness and inevitability. Greens and sleek, shiny charcoal grays are employed to convey the high-tech nature of society. Niccol and Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak consistently provide us with well composed shots and artistic visuals and set pieces that take in a range of lighting and shadows effects.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    Surveillance Society Through Genetic Profiling: The vision of a domineering surveillance society we see in Gattaca may be more relevant now than when it was released in 1997. In thinking through a variety of policy options, the United States is currently debating the trade-offs between public safety and personal privacy. Worse, the technology surrounding our personal genetic code is right around the corner that will give insurance companies information on predilections we have toward certain diseases. It is hardly a stretch to imagine corporations and insurance companies engaging in genetic profiling within the next ten years or so. In that sense, Gattaca cuts to the heart of the issue – even though percentages may suggest clear issues with the majority of a population, there will still be outliers like Vincent. Gattaca tells us that personal drive can still overcome genetic superiority.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    Genetics Is Overplayed: In many ways, Gattaca is a one trick pony in that it examines a world where genetic profiling drives virtually every aspect of society. While the vision is motivating, we are left wondering why extreme advances in genetics don’t lead to improvements in medical care. For instance, a prediction upon birth that a heart has a 99% of failure by age 30 is based on an assumption medical treatments will remain static. For the viewer to buy this vision of the future, we must believe that society has given up on the long-standing notion that technology can cure all ills. On a lesser scale, one wonders why a corporation as powerful as the Gattaca Corporation cannot figure a more streamlined method of ensuring the loyalty of their employees – one wonders who any work is ever done considering the employees seem to spent a significant amount of time verifying their identity and drug free status through the daily gauntlet of surveillance testing.


    Gattaca Screen Capture


    The Bottom Line: Gattaca is a very well made film that provides us a valuable cautionary tale into how genetic engineering abuses could lead to significant societal maladies. The pacing, acting and cinematography are all of consistently high quality. That said, the world of Gattaca isn’t as coherent as I would have liked. We get no sense of the political implications of genetic profiling, nor do we see any innovations other than genetic engineering. In this sense the future setting is perhaps more simplistic than was necessary. Additionally, some of the plot points seem over-contrived. The last week of Vincent’s life prior to launch has too much going on (a new love interest, a murder investigation headed up by his brother, issues with Jerome), and there was probably a bit of overkill on the sentimental ending. That said, Gattaca is a great flick, and very much deserves a viewing.



    February 27, 2007

    .anima.mechanica. said:

    Thanks for reviewing this. This is one of my favorites.

    Gattaca feels like a missed opportunity to me… more than anything else. Interesting, no doubt… but it feels cautious. It feels as if the filmmakers knew it might not be comprehensible… so they watered down the ideas. This in combination with an aesthetic which bears more relationship to Logan’s Run than it does modern sci-fi, really bogged this film down in my opinion; “We’ll all live in malls in the future.” Bladerunner’s aesthetic vision of filth and neglect feels much more likely.

    SFAM said:

    Hi .anima.mechanica., you’re more than welcome. I had intended on getting to Gattaca earlier, but never seemed to.

    Hi Neurotica Divine, there definitely is a pretty clear diverging split in cyberpunk movies between those who envision a clean, high-tech world and those who see filth and neglect. There are even a number of films that see both, which I’ve labeled “Utopias surrounded by poverty.” I don’t think I agree that Gattaca was quite as plastic as, say Logan’s Run was though. Logan’s Run didn’t even try for a realistic looking society. But I think one of the downfalls in Gattaca’s world is that we see so little of it. They flat out omitted anything related to overall societal dynamics, politics, or the way of life of most people living. In that sense I certainly agree with you that Gattaca definitely comes across as cautious. They simplified the world in order to strictly play with the genetic engineering and profiling dynamic.

    February 28, 2007

    wiredcoma said:

    I thought this film was labeled as Biopunk?

