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Gattaca is a 1997 science fiction drama film written and directed by Andrew Niccol, starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law with supporting roles played by Loren Dean, Ernest Borgnine, Gore Vidal and Alan Arkin. The film was a 1997 nominee for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction — Set Decoration.

The film presents a biopunk vision of a society driven by liberal eugenics. Children of the middle and upper classes are selected through preimplantation genetic diagnosis to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents. A genetic registry database uses biometrics to instantly identify and classify those so created as valids while those conceived by traditional means are derisively known as in-valids. While genetic discrimination is forbidden by law, in practice it is easy to profile one's genotype resulting in the Valids qualifying for professional employment while the In-Valids who are susceptible to disease are relegated to menial jobs. The movie draws on concerns over reproductive technologies which facilitate eugenics, and the possible consequences of such technological developments for society. It also explores the idea of destiny and the ways in which it can and does govern lives. Characters in Gattaca continually battle both with society and with themselves to find their place in the world and who they are destined to be according to their genes.

The title is based on the initial letters of the four DNA nitrogenous bases (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine). During the credits the letters G, C, T, and A are all highlighted.


In “the not-too-distant future”, where liberal eugenics is common and DNA plays the primary role in determining social class, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is conceived and born without the aid of this technology. As a result he is born with a high probability of heart disorder and a life expectancy of only 30.2 years. His parents regret this, and his younger brother, Anton, is conceived with the aid of genetic engineering. Growing up, their father clearly favors Anton, the stronger, taller and more perfect son. Vincent dreams of a career in space, but his parents remind him that his imperfections will preclude from ever achieving this. Vincent and Anton enjoy playing a game that they called "chicken" - both would swim out into the sea, and the first person to tire out and swim back to shore would be the loser. As children, Anton always won due to his superior genes. However, one day when they were older, Vincent, for reasons not entirely clear at the time, overtook and beat his brother. Anton cried out to his older brother for help as he was about to drown. Vincent saved him by pulling him to the shore. Vincent then left his home shortly thereafter.

Suffering from the nearly eradicated physical dysfunction of myopia, as well as being given a heart disorder probability of 99%, Vincent faces extreme genetic discrimination and prejudice. The only way he can achieve his life-long dream of becoming an astronaut is to break the law and impersonate a "valid", a person with appropriate genetic advantage.

He assumes the identity of Jerome Eugene Morrow (Jude Law), a former swimming star who, despite a genetic profile "second to none", won only a silver medal in a high-profile competition. He then attempted to commit suicide by jumping in front of a car, but again fell short of his goal in that he only succeeded in paralyzing himself from the waist down. However, as the incident occurred outside the country, no one knows of his newly acquired disability. Thus, Vincent can "buy" his identity with no one the wiser. Though he requires limb lengthening to increase his height, persistent practice to favor his right hand instead of his left, and contact lenses to replace his glasses while matching Jerome's eyes, he can use Jerome's "valid" DNA in blood, hair, tissue and urine samples to pass any genetic test — as long as he takes extreme measures to leave no traces of his identity as an "in-valid". But, where he was once an object of scorn and pity, he is now a perpetrator of an unspeakable fraud. Legally, exposure would only subject him to fines, but socially the consequences would be far more extreme — he is now a heretic against the new order of genetic determinism. Vincent is now a "borrowed ladder" (a play on words referring to both the structure of an un-coiled DNA strand and the idiom of altitude as social status) or in harsher language, a de-gene-erate.

With Jerome's impressive genetic profile he easily gains access to the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation (his interview consists entirely of a genetic analysis of a urine sample), the most prestigious space-flight conglomerate of the day. With his own equally impressive determination, he quickly becomes the company's ace celestial navigator. But a week before Vincent is scheduled to leave on a one-year mission for Saturn's moon Titan, the mission director is murdered, and evidence of Vincent's own "in-valid" DNA is found in the building in the form of an eyelash. The presence of this unexpected DNA attracts the attention of the police, and Vincent must evade ever-increasing security as his mission launch date approaches and he pursues a relationship with his co-worker Irene Cassini (Uma Thurman).

After numerous close calls, the investigation eventually comes to a close as Director Josef (Gore Vidal) is arrested for the murder by the detective covering the investigation (Alan Arkin). The Director reveals that he murdered the mission director in order to buy time for the mission to launch, because the window of opportunity for the launch is only open for seven days once every seventy years, and that it is now too late to stop the launch. However, just as Vincent appears to be in the clear, he is confronted by the chief detective, who is revealed to be Vincent's estranged brother, Anton (Loren Dean). Anton tries to convince Vincent to go with him for protection before Vincent is found out. However, it soon becomes apparent that Anton is acting more out of insecurity and is more concerned with how Vincent had managed to get the better of him, despite Anton's supposed genetic superiority. Vincent and Anton settle their competition as they did when they were children, by seeing who could swim out into the ocean farthest. As he did once before when they were young, Vincent manages to beat Anton who, once again, is rescued by his older brother. When Anton asks him how he can possibly be doing this, Vincent reveals that he refused to save any strength for the swim back — he was willing to risk everything to succeed. Conversely Anton was worried about preserving enough strength to swim out and return again, and these fears kept him from testing his true limits.

