Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Showing the Human Face of Human Clones

Saturday I chanced into my friend Alfred, who generously invited me to join him for the sneak preview of The Island. The film opens generally July 22, and I think it's worth seeing.

I'll briefly review the film here, and publish a more thorough analysis after the official premier.

The director, Michael Bay, is responsible for such action/effects whoppers as Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and The Rock. The present film follows this tradition of "extra cheese" but fortunately there is a significant portion of meat underneath.1 (This is Bay's first film without Jerry Bruckheimer producing.)

Ewan McGregor plays an average man, improbably named "Lincoln Six Echo," dissatisfied with his life as a survivor of a global contamination. He and the other surivors inhabit a highly regimented, enclosed facility and their only source of hope is the possibility of winning The Lottery for transferral to the paradisical last uncontaminated place on earth, The Island.

The trailers don't shy from revealing that "there is no island," so it can't be spoiling the film too much to tell you that Lincoln discovers the entire story behind the facility is a fabrication—to say nothing of the survivors' very lives being physically fabricated. In reality, the survivors are "insurance policies" for "sponsors" on the outside, that is to say, they are clones of rich folk on the outside who want backup organs or wombs. Contrary to public image, being selected on The Island is not a happy fate, but means having an organ harvested for one's sponsor.

Scarlett Johansson is "Jordan Two Delta"2, Lincoln's mostly-Platonic friend and clone of glamorous actress, Sara Jordan3. (Sara appears only in a store-front advertisement, an actual Johansson spot for Channel from last year. There's plenty of other product placement in this film, to say the least.) Djimon Hounsou plays Albert Laurent, the bounty-hunter tearing up Los Angeles for his prey. Hounsou also starred in Amistad and the film draws the significant parallel between slavery and the inhuman plight of the clones.

This film's basic message is much needed. It is important that we assent to the transcendent value of human life, but also that we form our emotions (C.S. Lewis & Plato: "the chest") to conform to the human reality hidden in cloned embryos.

In short I recommend seeing this film. With realistic expectations it is very enjoyable. Don't walk in expecting a Gattaca-quality sci-fi art film with an air-tight plot. Do go expecting a sympathetic and occasionally thought-provoking portrayal of a class of human beings whose continued abuse and neglect depreciates all human life.

Caveats for parents

The film is MPAA rated PG-13 for intense violence, some language, and a brief (about a min) sex scene. The sex scene appeared only near the end (to fulfill what is apparently an obligatory these days), but I can't speak authoritatively on its content as I removed my glasses.

Lincoln's implausibly improvised escape perpetuates the popular myth that good things just happen (like the new-agey belief that something spontaneously arises from nothing...). Granted: the clones are innocents and, as the saying goes, "God watches over babies, drunks, and the U.S. of A.," but children need to learn that, while providence will sometimes cut us a break, success largely requires planning and hard work (just like producing a motion picture...?). As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, "I am a strong believer in luck and I find the harder I work the more I have of it." Of all the fantastic elements of this film, and parent would be wise to bring this easily missed point to their childrens' attention.

1. Ironically the cheesiness of the film is a great thing. Hollywood films are by nature cheesy, and who would have thought a Hollywood film would even get near such a "pregnant" topic? Yahoo movies has a clip of Bay, McGregor, and Sean Bean discussing "the morality of cloning"; I haven't been able to get it to show on my machine yet, so caveat emptor.

2. The clones' third names designate their generation or batch, but is it pure coincidence that the male lead's name ends in "o" and the female's in "a"?

3. Johannsen's alter ego shares her initials.

Michael Bay, dir., The Island (2005). [Official Site]


Catez said...

Great post! You don't have trackback so I hope it's alright to put it here:
Trackback from Allthings2all:
Scene and Herd: 13-JUL-05

Excerpt: The Island: Real Physics has had a sneak preview of "The Island" and reviews this upcoming movie ...

Lawrence Gage said...

Thanks, Catez!

Here's another review--much more professionally written than mine, but definitely aimed at video-gamers.