    March 1, 2007

    Hugo (a.k.a. hughie522) said:

    My dad introduced me to this (and ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Terminator’ films, coincidently). It impressed me when I first saw it (I was ten :P) and it still impresses me now.

    I was just thinking that in a world of, say, 95% ‘well-bred’ (genetically engineered/enhanced/modified - your choice of words) individuals (and has been that way for at least twenty years) then you probably would not expect to see too many slums or other ‘lower-class neighbourhoods’ (I suppose; if you have seen the transformation Hiroshima has undergone in forty years you will know what I mean).

    Ooh! Another thought I had regarding something said in the review, though not stated at all in the movie.

    At the moment, a lot of focus is being put into - rather than ‘immunising’ or ‘curing’ HIV/cancer - eliminating it all together through genetic research. A lot of money has been put into eliminating the so-called ‘cancer gene’ (its probably somewhere between the ‘G-spot’ and that gene that makes middle-aged men irritable :P) and disposing of the disease once and for all. Is it possible that this could lead to a lapse in research into a ‘cure’? Just think, even after thirty years artificial hearts last perhaps two years and then give out…

    Maybe I’m screaming into the wind :P. Ah well. One must try…

    SFAM said:

    Hi Hugo, I didn’t get that 95% were well bred, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to do the menial tasks. This sort of raises a question - clearly faith babies weren’t the norm, so how did poorer folk do this? But in any event, even if 95% were well bred, why would you think there wouldn’t be any underclass?

    And yeah, that would be great if they could engineer a cancer gene (or any disease) out of existence. I’m not sure they all work that way though, but it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    SFAM said:

    Hi WiredComa, as to whether this is biopunk or cyberpunk, I think a case can be made that these aren’t exclusive categories, like, say steampunk and cyberpunk. There is clearly an element of technology here, but more importantly the surveillance issue dominates the movie. I do need a category for Biopunk movies though.

    March 2, 2007

    Illusive Mind said:

    Awesome, I’ve been hanging out for your review of this SFAM, although you are a little more critical than I would be. The reason is I don’t think this is a story focused on the science-fiction, it is about the ‘indomitable human spirit’ and as such the ‘one trick pony’ view of the world is just a vehicle for that.

    Yes that means it is not a fully developed picture of the future, completely ignoring politics and other implications of the technology but because I wasn’t expecting any of that I didn’t feel let down by this fact.

    I think that is also why the vision of the future is as understated as it is. But this being Cyberpunk review and all I understand why you would criticize the film on this basis.

    i also love the ending just the way it is, I guess that does make me sentimental.

    I think Cyberpunk is inclusive of Biopunk. Biopunk is simply a sub-category of cyberpunk, stories that has a certain focus on particular (bio) technologies. Therefore, any story that is ‘biopunk’ is necessarily ‘cyberpunk’.

    SFAM said:

    Hi IllusiveMind, the indomitable human spirit is definitely the message of this movie. I definitely agree that everything else is subordinated to that. I still feel that they would have been able to make this message more powerful with a more coherent world, but I certainly take your point that simplifying the world may make this stand out more. If you were doing a review here, how would you rate it on star rating, visuals and themes?

    Urshanabi said:


    a year-long flight to one of Jupiter’s moons” should actually be “a year-long flight to one of Saturn’s moons

    I was happy to see this review, Gattica has been one of my favorite movies for a while now.

    We actually touched on the whole “static society” notion and had decided that the advent of genetic engineering had eliminated the need to produce anything else new and different. At least, that was our explanation for the lack of any new and different fashion or architecture. Everything looked like the 1930s with advanced technology (not that I’m complaining, I liked their sense of style back then). In short, we thought the film deliberately showed us a society that, when not living in the moment, looked backward.

    March 3, 2007

    SFAM said:

    Hi Urshanabi, thanks for the catch. I like the looking backward comment. BTW, who is the “we” you mention?

