Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GATTACA : "There is no gene for the human spirit "

As night-fall does not come at once, neither does oppression...
It is in such twilight that
we all must be aware of change in
the air
- however slight - lest we become victims of the darkness.
-Justice William O. Douglas (opening title from an early draft of the screenplay)

One of the most intelligent and provocative sci-fi films ever made,
Gattaca is a
frosty, dystopian, and unpreachy vision of the ethical
challenges that lay ahead.

Gattaca is set in a future dystopia where your genetic inheritance determines your place in society from birth. If your genes are deficient you are an 'in-valid' and excluded from pursuing a meaningful life. Gattaca is the story of a young man who defies this oppressive system of exclusion. The movie is the first feature of New Zealand writer and director, Andrew Niccol, and as stunning a debut as I can recall. The realisation of Niccol's cinematic vision is admirably aided by the ravishing cinematography of Slawomir Idziak and exquisite art direction of Sarah Knowles. Color is rendered from a muted palate that gives the film a dream-like quality. The young leads, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law are perfectly cast, with strong supporting performances from Alan Arkin and Loren Dean. Michael Nyman’s elegiac music score is hauntingly ethereal

'Gattaca' is an acronym of the first letters of the component organic compounds that make up DNA: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. Thematically Gattaca is structured as a double-helix - the molecular structure of DNA - with a major groove and a minor groove. The major overarching theme is the disturbing vision of a world where eugenics defines your life chances and life choices: your job, who you marry, your intrinsic worth as a human. This ambitious scenario is deftly woven into a dramatic and deeply human story of romantic love, family, sibling rivalry, murderous ambition, bravery, sacrifice and tragedy. The geometry of the double-helix is a potent motif with a spiral staircase a dramatic visual focus throughout.

Many critics have agreed with the Time Out reviewer, who described Gattaca as "chilly, elegant, and a little bloodless". This may be a fair description of the society that frames the story, but for me the human story projected on the screen has a deeply oneiric quality, and the director's expressive mis-en-scene engenders deep psychic imagery that make Gattaca a truly 'cinematic' experience. Gattaca is akin to the vivid primal dream you recall at that instant of awakening with the deep recognition of a preternatural truth that makes you ache for a return to that truth. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, the night is all around, soft and quiet, the white moonlight is cold and clear, like the truth we dream of but don’t find.

Gattaca is an imagined universe that Janus-like is darkly visionary yet achingly beautiful.

Postscript: Illumina, a genetics firm in the UK, will be starting an affordable genetic mapping service within two years. Clients will pay at least US$10,000 for a complete mapping of every gene in their DNA. Illumina says that by 2020 the service should be so affordable that all newborns will have their genomes sequenced at birth. Source: The Times on Line 9Feb09