Stephen Speicher

Gattaca (1997)

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54 posts in this topic

I finally saw this movie after having it been recommended to me nearly a dozen times. Obviously, there are a lot of fascinating ethical aspects to the movie. I am going to pass on starting the discussion of those (but I hope someone does take them up).

I do, however, want to give kudos to the beautiful cumulative effect created by the art design / set design / cinematography / costume design (and whatever other similar departments there are) in this movie. This is the first film set in the future that I have ever seen that didn't portray the physical world as dreary, depressing, dark, dirty, overcrowded, etc. If anyone remembers BladeRunner, you know what I'm talking about.

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This is the first film set in the future that I have ever seen that didn't portray the physical world as dreary, depressing, dark, dirty, overcrowded, etc.

But the sameness of dress at the Gattaca Corp. was somewhat dreary.

Part of what made the film visually futuristic, in a good sense, was that Gattaca Corp. was really Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, CA. This is a magnificent building, the largest structure of Wright's I have ever visited. Well worth seeing if you are in the area.

As to the film itself, to me Gattaca is a near-perfect movie, in everything from plot, character and theme, to style and technical moviemaking.

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I thought Gattaca was lovely; it's not often you can see a major motion picture that combines science fiction with actual drama; usually it's just action all the way and the "science" is comical.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post

The reason I watched this movie initially was because I recognized Wright's Marin County Civic Center as I was flipping through the movie channels on T.V. I think it is such a testament to Wright's genius that his building which was built in 1957 is used for a modern science fiction film.

Gattaca is one of my favorite movies, despite one main flaw. My boyfriend pointed out that the main character commits fraud. This is true, and it does detract a bit from the overall heroism of the movie. However, I still really love the theme of the movie, which is: "There is no gene for the human spirit."

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There are spoilers about this movie in this post

Why was fraud improper, in the context of the movie?

The society of Gattaca was a free society, politically - or at least we are not told that there were any legal barriers to the main character getting what he wants. What is stopping him from achieving his ends are those companies that refuse to hire him due to his having a "high probability of heart problems," and dying at a young age. If a company chooses not to hire someone because they have reason to think that the employee is going to die soon, then that is the prerogative of the company. The truth was that Vincent (the main character- played by Ethan Hawke) was more capable of a position at Gattaca than many others, but he would never have been accepted there if his genetically detemined "disability" had been known to the directors.

The society in Gatacca can be criticized for not understanding the role of free will in man's life. But I see no reason to asume that Vincent was legally restricted, and hence that fraud was justified.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

But isn't that a bit like criticizing Thomas Crown for theft? Or The Night of January 16th characters for doing illegal activities? One of the things the movie Gattaca aimed to do was to dramatize the main hero's sense of life, rather than put up his actions for literal imitation. And in many ways society's cultural prohibition is just as bad as legal prohibition. So I really think that what Vincent did with the fraud was actually admirable (once we go beyond literal imitation), rather than a cause for concern.

It's fun trying to convince a fan of a movie that the movie is even better than they originally thought :excl:.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post

The reason I watched this movie initially was because I recognized Wright's Marin County Civic Center as I was flipping through the movie channels on T.V.  I think it is such a testament to Wright's genius that his building which was built in 1957 is used for a modern science fiction film.

And should you find yourself anywhere near San Rafael, it is a magnificent building to tour. They even have docents that will take you around and tell you all sorts of interesting things about the building and its use. During the Objectivist conference in San Francisco a number of years ago, my son and I went to see the building while Betsy went to lectures. We befriended one of the docents and it turned out that she herself lived in a Frank Lloyd home. She invited us for a visit, and on the conference day off all three of us spent a lovely afternoon enjoying her wonderful home.

Gattaca is one of my favorite movies, despite one main flaw.  My boyfriend pointed out that the main character commits fraud. This is true, and it does detract a bit from the overall heroism of the movie.

Yes, that is one reason I referred to the movie as being near-perfect. Yet, given the overall context, I found it quite easy to ignore this in favor of the overwhelming positive aspects of his character.

However, I still really love the theme of the movie, which is: "There is no gene for the human spirit."

Sarah, that is just beautiful! It is the most-perfect way to express and capture the essence of this movie. It brings a tear of joy to my eyes because with eight simple words I am able to emotionally experience the entirety of this wonderful film. Thank you!

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

But isn't that a bit like criticizing Thomas Crown for theft? Or The Night of January 16th characters for doing illegal activities? One of the things the movie Gattaca aimed to do was to dramatize the main hero's sense of life, rather than put up his actions for literal imitation. And in many ways society's cultural prohibition is just as bad as legal prohibition. So I really think that what Vincent did with the fraud was actually admirable (once we go beyond literal imitation), rather than a cause for concern.

