Thursday, November 03, 2011

Commonalities between "Gattaca" and "In Time"

UPDATE (11/15/11) - Since writing this post I had a big breakthrough that should be read first. I was able to zero in on the common denominator that links the social backdrop in both films.

This past weekend I saw In Time. This was one of the few movies I had been anticipating in 2011. The anticipation was on the sole basis of it being written and directed by Andrew Niccol.
Andrew Niccols Freshman film was also one of my favorites; Gattaca.

Gattaca first captured my imagination after watching it in my high school biology class. I have seen it a few times since, with increasing enjoyment and appreciation every time.

In Time isn't Oscar material (I already have my pick), but it was an enjoyable movie if for no other reason then that Niccol closely followed his original recipe used in Gattaca.
Spoilers are present in the following analysis (for both movies, especially if you have seen one and plan to watch the other).

This "recipe" implies that both films share an overarching theme and also specific plot elements.

Common Synopsis:

  • A man dreams of a life with greater significance than what the constrictive privilege based society he is born in to allows. 
But this shared synopsis is only scratching the surface. There are far more specific commonalities between these two movies. 
Commonalities in Plot
  • The young adult male protagonist finds himself doing mundane work at the bottom wrung of a heavy handed privilege based society.
  • However he dreams of reaching the stars (both metaphorically and quite literally in Gattaca).
  • His reach is limited, through no fault of his own, but simply because of the unprivileged disposition that he was born in to.
  • He meets a disillusioned individual from the privileged class who becomes his champion, equipping him with the necessary resource to break through the barriers (both metaphorically and quite literally in  In Time) between the masses and the privileged.
  • After providing the necessary resource to the protagonist, the champion commits suicide.
  • There is an individual who shares a common root with the protagonist, but has entered the privileged ranks. Ironically he ends up enforcing the divide in the social system.
  • This enforcer of the status quo is quickly on the case of our aspiring protagonist who is challenging the system.
  • The protagonist's passion and drive catches the attention of a woman who is well established in the privileged class.
  • The protagonist acquires a retro futuristic convertible (In general the preferable mode of transportation in these societies are black or silver retro-futuristic electric cars) which he will drive to a lavish dinner party where truths about his previous identity causes the gathering to be disrupted by the enforcer.
  • The enamored woman eventually discovers his true place in the social order. After wrestling through this truth she loves him despite, or even because of it. She becomes a co-conspirator in his effort to disrupt the system.
  • He is eventually successful in reaching the stars through a combination of luck, perseverance, wit, and most importantly through the assistance of his champion.
After reflecting on all the commonalities, that which makes the two movies unique becomes more apparent. There is a key difference in the plot between Gattaca and In Time, and it comes down to how the protagonist chooses to resist his predetermined lot in life.

Difference between Protagonists:
  • Gattaca - He studies, infiltrates, and subverts the system from the inside, providing a model of inspiration for others who feel trapped. He is mature, thoughtful, responsible, methodical.
  • In Time - He initiates a direct affront to the powers that be, mainly using brute force, resulting in instability and chaos en-masse. He is reckless, naive, confused, and short sighted.
But our protagonist is not an isolated variable in the social system. In fact, he would be nothing but a drop in the river of the unprivileged masses if it were not for the influence of his champion.

When we see the divergent character of the protagonist in both films we must consider the cause and effect of the divergent character of his champion. When we do so it would seem the the crux of the story is the manner in which the champion supports the protagonist on his journey.

In both cases our champion equips the hero with the resource needed to break through the privileged barrier. However the relationship in which this occurs couldn't be more different.

Difference between Champions:
  • Gattaca -  He is present and sacrificial. A coach/mentor who takes the time to teach the protagonist along the way. In the lowest moments of the protagonist's journey he is there to encourage him to stay in the fight and keep going.
  • In Time - He is hopeless, surrendered, distant, and after equipping him with the necessary resource to break through he is never present.
Juxtaposing the two champions clearly explains the unique difference we see in each protagonist who is set in such a similar plot.

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