This featured a few years ago on movie night in Pflugerville, and I caught it streaming on Amazon Prime Video, your go-to place for classic movies. From 1997 it’s Gattaca, as explained by Wikipedia:
Here are the main players:
- Ethan Hawke as Vincent Anton Freeman, impersonating Jerome Eugene Morrow
- Uma Thurman as Irene Cassini
- Jude Law as Jerome Eugene Morrow
- Loren Dean as Anton Freeman
- Gore Vidal as Director Josef
- Xander Berkeley as Dr. Lamar
We see Jerome Morrow preparing for work at the space center, where he looks forward to a launch on a one-year trip to Titan. He prepares carefully for his day at work. He assiduously removes any hair and skin cells that might come off his body at work. We eventually learn why.
At work he keeps a hair comb in his desk drawer. It is perfectly clean, but he plants a hair he has brought with him. Management is so obsessed with detecting invalid interlopers, they routinely sweep workplaces, testing for aberrant genetic material. The hair Vincent leaves on his comb is from another person.
And the reason is this. Everybody is routinely screened for genetic purity. This is in the unfortunate future where a person’s course in life is set by his genome, and the population is divided among the “valid” and the “invalid.” If your genome projects failure, then only failure is offered. Those with suitable (near perfect) genomes are given the choice opportunities, such as an expedition to Titan. Here Gerome pees in a cup under the watchful eye of Dr. Lamar. The doctor observes as Gerome delivers a phony stream from a hidden cache.
Dr. Lamar submits a drop for analysis. Success, Gerome is not an impostor.
But Gerome is an impostor. He is actually Vincent Freeman, conceived in the back seat of a Buick Riviera. When their first child wound up with a down-market genome, his parents determined their next child, a son, would have the best chance in life. A reproductive specialist selected just the right egg (see the image) and just the right spermatozoon, and brother Anton was born with all the privileges a correct genome can confer.
That got tested during their youth. The brothers competed endlessly. Anton would challenge Vincent in a game of ocean chicken. They would swim out to sea until one of them would decide to turn back. But once, in their late teens, Vincent won the challenge, and he had to rescue his brother when he was starting to drown.
That does not alter Vincent’s destiny. His profile, defined by his genome, relegates him to a position in society where his shortcomings will never be a menace. As a boy he dreamed of going into space. He is told the closest he will come is a job cleaning the launch room. We see him working a succession of jobs, including cleaning the launch room.
But there is a way around. If he can substitute for somebody with the right profile, if he can pull off a masquerade, the world will open to him. He connects with a broker, who hooks him up with Gerome Morrow. Gerome has a stellar genome, but an accident confines him to a wheel chair. All this happened off the radar, in another country. Vincent and Gerome team up to realize Vincent’s dream, and also vicariously, Gerome’s.
Culling is relentless. Authorities are constantly on the lookout for somebody surreptitiously climbing the ladder. Vincent takes a job at the space center as Gerome, and withstands withering scrutiny, along with all the others. Here they demonstrate their physical stamina.
Vincent is picked as navigator for the Titan mission. Things get complicated. There is a murder at the center. Authorities are looking for an invalid who may have done it. In the meantime Vincent meets sexier-than-God-allows Irene. Things develop.
A police stop-and-inspect inside a tunnel.
There is a surprise inspection. Vincent has not prepared for it. He absents himself and contacts Gerome at the apartment. Gerome struggles to the upper floor and establishes himself in a chair. Irene is directed to drive the inspector to the apartment. There Irene sees Gerome and learns Vincent’s secret. Otherwise, the ruse succeeds.
In a final showdown before Vincent meets the scheduled launch date, Anton challenges him to another round of ocean chicken. The crucial aspect of the challenge is if you swim out too far, you will too exhausted to swim back. Again Vincent wins the challenge, and he tells Anton his secret strategy. He never plans to swim back.
Minutes before launch and another surprise inspection. Dr. Lamar takes another sample, and Vincent has to supply his own. As Dr. Lamar prepares to enter the sample into the test, he talks about his own son.
The test reveals Vincent is an impostor, an invalid.
Dr. Lamar tells more about his own son.
He presses another button on the machine, and the result is changed. Vincent proceeds aboard the spacecraft to Titan.
Obviously the major premise of the plot is that a society is going to conclude a person’s genome dictates his future, and, further, to protect society from genetically-based corruption, it (the society) is willing to expend a considerable portion of its resources protecting that premise.
Also… Call me a stickler, but we see the crew of the Titan mission reporting aboard wearing business suits. Whose idea was this?
We also see interplanetary missions being launched as casually as buses leaving a terminal. We see giant rockets ascending from close to the operation center, and the windows don’t rattle. This is indeed a brave new world.