In Gattaca, the new ruling class has been given a genetic advantage: All imperfections have been corrected in utero. No more birth defects or major diseases. No unsightly eyeglasses needed. No more left-handed people among the streamlined right-handed achievers.
An unfortunate child born without these enhancements is dubbed an "in-valid" and destined to a life of cleaning toilets in this brave new world. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is one such "faith" birth, overshadowed by his genetically tweaked younger brother and told he will never achieve his dream of space flight.
But even the combination of social and genetic engineering can't quell ambition and commerce. Vincent, through an illegal DNA broker, finds an identity he can assume, that of the genetically superior but wheelchair-bound Jerome (a magnetic Jude Law), who provides the physical material he needs to "pass."
Vincent becomes a top-notch navigator in the elite Gattaca Corp. and begins a tentative romance with his co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman), until his intricate facade of genetic perfection is threatened by a murder investigation which puts him under police scrutiny.
The mystery that writer-director Andrew Niccol explores in Gattaca isn't so much a whodunit but an examination of what identity means within a society that believes individuality can be regulated.
While the surface of Gattaca is elegant, composed and relentlessly beautiful (cinematographer Slawomir Idziak utilizes his brilliant color palette like a painter), messy relationships between imperfect people lie just beneath the film's placid surface: a fierce sibling rivalry, a hesitant love affair full of secrets and unexpected challenges, the symbiosis between an ambitious impostor and someone born with everything but drive.
Gattaca itself embodies the paradox inherent in the score by Michael Nyman. While its minimalist structure may seem distant and cool, the undercurrent is warmed by the irrepressible heat of human emotions.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.