Gattaca

A movie to make you think as long as you don't think about it.

Gattaca takes on an important issue -- the use to which genetic mapping could be put to -- and tries to create a thoughtful warning about its abuse.  The effort is certainly heartfelt, but ultimately the movie fails as a movie because the writer and director didn't bother to think through what they were portraying.  This could be excused in a dumb action film, but when you are trying to make a philosophical point, then you must make everything airtight.

For me, the film began to fall apart in the scene where Vincent gets his job at Gattaca.  He shows up, hands his faked genetic ID to the doctor.  The doctor checks it, then tells him he's hired.  Vincent asks about an interview and the doctor says, "that was it."

Huh???????????

Competency isn't a factor in hiring?  How does this work?  Are doctors hired in this way?  The right genetic makeup is more important than attending medical school?  And considering that hiring people is primarily based on how much the interviewer likes the candidate on a personal level, this entire situation is preposterous.

But that's only the beginning.  It soon clear that the lack of thought given to the background makes the entire scenario errant nonsense.  For instance:

  • The discrimination is de facto.  It's explicitly stated that there is no law against being an "In-valid" (a term breathtaking in its awkwardness and completely tone-deaf).  So why does everyone act like it is?  If there is no law against being In-Valid, why don't the In-Valids protest their condition?  It's set in the future, after all.  Did all records of the civil rights movement mysteriously vanish?
  • The Gattaca Corporation is right not to give Vincent a job.  He has a heart condition.  Not just a potential heart condition; something that will show up if checked (see the scene on the treadmill).  Space exploration is stressful and that last place you want someone to get a heart attack is a few thousand miles from Earth.  Why is it wrong to protect Vincent from that?  Ultimately, not wanting Vincent to be working there is perfectly reasonable.  This is by far the most blatant example of how little thought was put into the scenario.
  • Everyone spends time and effort supporting a system they don't believe in.  The most obvious case is the doctor, who knows Vincent is an In-Valid, but keeps his secret.  So why does he go along with the system?  More importantly, why doesn't he tell Vincent he knows earlier?  If he sympathizes, then wouldn't he tell Vincent he does, just in case Vincent needs help? And the end makes it clear that no one is particularly upset that Vincent fooled the system; they just shrug it off.  But if it's not that important to them, why do they accept it? (Consider what would happen in the segregated south if a Black man was discovered to be passing for white.)
  • The constant genetic testing is pointless and expensive.  Why does anyone bother?  It would make sense under the system to check when hiring someone, but every day?  Every time someone enters the building?  It takes time and costs money to make genetic tests; why bother?  Because the guy who was OK yesterday might change his genes today? Spot checks, maybe, but checking every person every single day?  How many people are you tying up to do all this testing?  How much money do you tie up in equipment to do the testing?  How often are you going to find anything from it?  And, finally, what does it matter if you do, since there is no explicit ban on In-Valids? 
  • Genetics can only do so much. Everyone seems surprised that the head of Gattaca could commit murder.  But there is no "murder" gene.  Similarly, there is no gene that makes you a better worker.  All you can test for is physical traits.  And Vincent fails on that count due to his bad heart.
  • Why go through all that rigmarole to make yourself a Valid? Vincent has to keep track of every piece of stray skin, bring sacks of urine and blood and spend hours trying to "prove" he was Valid.  Why do it?  Couldn't someone hack into the database and change Vincent's records?  Better yet, pay someone who works in the records department to make the change (you can bet there would be people who'd do it).  Viola -- no need to go to all that trouble.  No need to worry.  Oh, yeah, that heart condition.
  • Huh? There are many little things that just don't work.  For instance, there are records that have everyone's genetic profile.  Yet they leave out important facts like someone is paralyzed in a car accident.  Why?  How was that little detail missed?

Ultimately, the movie's attempt at seriousness is undermined because no one bothered to think out the implications of the situation they were portraying. They ask you to think, but assume you won't think about what they've shown. In all too many scenes, they go for a visceral reaction, not caring if it makes no logical sense.

This is an important issue, and there's no doubt that a good film could be made dealing with the situation.  It's just too bad Gattaca punted the assignment by throwing logic out the window.

8/7/05

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