MINOR ROLES THAT HAD A MAJOR IMPACT – DR. LAMAR FROM GATTACA

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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.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

WE’RE GIVING AWAY THE FUCKING ENDING!!!!

SO…..SPOILERS OK!

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.

-Lloyd Marken

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49 comments on “MINOR ROLES THAT HAD A MAJOR IMPACT – DR. LAMAR FROM GATTACA

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Oh, yes. Xander Berkeley has done so many of these. Fine one to highlight, Lloyd.

    • Lloyd Marken says:

      I’m a fan of Candyman and know him from the first two seasons of 24. There’s loads. Will have to do a Star Character Actor posts on him soon but there’s quite a few in the queue already. 🙂 Thanks mate. Hey did you hear? There’s going to be a prequel novel to Heat.

      • le0pard13 says:

        Yep, I heard. And Reed Farrel Coleman is an excellent choice.

        BTW, Xander has two connections with Michael Mann’s work: ‘Heat’ and its first iteration, ‘L.A. Takedown’ (with him as the first “Waingro”).

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Ah, I’m yet to see that one. Done for TV right?

      • le0pard13 says:

        Yep. Done as a pilot for NBC, here in the States. Not successful, obviously, and only had a limited release to the home market. I’ve got the Region 2 DVD. Trivia: when I finally saw it, surprised to learn its big bank shoot-out was staged just a few yards from where I currently work. 😉

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        That’s pretty cool.

      • John Charet says:

        I am a fan of Candyman as well 🙂 I do not know If this is considered minor role, but since we are on topic, how about Virginia Madsen (also of Candyman fame) as Princess Irulan in David Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune? That is If you saw it. 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Thanks John, that opening shot of Virginia Madsen in Dune is memorable alone for her beauty. I’ve seen her in The Hot Spot, Electric Dreams and she is fantastic in Candyman but it is in Sideways that I truly love her. A very beautiful and talented actress. What did you enjoy most about her performance in Dune?

  2. beetleypete says:

    I enjoyed this film too. (Maybe not Jude Law in it though) I got the doctor’s inference of course, and thought he played the part perfectly.
    Another good call, Lloyd.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Lloyd Marken says:

      Thank you Pete. I thought it remains one of Jude Law’s best performances but each to their own and it’s been a decade since I last saw it. Hope you’re enjoying these series of posts. My wish is get all caught up with reading my fellow bloggers post this weekend.

      • beetleypete says:

        I only really liked Jude Law in Cold Mountain, and The Talented Mr Ripley. I find him a bit annoying in films, but he is very nice when he is being ‘himself’.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Yeah he’s kind of hit and miss for me too although in different places. I agree he was great in Talented Ripley. I think I enjoy not liking him. I don’t know. I fucking hated him The Holiday. I just kept looking at him and thinking you’re not to be trusted. No reason. Isn’t that superficial and unfair but there you have it. I kind of like him when he’s not the star. Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Road to Perdition or against type in Dom Hemingway. Although I liked Enemy at the Gates and Closer. At least I guess he’s trying to do different work.

      • I loved him in A.I., as the male gigolo robot.

      • beetleypete says:

        Hi, Cindy! I think that film is a lot better than the general opinion of it would imply. x

      • Yep. The moral questions raised and the great cast made it quite the treat. Can’t say I agreed with the extra 20 minutes at the end, the Alien excavation. It was Spielberg corny in parts. I understand why people don’t like it (I think his best is Minority Report and Close Encounters) but I found the love story to be moving and enjoyed speculating how the future will be. In this case, a sad, crass future world indeed!

      • beetleypete says:

        Spielberg is always ‘corny’, lets face it. Sometimes less corny than others, and they are the good ones.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        In Spielberg we trust. … and look where that got us with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull! I’m an unabashed fan so I’d say sentimental but he makes populist films where his contemporaries make harder edged movies. Still I think he’s matured. Munich is interesting one from his catalogue and I think it’s fascinating that he pursued The Colour Purple in the mid 80s.

      • beetleypete says:

        The Colour Purple is a good example of how a very sentimental film was elevated into a wonderful experience by the use of a stellar cast of actors at the top of their game.
        I like lots of Spielberg films, but as with Hitchcock, I don’t put him on a pedestal, as so many do.
        Cheers, Pete.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Again I admit I haven’t seen it but I saw a special on Kubrick once where they discussed that everybody believes the ending was added by Spielberg (sentimental I’m assuming) but it was actually what Kubrick intended.

      • That’s interesting.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Will be interesting to see for myself.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        Have to check it out.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        You like Cold Mountain too right? Both I’m yet to see. So many movies…so little time. 🙂

      • See Cold Mountain…..

  3. GP Cox says:

    I don’t mind knowing the ending as long as it’s a good plot with good acting. That’s where my enjoyment comes from.

    • Lloyd Marken says:

      You’re very lucky GP, my mother is the same. In fact sometimes she HAS to know the ending before she can watch a film. I prefer to avoid spoilers but agree most films should be more than their plot revealations otherwise why would you watch them again. Going back I realise I may have indicated strongly some plot points in reviews such as the one for Fences so I’m glad you don’t mind spoilers. But as a courtesy I will warn of them when I’m aware I’m giving them away and this one was quite obvious to me. 🙂

  4. I have not seen this so I didn’t read the end because I didn’t want the fucking spoiler to ruin it. 😉 I do like the sound of it and I liked the video. I think Ethan Hawke is underrated.

  5. This is an excellent series of yours, Lloyd. Wish I had thought of it.

    • Lloyd Marken says:

      Wow thanks Cindy, always nice to get praise from you. There’s so many Star Character Actors that come to mind but this series maybe a bit tougher but I got a couple in mind. Dr Lamar and Stephanie were always the ones I thought about doing for such a series. I doubt I’ll find many youtube clips of the exact scenes I’m referring to going forward but that’s okay.

  6. Jay says:

    Oh man, this is a great one to pull out of the shadows.

  7. John Charet says:

    In regards to Virginia Madsen’s performance in Dune. I loved her presence in that film for the same reason you did 🙂 She is very beautiful and talented as you just said and like me, she is a Chicagoan 🙂 She was great in Sideways too 🙂 I also loved it that she was part of the ensemble cast of Robert Altman’s final film A Prairie Home Companion from 2006 🙂 I also loved her work in a 1987 HBO sports comedy Long Gone. She co-stared with William Petersen (another talented Chicagoan) 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

  8. John Charet says:

    P.S. I had to leave the reply down here because it would not let me reply up there 🙂

  9. busyk says:

    Excellent essay about one of my favorite films. I too think Jude Law is better in character roles. Did you see The Young Pope?

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