Every so often there’s the uncommon science-fiction film that wows the critics, dazzles those few in the broader audience it plays to, and is remembered in a new wrapper, that of ‘cult.’ Dark City, Strange Days — to a select few, these will light eyes upon mere mention (even if in the latter case you mean the song), and Gattaca similarly stands out, being the nebulous biopunk genre’s highest feather in this medium.
Biopunk — is it legit? I think it expresses not just a logical idea as extension to cyberpunk, but one that I find cool enough to warrant its own category, and not cool enough to be mixed in with my beloved robots and hackers. Gattaca may not be as flashy in the ‘biopunk’ conventions as Bioshock or Natural City, the second of which is pure bio-translation of Blade Runner. Maybe a thesis statement for the sub-subgenre?
Gattaca is a noirish drama about the limits of human ability — one might call it a parable, another an emotional and complex character study, and the last a dystopia narrative in line with 1984 and Brave New World, its vision of tomorrow streamlined and sexy as well as brutal yet brutally compliant. All these things and more, but to start, it’s the rare example of a truly adult approach to science-fiction. Leave it to Andrew Nicholl, whose high-highs outweigh low-lows, like another who treads preciously in scifi, one Ridley Scott. (Blade Runner + Alien + Gladiator > everything else).
It’s an endlessly impressive film, one with vision that leaves the audience wanting to know more — of the world created, and of the minds who created it. Gattaca’s composition is product of intense science-fictional thought exercise intersected by the ever-important but all-forgotten ‘trope’ of drama, which only our favorite genre here could make an optional convention.
When these two elements mix, it’s a potent combination, and for proof of this, we look no further than Gattaca.