A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Gattaca is a 1997 sci-fi movie in which Ethan Hawke must outwit a society centered on genetic engineering in order to fulfill his dream to go into space. For fans of science fiction with deep messages relevant to our world, this movie has plenty to reflect on and discuss with teens and adults. Bioethics, genetic engineering, individual free will versus predestined existence, and the possible ramifications of technological advancement are all explored. The lead character, Vincent, is born an "in-valid" -- conceived through traditional means rather than through genetic enhancement -- and is therefore relegated to a lifetime of menial labor, but nonetheless is undaunted in finding a way to transcend all societal obstacles in order to achieve his dream. One character is found murdered in his office, a pool of blood around his head. Another character commits suicide by immolation. Very brief sex scene with no explicit nudity. Doctor makes insinuations about the large size of the lead character's penis. One of the lead characters frequently appears drunk, has apparently turned to alcohol as an escape from the life trajectory he does not want to live. "F--k" used twice. Cigarette smoking.
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What's the story?
GATTACA is set in the not-too-distant-future, in a world obsessed with human perfection to the point that genetic engineering is the norm, resulting in an unfortunate social dichotomy. The "haves" are Petri dish creations designed to be genetically perfect ("Valids"). The "have-nots" are naturally born, therefore, deemed imperfect ("In-valids"). Born naturally with a heart condition, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) falls into the latter category, seemingly resigned to a life as a lowly janitor. His determination to travel into space is so strong that he goes to the extreme of "renting" the identity of the recently paralyzed Valid, Jerome Morrow (Jude Law). Vincent cannot escape his In-valid self; DNA found in a single eyelash implicates him in a crime he did not commit. Paranoia mounts as Vincent's identity and dream become endangered.
Is it any good?
Gattaca is a familiar story -- a high-concept movie that starts well, but falls prey to lazy storytelling. Its concept is strong enough to deliver a future dystopia worthy of a future noir like Blade Runner. However, by its end, the film's hollow retro-1950s style is one that only seasoned film buffs will recognize as a nod to Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville.
Plot hole after plot hole creates too many bumps in the road. We are never clearly told why space travel is so important to Vincent. Additionally, we are not told why his choice to masquerade as Jerome is any more heroic than bucking the system by simply being himself. After not-so-neatly tying up a love interest with a Valid named Irene (Uma Thurman), the movie's ending strives for metaphor, yet is unsatisfying. Still, it is pretty to look at.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this movie's themes of identity, competition, and the future society's notions of perfection. Cloning, genetic research, and identity theft may also be topics of discussion.
What are some other examples of science fiction movies and TV shows that explore deeper themes relevant to issues of contemporary society?
Why do you think science fiction is often used as a way to raise questions about our world and society?
- In theaters: January 1, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: December 11, 2001
- Cast: Alan Arkin, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman
- Director: Andrew Niccol
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: STEM, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief violent images, language, and some sexuality.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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