They say there are no small roles and profiled in this post is certainly one of those occasions where that was certainly proven to be true.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!
WE’RE GIVING AWAY THE FUCKING ENDING!!!!
Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca is set in the not too distant future where everybody genetically engineers their offspring. This has resulted in a new class system and Ethan Hawke stars as a man born the old fashioned way who dreams big. Genetically he’s got a bad ticker and is ruled out of his lifelong dream to become an astronaut so he fakes his identify including DNA samples and gets into the space program.
It’s a film that only grows in resonance with each passing year and beneath it’s clinical stylised look beats a human heart. The tagline for the movie was ‘There is no gene for the human spirit.” and I hope that’s true. There are a lot of good performances in the film not least of which is one by Jude Law who got noticed a lot for his performance here. Personally I think Law works best as a character actor rather than a movie star but that’s another conversation.
Speaking of character actors, Xander Berkeley who I may do a profile on down the line, plays Dr. Lamar whom Ethan Hawke’s Vincent Freeman skillfully gives Jude Law’s DNA to during regular tests so he can remain in the space program. There are maybe three scenes with the good Doctor to show us the stakes and process of Vincent’s deception. In it Berkeley gives Lamar a droll personality and always closes with the line “Remind me to tell you about my son” but we don’t pay too much attention.
The stakes get pretty high for Vincent and numerous plotlines play out. The Doctor does not feature in any of them. Finally at the end of the film with his goal in sight Vincent is confronted with an unexpected urine test doing his final medical with Lamar. Assuming the jig is up he begins a speech. That’s when Lamar tells him about his son. One of my favourite type of scenes is when two characters are talking about one thing but they’re really talking about something else entirely. Dr Lamar tells Vincent that his son wants to follow in Vincent’s footsteps but he is not perfectly healthy but then who knows what his son will achieve and then waves him on. With that Xander Berkeley’s side character becomes the coolest guy in the whole movie having known all along Vincent was lying and never letting on for years. The dialogue is just perfect here, we come to realise maybe Lamar told his son the truth about Vincent and that is why his son idolises Freeman but then again maybe not. Ethan Hawke’s reaction is so perfectly calibrated. What is happening between the two characters is deeply profound and personal for both but neither openly expresses it and yet neither can quite mask all the emotions on their face.
It also speaks to the deeper themes of the film. Part of Vincent’s achievement was beating the odds against his supposed less than perfectly healthy body but it was also about the sentimentality and love that Dr. Lamar has for his own child and wanting his dreams to come true. In the end dreamers can’t be forced to stop dreaming and if there is enough of them anything is possible.