This is raised to an inspired level by writer/director Andrew Niccol's decision to film it as if all the flashbacks had taken place in our own past. In written SF, this could only have been achieved by a complicated alternate reality setting. But, in cinema, Niccol's careful choice of fifties clothing styles, haircuts, and black-and-white family snap-shots powerfully evokes a past for the protagonist, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), which mirrors our own past.
I had expected this film to be bleak and oppressive. The premise, and the first half-hour, create an air-tight world where Vincent is condemned to second-class servitude because his conception was natural rather than genetically screened.
But Niccol skilfully switches the 1984 style bleakness into an ultra-tech murder-thriller, with the murder of the mission-director, moments (in film time) after we learn of the meticulous plan by which Vincent will pass as genetically perfect and achieve his dream of space-travel.
Suspense builds from this point on. On the first time of watching I was convinced Vincent would be caught, right up to the final moment.
The core of this film is in Vincent's words: "There is no gene for fate", although the official tag-line was "There is no gene for the human spirit". It becomes an enormously positive affirmation that sheer guts and determination will take anyone to reach their dream.
This is an excellent film, but it will not please everyone. It is essentially a short-story created in perfect detail for cinema. SF fans will appreciate the purity of the vision. But the film lacks the epic scope which most people associate with modern science-fiction cinema. And anyone wanting a special-effects laden space-romp should look elsewhere.
But, in its own scale and its own terms, Gattaca is virtually flawless.
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