It's fun trying to convince a fan of a movie that the movie is even better than they originally thought :excl:.

I haven't seen The Thomas Crown Affair, so I can't comment on that. However, thanks for bringing up the Night of January 16th - that is a great point.

AR said in her intoduction to her play that it is not a philosophical play, but a sense of life play, and as such, "This means that its events are not to be taken literally; they dramatize certain fundamental psychological characteristics, deliberately isolated and emphasized in order to convey a single abstraction: the characters' attitude toward life . . . I do not think, nor did I think it when I wrote this play, that a swindler is a heroic character or that a respectable banker is a villain. But for the purpose of dramatizing the conflict of independence versus conformity, a criminal—a social outcast—can be an eloquent symbol."

I agree that Gattaca is similar to the Night of January 16th, in exactly the way that AR stated above. The movie is about his struggle to achieve his chosen purpose in life. This is why I said it is one of my favorite movies and I love its theme, despite the issue of fraud. This is not to say that I think fraud is justified, only that I don't think it plays any important role in the film.

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And should you find yourself anywhere near San Rafael, it is a magnificent building to tour.

Yes, I have every intention of visiting every FLW structure that I have the opportunity to!

Sarah, that is just beautiful! It is the most-perfect way to express and capture the essence of this movie. It brings a tear of joy to my eyes because with eight simple words I am able to emotionally experience the entirety of this wonderful film. Thank you!

Stephen, I am very glad that you appreciated that quote. I can't take credit for it myself, however; it is printed inside of the soundtrack cover. I always remembered it because it is the perfect expression of the theme of the film. I agree that it is very beautifully expressed.

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Spoilers below...

In the context of the movie, the fraud was depicted as necessary in order for the character to get what he wanted out of life. Can you really ask someone to give up any chance of achieving his dream merely in order to avoid committing fraud?

Objectivists often quote the proverb: God said, take what you want and pay for it. I think that applies in this case.

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Spoilers below...

In the context of the movie, the fraud was depicted as necessary in order for the character to get what he wanted out of life. Can you really ask someone to give up any chance of achieving his dream merely in order to avoid committing fraud?

Hmm. Howard Roark and John Galt come to mind. One thought the world might eventually come to him, and the other sought to change it. Neither committed fraud.

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Viewer beware, all my future posts in this thread will most likely contain spoilers, and for the sake of readability I will not post warnings to warn of them, so this will have to do.

Sarah,

On the one hand you maintain that the act of fraud in Gattaca is bad, but on the other you say that it isn't really important, just something minor and inconsequential to the theme and the plot of the movie. Not only will I disagree, as before, that Vincent's fraud is up for reproach (when viewed in context), but I will also disagree with you disqualifying it as irrelevant. On the contrary, Vincent's fraud is at the very heart of the movie's theme and plot, the pivotal point through which our hero enters the world scene, and sets the stage for all of his future achivements.

In our parallel discussion about The Night of January 16th, you seem to imply a similar analysis to that of Gattaca - the actions are bad, but something that can be disqualified as minor, irrelevant, and ultimately inconsequential. Not only will I again disagree on both of these accounts, but this time Ayn Rand herself will disagree too, in the very passage you've quoted. Far from them being accidental and merely tangental artifacts of the plot, Ayn Rand deliberately isolated those actions you may find disagreeable, and more than that, actually emphasized them. In other words, these criminal actions were an essential part of her theme. The criminal aspect did not introduce a negative aspect to an otherwise good theme; instead, the criminal aspect made the dramatization of the theme possible at ll. The play was not "mostly good except for a few blemishes", but "good" period. I hold that Gattaca can be viewed in exactly the same way.

I haven't seen The Thomas Crown Affair, so I can't comment on that.
That's a shame! It's a wonderful movie, Romantic in the best sense of the word. I suppose in this discussion it can form a sort of trilogy with the play and Gattaca, of themes where the criminal element plays an essential part of a good theme, and is therefore itself not condemnable, when viewed in that context. I highly recommend you watch the movie, because it dramatized this element even better than Gattaca did, and it will be even harder for you to disqualify it or to maintain its negative status. I am referring, of course to the the ineffable Pierce Brosnan version made in 1999, which I consider to be superbly benevolent in comparison to the 60s Steve McQueen version (though Stephen will certainly disagree :excl:).

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Viewer beware, all my future posts in this thread will most likely contain spoilers, and for the sake of readability I will not post warnings to warn of them, so this will have to do.

