Contains spoilers up to and including the very end
Real talk, definitely thought this took place in space. Turns out it doesn’t! Also, definitely did not expect it to be so homoerotic. Turns out it is! Gattaca! What won’t it surprise me with!
The first thing to address though, is that this is a movie where I think there are two total non-white characters who have maybe 10-60 seconds of dialogue each? And it is a movie about eugenics. It’s just odd. The movie is aware of this, they have the black doctor really deliver a line about how Ethan Hawke’s parents’ second son will have “fair skin”, and later Vincent will comment that the new form of discrimination is all gene-based and not about things like skin color anymore. But if that were really the case, all the named characters should not be white! Just, diversify your casting, my friends, it’s SO easy to fix!
They didn’t do that, but they did make a movie that I really enjoyed. The world-building is fun, extensive but not over-bearing on the narrative. It’s rather manufactured how frequently Vincent is at risk of being found out as an “In-valid”, someone born without gene optimization, but you can’t fault the effectiveness of the stakes! So many scenes of high stakes! Good tension, and varied—all the biological tests sure, but also those STAIRS. And as a former corrective lens-wearer who got my own (surgically) optimized eyes just this past spring, the scene of Vincent trying to cross a busy street at night after surreptitiously ditching his tell-tale contacts was very personally anxiety-inducing. I have had nightmares like that.
While Gattaca does not actually take place in space, going there is the primary motivating force of Vincent’s whole life, driving him to his most extreme actions to prove that he is capable of it, and as such, kinda would have expected space to be more present in the narrative, must say. Even just more imagery of the stars, that would have been enough. I had a much stronger visual and emotional sense of how the ocean figures in his mental landscape, the repeated image of swimming through the waves away from shore. Which was great, I liked the way that was done, and just would have appreciated that attention paid to representing inter-planetary travel as well, as that dream is to have an equally powerful influence on who Vincent is.
But while they didn’t give me that, Gattaca IS very gay, which was a whole new element outside of what I anticipated that I graciously accepted. The movie holds back Jude Law’s entrance for long enough that I was beginning to wonder how he was going to fit into the picture, and the answer was as Jerome, a definitely queer, I’d-call-him-alcoholic-if-he-hadn’t-been-augmented-to-avoid-such-things Brit, whose superior genetic material apparently did not make him happy, as he soberly stepped in front of a speeding car and wound up paralyzed in a wheelchair instead of his preferred ending. Due to their passingly similar appearance, he gets matched up with Vincent by a black market Yenta (Tony Shalhoub, incredibly) for a highly illegal sci-fi scam, in which Vincent can pretend to be Jerome for career advancement, palming (semi-literally) Jerome’s fingerprints and blood and hair and urine to pass off as his own during this society’s apparently near-constant genetic spot checks, and Jerome can live off a portion of “Jerome”’s subsequent high income. So here’s your classic, Persona-esque blended identity element built right in to the plot, which can so easily pass into a fission of queer erotic tension.
But I wasn’t expecting that to really come to the fore at all, until out at a celebratory dinner one night, Jerome downed an entire glass of wine in one go while looking at Vincent through the glass, asked what Saturn’s moon Titan “is like this time of year,” and Vincent laughed lowly and said “Exactly like this” and leaned down to slowly blow cigarette smoke into the bowl of his own wine glass. “Holy fuck,” I said. Jerome stares, and then Vincent drinks the wine, with the smoke still spilling out, and wow, wow. Wow.
Vincent, apparently a tease, then spends the rest of the film pursuing Uma Thurman (understandable, she is like a beautiful sad 7 foot gazelle), leaving the remainder of the queer coding to Jude Law, who manages very well on his own, thank you. The kiss he steals from Irene during their improvisational ruse? That had everything to do with the fact of her dating Vincent, a transference, he kisses you and now I kiss you. I wasn’t surprised the movie doesn’t actually do anything textually undeniable with all this, as I didn’t find this in the Queer Cinema section, but fuck, Jerome genuinely sends Vincent off to the stars with a lock of his hair tucked into a fold of paper. “God that is Romantic,” I breathed, in awe. Jerome…you are Valid.