    I think I’d give it an 8 out of 10, with ‘medium’ visuals and ‘high’ themes. :D

    Urshanabi said:

    BTW, who is the “we” you mention?

    Wow, so that’s what happens when you delete whole sentences without making sure they were single subject sentences.

    I first watched Gattica as an assignment for a Modern Science Fiction literature class that I took in undergrad. It was the best class I ever took. The movie list included Metropolis, 12 Monkeys, Blade Runner, and The Matrix (it had just come out on video). The reading list included The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, and, of course, Neuromancer by William Gibson. There were other titles, but the above were what we spent the most time on. There was no traditional space-opera type science fiction at all… the instructor was into cyberpunk and she wanted us to have a good grounding in cyberpunk themes, though the term cyberpunk was not actually mentioned until we read Neuromancer.

    Imagine taking a class, for college credit where part of your grade is earned by discussing whether or not Deckard is a replicant. Is it not nifty? 8)

    SFAM said:

    Hi Urshanabi, that does sound like a kickin class. Incidentally, I was first exposed to Necromancer in college as well (around ‘86ish), although the rest of my book choices weren’t quite as nice. I didn’t find The Stars My Destination until somewhere in the 90s.

    April 14, 2007

    calz said:

    the reason there are no treatments for such things as heart disease is because they intend to prevent them by using genetic engineering, which is much easier.

    this is one of the only things i have had to study for school that hasnt lost any meaning or enjoyment through over-analysis. it’s as if this movie is supposed to be critiqed from every angle. i mean come on, the character names: freeman; free man, jerome; genome, euGENE?

    its a fantastic movie and im glad its on the list.

    September 2, 2007

    Alberto said:

    I never understand it

    February 9, 2008

    Phil Evans said:

    This is one of the finest Sci-Fi movies of all time. On level with films like ‘ The Day The Earth Stood Still ‘ and 2001: A Space odyssey, it is a photographic masterpiece both with careful manipulation of colour and brilliant composition. The storyline I felt was a realistic look into the future where only the purest genetics are acceptable and anything less quite simply is regarded as ‘ Invalid ‘ or worthless. And yet smack in the middle of this MADNESS is the relationship between Uma Thurman And Ethan Hawke. Although they both have high profile positions within Gattaca where the ongoing search for human perfection is paramount, their weeknesses and imperfections are actually their strengths, and through their roles, we are able to see that true humanity will always prevail over a totalitarian system where your genes and not your personality are the factors that seal your fate……..a truly great film that will one day attain cult status.

    Phil Evans said:

    This is one of the finest Sci-Fi movies of all time. On level with films like ‘ The Day The Earth Stood Still ‘ and 2001: A Space odyssey, it is a photographic masterpiece both with careful manipulation of colour and brilliant composition. The storyline I felt was a realistic look into the future where only the purest genetics are acceptable and anything less quite simply is regarded as ‘ Invalid ‘ or worthless. And yet smack in the middle of this MADNESS is the relationship between Uma Thurman And Ethan Hawke. Although they both have high profile positions within Gattaca where the ongoing search for human perfection is paramount, their weaknesses and imperfections are actually their strengths, and through their roles, we are able to see that true humanity will always prevail over a totalitarian system where your genes and not your personality are the factors that seal your fate……..a truly great film that will one day attain cult status.

    May 30, 2008

    johnk karford said:


    June 2, 2008

    Heather said:

    What does Cassini and Morrow’s names signify in this movie? Can anyone help me? It’s for a class……

    September 1, 2008

    Splicegraph said:

    This film falls more into the genre of ‘biopunk’ I think. It’s major themes being that human emotion, personal identity, and social class structure can all be determined by DNA profiling, leading ultimately to genetic discrimination. Other film that could fall into this theme would be “The Fly”, “Alien”, “Species” and “Dark Angel” (tv series)

    One of my favourite classic sci-fi films that sort of bridges the gap between machine and man is “Demon Seed”, 1977. Where the lead, played by Julie Christie, is impregnated by an A.I. computer that is constructed of some organic properties named Proteus.