Please, no. If there are spoilers in a post the post should be prefaced by a note indicating such, as I ask in the rules. People reading the thread may ignore the post that mentions spoilers but read the ones that do not. It is only fair they be warned in each post that has spoilers. Thanks.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post

Free Capitalist,

Here, I think, are our positions: I say that fraud is not a justifiable way to achieve your ends. Yet, the hero of one of my favorite movies commits fraud, and I justify that by saying that it is not an essential part of the theme.

You, Free Capitalist, say that Vincent's fraud is both justified and relevant to the theme. Indeed, you say it “is at the very heart of the movie's theme and plot.”

I disagree. Fraud qua fraud is absolutely not the theme of the movie. It is merely a tool used by Andrew Niccol (the writer) given the society and Vincent’s place within it given his birth. Since you think fraud is essential to the theme, then you hold the burden of proof (because I honestly don't see how it could be).

Interestingly enough, I didn’t even notice the fraud issue - even after watching it dozens of times - until someone else pointed it out to me. I was so wrapped up in admiring Vincent and his extraordinary hard work in his pursuit of his values. He sets his sights on the stars and works to achieve his goal. Everyone thinks he is weak, but he knows he is not. He cares for no one's judgment but his own. The glory of this movie is watching Vincent doing what everyone else thought was impossible.

I don’t admire Vincent because he commits fraud, but rather because he is a pursuer of values. When I said that the issue of fraud is unimportant, I meant that when evaluating the hero, fraud is not an essential part of his character.

Had the writer been able to achieve all of that and left the issue of fraud out, it would have been an even greater movie. That is what I meant when I said the issue of fraud detracts from the overall heroism of the movie.

. . . Ayn Rand deliberately isolated those actions you may find disagreeable, and more than that, actually emphasized them. In other words, these criminal actions were an essential part of her theme.

I disagree. I think if you go back and reread the quote you’ll see that it does not support your claim. AR did not say that she isolated those actions, rather she used the actions as a tool in order to isolate and emphasize characteristics about the characters.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

[...]

Interestingly enough, I didn’t even notice the fraud issue - even after watching it dozens of times - until someone else pointed it out to me.

[...]

[Emphasis mine.]

I thought I was the only one who'd watched it dozens of times. Ah, lucky for Alex that he got to you first. :-)

I also didn't notice that he was committing fraud. I've always thought of the Gattaca corporation as a quasi-governmental entity -- a sort of amalgam of Fannie Mae and NASA. Or how else could genetic determinism be so culturally-dominant in the future portrayed in the movie? A respect for Reason cannot give rise to such a culture.

But, no matter; I don't think Niccol is an Objectivist. His other films, The Truman Show and S1mone also chastise corporations somewhat. But not enough to detract significantly from the story or the movies.

He also wrote the early draft for the Spielberg-directed The Terminal, but his script was "altered" by the studio. He reportedly threatened to recant the movie, but his name ended up in the credits. The movie didn't turn out too badly, but watching it, I can't help but wonder what Niccol's script looked like. He is the most integrated filmmaker today, period.

His universes are always remarkably stylized; Gattaca, for example, is chock full of integrations.

The name of the movie itself (the first letters of the four nucleotide bases of DNA [Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine], and the last two letters of AmeriCA). The use of a spiral staircase (which resembles the DNA helix) to connect the living quarters of Hawke's to Law's. Law's character is a swimmer destined for gold who won a silver, but still chose to further another man's success; Hawke's elder brother was a swimmer who "won gold" but always acted and felt like second-best, dedicating his life to another man's destruction. Hawke's character leaves for the heavens in a blazing pod; Law's character goes to Heaven in a blazing pod; The fire in the pod makes Law's silver medal look like the gold he came to deserve. Even the use of the pianist's fingers to accentuate the fact that what differentiates men physically serves to individuate us. The list goes on.

He does almost the same thing in S1mone, but creates a much sunnier world, a world full of beauty and laughter. His script ostensibly pokes harsh fun at Hollywood; however, on a deeper, more subtle level, he attacks, without bitterness, the primacy-of-consciousness metaphysics.

The Truman Show also has this "sunnier world" feel to it. A True-Man would seek answers beyond what appeared to him. [Every man, by nature, desires to know, said Aristotle.] Even though most live by what Christ (in the film Christof is the creator of the Truman Show) has ordained, no true man would do so.

