Due to aforementioned travel-esty, I not only missed the opening reception at the prezzie’s house last night but the screening of Gattaca. I was sorry not to view its long shadows and retro-futuristic art direction on the Virginia’s expansive screen, but I have to admit I’ve seen the film at least three times. Which is to say: I’m a fan.
Starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman (yes, the two commenced their ill-fated romance on this set) and made in 1997, when the Human Genome Project and the cloned sheep Dolly had just set tongues a-flapping, the science fiction thriller explores the then- (and now-) hot topic of genetic discrimination. Hawke is Vincent, a “love child” — one born naturally rather than genetically engineered — in a society where natural births are primitive (and certainly low-rent). Worse, he’s been saddled with a heart defect that renders him genetically deficient, an “In-valid.” He may dream of working as an astronaut but his bad DNA has relegated him to cleaning latrines for the local lab. That he catapults himself into space — swapping blood, skin, urine and his very identity; submitting himself to operation after painful operation; and, worse, living with a surly Jude Law, as the genetically stellar Jerome whose identity Vincent adopts after the Valid is relegated to a wheelchair — trumpets how all circumstance can be transcended. Better: that no bad DNA can prevent us from landing a blond princess, Uma Thurman, in this case, clocking in one of the few unself-conscious performances of her 20s. (I think motherhood has since deepened her performances.) A truly American story, emphasized by Law’s haughty Brit tones in the now-classic Star Wars symbol for fascism and feudalism. I''ll take his evil empire any day, especially back when directors hadn't conflated his leading-man good looks for leading-man chops.
The first time I ever talked to Roger Ebert, we discussed science fiction. Both of us were rabid fans when we were young, and I shared with him a theory I'd once heard: that fantasy fiction fans tend to be conservative, as they uphold traditions, whereas science fiction enthusiasts are more politically progressive, as they clamor for the change that is projected upon the future. "Well," said Roger. "That theory certainly applies to me."
I arrived just as the film was ending, and the irrepressible Chaz whisked me on stage to participate in the following discussion. Also speaking was co-producer Michael Shamberg and a geneticist/ethicist (whose name plum escapes me). Shamberg’s body of work includes such uber-class conscious projects as Erin Brockovich (which I love love love) but he himself, it seems, doesn’t really believe that America is still a class-driven society. Frankly, dear reader, we got into it.