    September 27, 2008

    Noquarter said:

    Great review I really enjoyed it. I think one thing that has been missed as far as visuals and theme would be the the retro aspect of the “future” look. All of the architecture shown in the film including the Gattaca complex are Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings which look futuristic and yet are from a bye gone age. Also the cars being driven in the film are mostly late 50’s and early 60’s Studebakers. The hairstyles and the fashion are also from the late 50’s. I think this is a really nice touch as it creates a super interestingly visual anachronism.

    November 9, 2008

    dcnsanti said:

    I’m not sure what Cassini stands for… but Morrow is another word for “tomorrow”

    July 10, 2009

    downer said:

    Enjoyed this movie quite a lot, after I got adjusted to the ultra clean environment with its kinda understated acting, once the story kicked in. I wish more emphasis was placed on the price of genetic options for someone’s baby, like in the longer doctor visit in one of the deleted scenes. I had quite a few mainstream clone movies kinda like this one, that might be considered biopunk, until I found out about cyberpunk and this site. I don’t think the genetics was overplayed. I totally bought that people who had genetic enhancements would take over, and not make any medical enhancements for other lesser people. I liked the ending too. I could see how someone without much going on devotes their life to something, only to find someone to make all their work not seem important anymore. Especially since their work meant leaving, and that other person could only stay. I really enjoyed watching it a second time to see how the office screener and one of the detectives covered for the main character. Like everyone plays along under scrutiny, but knows its all a sham. I also enjoyed seeing how frustrated the main character was as a cleaner, being at the same location of his goal, but not envited to the party.

    August 24, 2009

    Val said:

    I think some people have completely missed the point.
    This is a movie. A fine one at that, I’ll add. The “look” of the future is unbeknownst to us, so it’s great to see film makers give us their perspective. And as film makers, they show us only what they want us to see. Saying “I think we should have seen more of the sci fi world” is ridiculous. Why? Who cares? Other than you. You’re missing the point of the story. This is an underdog tale that is being told in the future because it holds an interesting backdrop and plays well into different sub plots. The acting is excellent with the exception of the confused, and seemingly overwhelmed Loren Dean who is not up to par with the rest of the cast, and it almost makes you feel sorry for him as an actor. Cinematography is obviously top notch, and the director guides us nicely through the action, adequately making us guess and wonder at the right moments.
    A stunning achievement.

    December 1, 2010

    Anonymous said:

    What jerome mean by “live all come from stars”.

    March 2, 2011

    Maria K. said:

    I agree with everything that you wrote but, just one correction. “Gattaca” should be written “GATTACA” because the letters were ment to resemble the four base pairs in DNA (Guanine, Adanine, Cytosine, Thymine). Just so you know :)

    March 10, 2011

    Strangeland said:

    Just discovered CyberpunkReview. Thanks for all the work you all have put into it. In what is hopefully a first step in contributing to this site I offer the following:

    GATTACA is one of my favorite movies despite the fact that it does not portray a literal gritty underbelly of society like so much Cyberpunk I enjoy. However the metaphorical underbelly of a corporatist, elitist society which controls its subjects down to their molecular level is to my mind a critical component of the anti-establishment, rebellious nature of Cyberpunk. So thematically I agree this movie could be considered CP even though visually it is not.

    Cassini is a reference to the Cassini Gap - a dark band in the rings of Saturn.

    The quote ” they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star” is a reference to the concept that the Universe was initially composed of almost exclusively hydrogen which then coalesced into stars. These first stars then collapsed, creating heavier elements which were then blown out in supernova’s to become new stars, the planets, etc.. So every atom in the universe was created in the atomic furnace of the first stars - a concept that was famously described by Carl Sagan in his quote “We are all star-stuff.”

    ~All Related Entries Related This~


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