Now, bearing the above in mind, especially my obvious admiration for Andrew Niccol (one of the perhaps 200 people in all of history whom I'd ever care to personally meet and listen to without interruption), you can imagine my surprise when I was about to cast my vote (a 10) and saw that I was the first to do so! Even more surprising was that someone had given Gattaca a 5! Good Heavens(!), I thought. :excl:

But, the current length of the thread and the sterling quality of its participants, some of my favorite people on this board, means, in a way, that justice has ultimately been served. :)

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

See, I'm not saying that I admire Vincent, or Kate (was that her name in Night of January 16th), or Thomas Crown, because they commit fraud. That's not exactly what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that this bad action highlights a certain depth of virtue, that would otherwise be lost or more difficult to spot. This is what I think what AR was saying, not that the criminal act was good, but the fact that the hero in that context did the criminal action was used to illustrate his goodness. Therefore, in that fictional context of fictional characters, that bad action loses its bad quality; it is still not an honorable action, but it is no longer a dishonorable one either. We simply look over it and use it as a flashlight to peer into the hero's soul, and detect what the author intended for us to see with its benefit.

You say that, were there no fraud in Gattaca it would be even better. Certainly you could make the same argument for The Night of January 16th! But Ayn Rand did not think that the play would be better off if it were cleaner, and she does have her heroes be criminals, and do things she wouldn't recommend we do as well. The reason she had such things in the play at all was a kind of literary device through which to dramatize certain admirable qualities of character that would otherwise lay dormant and invisible to the viewer. You say that a story would be better off without such unsavory aspects, but Ayn Rand certainly didn't think anything else, something more agreeable perhaps, could work better at illustrating the heroes' virtues.

You say Vicent's fraud is not important to his character. I agree, but I will say that it wasn't intended to be, and will again take a nod from AR by saying that I am glad that the fraud exists in that context of that plot and theme, for it was used by the creator to dramatize the dogged perseverence and intransigence of the hero. It was, in essence, his greatest moral achievement, to overcome the disapproval of the world and singlehandedly impose himself on the world that wouldn't have him any other way. Everything he does afterwards merely builds on his first achievement. You might say, "Surely other devices can be used, so we don't need this disagreeable one." Evidently we do need this device sometimes, as AR said. And based on my layman introspective thoughts on plot creation, I am inclined to agree. As long as there's an understanding between the author and the audience that not all actions are to be taken literally, then it'd be fine to have my hero do something that would normally be viewed as bad, but in that context would underline his virtues in a way that a more agreeable action would not be able to do. That's the whole point of using such devices, and if you watch the Thomas Crown Affair I am sure you will agree.

Anyway, we can agree to disagree, and btw it is fun to argue with someone about how good something is :excl:.

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One inconsequential diversion from the interesting discussion going on: was anyone else stunned by the physical resemblance of Ethan Hawke to the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould? At one point, I had to rewind the movie a few minutes because I spent a whole scene just staring at his face! :excl:

For fun, I took the liberty of Photoshop-ing it:

post-151-1111467676_thumb.jpg

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

I thought I was the only one who'd watched it dozens of times.  Ah, lucky for Alex that he got to you first. :-)

When I find something I really like, especially movies, I never tire of entering and re-entering that world. RE Alex, I actually consider myself the lucky one! :excl:

I don't think Niccol is an Objectivist.  His other films, The Truman Show and S1mone also chastise corporations somewhat.  But not enough to detract significantly from the story or the movies. 

Yes, I agree, Niccol is certainly not an Objectivist. I love his stylized universe, but his implicit philosophy can be quite bad. I do see an anti-genetic engineering element in Gattaca, given his view of what society would look like if it were implemented. With the plot of S1mone, he had a creative idea, but the plot resolution was terrible. If the ending had been rewritten, it would have been a far superior film. I didn't really enjoy that movie much. Mercury, thanks for all your other insightful points about all the little (and big) integrations in Niccol's films, many of which I hadn't noticed before.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

See, I'm not saying that I admire Vincent, or Kate (was that her name in Night of January 16th), or Thomas Crown, because they commit fraud . . . We simply look over it and use it as a flashlight to peer into the hero's soul, and detect what the author intended for us to see with its benefit.

Free Capitalist, I am in agreement with you here.

You say that, were there no fraud in Gattaca it would be even better. Certainly you could make the same argument for The Night of January 16th! But Ayn Rand did not think that the play would be better off if it were cleaner, and she does have her heroes be criminals, and do things she wouldn't recommend we do as well. The reason she had such things in the play at all was a kind of literary device through which to dramatize certain admirable qualities of character that would otherwise lay dormant and invisible to the viewer. You say that a story would be better off without such unsavory aspects, but Ayn Rand certainly didn't think anything else, something more agreeable perhaps, could work better at illustrating the heroes' virtues.