As the day of the launch finally arrives, Jerome bids Vincent farewell and says that he intends to travel too. He reveals that he has stored enough genetic samples to last Vincent two lifetimes. Overwhelmed and grateful, Vincent thanks Jerome for "lending" him the identity that has allowed his success at Gattaca. Jerome replies, however, that it is he who should be grateful, since Vincent lent Jerome his dreams. As Vincent moves through the Gattaca complex to the launch site, he is stopped for an unexpected urine test. Vincent reluctantly agrees to take the test, even though he has not brought any of Jerome's genetic material to hide his identity. The test result uncovers Vincent's "in-valid" status, but the doctor, Lamar, reveals that he has known Vincent's true identity all along, saying, "For future reference, right-handed men don't hold it with their left. Just one of those things." Lamar then alters the test result to allow Vincent to proceed regardless, confessing that his son admires Vincent, and wants to be an astronaut just like him, despite an unforeseen genetic defect that would already rule him out.

As the shuttle lifts off, Jerome is shown committing suicide inside his home incinerator, wearing his silver medal.





The exteriors (including the roof scene), and some of the interior shots, of the Gattaca complex were filmed at Frank Lloyd Wright's 1960 Marin County Civic Centermarker in San Rafael, California.The exterior of Vincent Freeman's house was shot at California State Polytechnic University, Pomonamarker.


The film borrows many design and thematic ideas from the film noir genre. The movie uses a swimming treadmill by Endless Pools in the opening minutes to punctuate the swimming and futuristic themes. The futuristic electric turbine cars are based on 1960s car models like Rover P6, Citroën DS19 and Studebaker Avanti, and futuristic buildings represent postmodern architecture of 1950s.

Major themes

The film's themes include personal identity, discrimination, courage, friendship, love, hope, the burden of perfection, sacrifice, pursuit of happiness, sibling rivalry, society and control, fate, and whether human nature and the human spirit can be defined or limited by DNA.



Gattaca was released in theaters on October 24, 1997, and opened at number 5 at the box office; trailing I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Devil's Advocate, Kiss the Girls, and Seven Years in Tibet. Over the first weekend the film brought in $4.3 million. It ended its theatrical run with a domestic total of $12.5 million against a reported production budget of $36 million.

Home media

Gattaca was released on DVD on July 1, 1998. Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray versions were released on March 11, 2008.

Television series

On October 30th, 2009, Variety reported that Sony Pictures was developing a television adaptation of the feature film as a one-hour police procedural set in the future. The show will be written by Gil Grant, who has written for 24 and NCIS.

Critical reception

The film received a "fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes with 82% of the 55 critics cited giving the film a favorable review. The average rating for the film was 7.1/10. On Metacritic the film received "generally favorable reviews" with a score of 67 out of a possible 100. Roger Ebert stated, "This is one of the smartest and most provocative of science fiction films, a thriller with ideas." James Berardinelli praised it for "energy and tautness" and its "thought-provoking script and thematic richness."

Despite critical acclaim, Gattaca was not a box office success but it is said to have crystallized the debate over tampering with human genetics. The film's dystopian depiction of "genoism" has been cited by many bioethicists and laymen in support of their hesitancy about, or opposition to, liberal eugenics and the societal acceptance of the genetic-determinist ideology that may frame it. In a 1997 review of the film for the journal Nature Genetics, molecular biologist Lee M. Silver stated that "Gattaca is a film that all geneticists should see if for no other reason than to understand the perception of our trade held by so many of the public-at-large".

However, in 2004, bioethicist James Hughes explicitly criticized the premise and influence of the film Gattaca by arguing that:
  1. Astronaut-training programs are entirely justified in attempting to screen out people with heart problems for safety reasons;
  2. In the United States, people are already discriminated against by insurance companies on the basis of their propensities to disease despite the fact that genetic enhancement is not yet available;
  3. Rather than banning genetic testing or genetic enhancement, society needs genetic information privacy laws that allow justified forms of genetic testing and data aggregation, but forbid those that are judged to result in genetic discrimination (such as the U.S. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act signed into law on May 21, 2008.). Citizens should then be able to make a complaint to the appropriate authority if they believe they have been discriminated against because of their genotype.


The score for Gattaca was composed by Michael Nyman, and the original soundtrack was released on October 21, 1997.

Track listing

  1. "The Morrow" – 3:13
  2. "God's Hands" – 1:42
  3. "The One Moment" – 1:40
  4. "Traces" – 1:00
  5. "The Arrival" – 3:53
  6. "Becoming Jerome" – 1:06
  7. "Call Me Eugene" – 1:24
  8. "A Borrowed Ladder" – 1:47
  9. "Further and Further" – 2:43
  10. "Not the Only One" – 2:14
  11. "Second Morrow" – 2:24
  12. "Impromptu for 12 Fingers" – 2:55 (from Franz Schubert's "Impromptu in G-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 3")
  13. "The Crossing" – 1:24
  14. "It Must Be the Light" – 1:23
  15. "Only a Matter of Time" – 1:07
  16. "I Thought You Wanted to Dance" – 1:13
  17. "Irene's Theme" – 1:09
  18. "Yourself for the Day" – 2:20
  19. "Up Stairs" – 2:02
  20. "Now That You're Here" – 2:44
  21. "The Truth" – 2:13
  22. "The Other Side" – 3:44
  23. "The Departure" – 3:51
  24. "Irene & the Morrow" – 5:44


  1. " Gattaca a Not-So-Perfect Specimen", Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, October 24, 1997, URL retrieved 19th February 2009

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