Would Ayn Rand have had John Galt commit fraud? I don't think the Night of January 16th portrays her complete ideal man, only his sense of life.

Anyway, we can agree to disagree, and btw it is fun to argue with someone about how good something is :excl:.

I actually don't think our disagreements are too deep, but, yes, we can agree to disagree on some points. It is fun to argue with someone who is in agreement with how overall good a movie is. It certainly helped me to clarify some points in my own mind! Thanks, Free Capitalist. :)

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. . . if you watch the Thomas Crown Affair I am sure you will agree.

Oh yes, I will have to add it to my list of movies to rent. :excl:

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

I had delayed my response to this post till the weekend, thinking I had a lot to say "in defense of" S1mone. Now, it doesn't seem like much. But, I'll give it a shot.

RE Alex, I actually consider myself the lucky one!  :excl:

Spoken like a true valuer! Such a wholesome passion cannot but succeed.

Yes, I agree, Niccol is certainly not an Objectivist. I love his stylized universe, but his implicit philosophy can be quite bad. I do see an anti-genetic engineering element in Gattaca, given his view of what society would look like if it were implemented.

I think Gattaca is more a cautionary tale than an anti-technology one. Or why else would his hero be an astronaut? Who loves technology more than astronauts?

Plus, the potential for a Gattacan society exists today. Although the movie is about determinism and not just racism (determinism being the wider concept), we can already see the rampant conflation of physiology and psychology in today's culture. This is not say that mind and body aren't one; but that mind and body are not one and the same.

Observe the teeming numbers of people of all physiologies who believe that people of certain physiologies should only listen to certain types of music or walk a certain way or work for the success of "their people." Observe the number of people who think that anti-depressant medication will automatically improve their self-made attitude; the number of women who believe breast implants will save their marriages; the world of spectators who believe that steroids alone is responsible for the great performance of athletes.

Still, I agree that Gattaca can be misinterpreted as being anti-technology. But Niccol, I believe, provides enough evidence for an evaluator to arrive at a different conclusion.

With the plot of S1mone, he had a creative idea, but the plot resolution was terrible. If the ending had been rewritten, it would have been a far superior film. I didn't really enjoy that movie much.  Mercury, thanks for all your other insightful points about all the little (and big) integrations in Niccol's films, many of which I hadn't noticed before.

######## SPOILERS FOR 'S1MONE' ###################

Well, I can accept your thesis, if by "plot resolution," you are referring to his moving back in with his wife, who wasn't a Romantic heroine. I wasn't too thrilled by that myself.

But, everything else makes sense. He told the truth about S1mone, that she didn't exist in reality, but the masses wouldn't accept it, so why not go on with the show? And who else to aid him in this but his ex-wife, who wanted him back, and his loving daughter who was loyal through it all?

Besides, there's nothing immoral about using a virtual actress to make a movie, is there? In fact, the public does not necessarily have to know the full details, so long as the creator of the "actor" does not accept any acting awards or pretend to be other than just computer-generated animation.

Pacino's character is not a total hero, and I don't think he's supposed to be. If he were, we wouldn't be able to laugh at him, which is a crucial part of the experience. No-one can laugh at a Roark or a Vincent. But Taransky is fair game, hence his neurotic behavior. He starts out as a kind of "indie" filmmaker who's had his day in the post-modern sun, but then becomes surprised when he's asked to make money for his financiers. He flounders in the attempt, owing partly to the personnel he's forced to work with.

To his good fortune, a software-engineering genius who shares his sense of life provides him with a crucial component: the dream actress: beautiful, eternally-loyal, magical. Only that she's not real.

But the world loves her. They don't know much about his movies, but they worship his actress. Taransky's worst fear (that actors - real or otherwise - are almost as crucial as writers or directors) is brought to his full attention. Audiences, for the most part, feel a need to respond to the best in themselves, and S1mone satisfied this thirst amply. Even when he tries to put her down, they yearn for her, a phenomenon which shames him thoroughly. But once he realizes that the business belongs to all the people in it, and also to those who patronize its products (the viewing public), he makes peace with reality.

The movie is a rather complex satire which doesn't cover all the Romantic angles - as one expects to be done in a taut drama such as Gattaca. However, I consider the story a genius's big, broad contemptuous grin at those who place consciousness over existence, while also benevolently thanking the better men, as well as some of the ordinary men, for their being fully conscious.

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Correction: The end of my 5th paragraph should have read:

"Observe the number of people who think that anti-depressant medication will automatically improve their self-made attitude; the number of women who believe breast implants will save their marriages; the world of spectators who believe that steroids alone are responsible for the great performance of athletes."

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