Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Island: A "pro-life" action flick [movie, *** out of 5]

Ginny and I saw "The Island" last night. It was part futuristic dystopian sci-fi, part mindless computer generated action flick, and part ham handed political diatribe against abortion and/or stem cell research. If this seems like a weird combination to you, it did to us too. I'll get to the pro-life part later, but it will involve spoilers so I'll give a clear warning when they come.

The story centers around two characters played by Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.

Garth: "She's a babe."
Wayne: "She's a robo-babe. In Latin she would be called 'babia majora'."
Garth: "If she were a president she would be Baberaham Lincoln."

Anyway, Scarlett and Ewan play two cute little model citizens in a closed and tightly monitored society reminiscent of the one in Brave New World. Each day they are told by a smiling pretty face and by instant messages how lucky they are to be protected in their little bubble, away from the deadly poison that the earth's atmosphere has become. And if they win the lottery, which EVERYONE does eventually ("Your day will come!" chirp the cheerful ads) they'll be transported to The Island, the one outdoor area on earth that is somehow free of contamination, and they can frolic and cavort outside forever.

So I'm sure it will be no big shock to anybody who's picked up this sort of story in their lives, that the whole thing is based on a lie. I won't give away what the lie is just yet. I will say that I saw exactly what was happening a very long time before the reveal happened, partly based on a review I accidentally read which revealed the theme in the first couple of paragraphs, though not the particulars.

The special effects are kind of cool, the vision of a near-future LA (2019) was nicely rendered. The action sequences were fairly exciting until they got very, very, very stupid. I'll just give three examples from one chase scene that should tell you all you need to know.

Our Heroes are speeding away on some sort of motorcycle/hovercraft device. They fly through a skyscraper. The glass of the windows on the side of the building shatters completely as they pass through it. They emerge with maybe a minor scratch or two, even though they are not even in an enclosed vehicle.

On reaching the other side, they shoot out of the building and lose control of the vehicle. They both fall off, but luckily they happen to land on the corporate logo in the shape of a giant letter "R". A wide shot reveals that this logo takes up a teeny, tiny amount of the overall area on the side of the building.

In order to pull off this landing, I guess they should feel lucky that (1) they happened to be on THAT side of the building instead of one of the other three, and (2) they came out precisely in the center, rather than off to one side or the other, and (3) they were RIGHT ABOVE IT, so the short drop didn't kill them anyway, and (4) they didn't overshoot the very narrow logo and fly right over it, and (5) it wasn't the letter "A".

So after they land on this letter, the bad guys manage to detach it from the building and man, woman and letter plummet from a height of 40 stories or so. Do they snag a rope on the way down? Does a plane catch them? No. They fall all the way... and then they land in some netting. Not a fine mesh net, mind you, but a sort of tangle of rope. Even with the net there, I would think the impact would have killed them anyway if not actually sliced them to ribbons.

I'll get to the spoilers in a minute, but first I want to mention that Steve Buscemi is one of those people who can unfailingly appear in a bad movie and make it temporarily good by virtue of his presence. I love Steve Buscemi.

Warning: spoilers coming soon, but not quite yet.

The movie did contain an extremely blunt and badly mishandled pro-life argument. I wasn't the only one who thought this. Ginny and I came out of the movie and both started asking each other "Was it just me, or...?"

It doesn't deal specifically with abortion or stem cell research, but it hits you over the head with the message hard enough that you'd have to be pretty clueless not to catch it. Apparently a lot of reviewers are pretty clueless, because in skimming reviews, almost nobody mentions it, even at liberal sites like Salon and Slate. Exceptions: the New York Times reviewer saw an anti-abortion message, and the Onion AV Club saw anti-stem cell. They're both right.

Warning: Spoilers! Stop reading now unless you have already seen The Island or never plan to.














There is no island, and the earth is not ruined. These people are all clones, living in a bunker and surrounded by a holographic projection. Those who win the lottery are taken away to an operating room where they are killed and then harvested for organs, which are then given to the rich and powerful people from whom they were cloned. (The clones are around 2-5 years old but they are born as adults. Stupid adults.)

The bad guy is the company CEO, who says "Originally we planned to keep them in a persistent vegetative state" (SCHIAVO ALERT! WHOOP! WHOOP! Did you miss the subtle reference?) "but the organs don't survive that way, so we have to let them grow up and walk around."

They lie to the clients and investors, letting them believe that the clones aren't conscious.

In case you're still not getting the message, the villain makes some villainous speeches just to make sure you understand that he's with the pro-choice and pro-research establishment. "Come on!" he says. "We created them, we can destroy them! These clones don't have SOULS!" And, "In a few years we'll be able to cure leukemia with this project." Yeah, what are you, some kind of anti-medical nut?

So the doctor is this ghoulish SOB who only cares about the fame and money, and he feels free to research on clones and kill them, while telling himself that they're not really human. Doesn't this sound just like a pro-choice person?

Well uh, no. It sounds like a pro-life caricature of a pro-choice person.

I don't care if they have "souls" or not. The clones have active brains. They have personalities. They can communicate. Their nervous systems can feel pain. All of which, duh, is EXACTLY what most pro-choice people would agree is what separates a person from a fetus. Or a blastocyst. Or someone in PVS.

So, the doctor, who I guess is meant to be a stand-in for a guy who makes pro-choice arguments, is quite frankly a lunatic. I'm one of the most pro-choice people around, and I think he's a lunatic. And it's okay if you want me to believe that a lunatic is the head of his own company. Happens all the time. However, it is completely impossible for me to swallow the idea that with all the people who also know the secret -- doctors, scientists, technicians, and so on -- not one of them is really bothered by what they do all that much, and none of them feel like they should blab this to the press.

So obviously nobody feels like this what they're doing is really all that bad, and yet everybody agrees that it would be a complete PR disaster if the rest of the world found out, and they would be shut down. So if people are smart enough to see that this is a bad idea, why don't any of the grunts agree?

And then there's a scene where Ewan McGregor meets his sponsor, his other self, who is a filthy rich inventor. I will call the original EM and the clone EM2. At first EM and EM2 get along famously -- turns out that EM2 not only has EM's DNA, but also acquired some of his memory. (Horrible, horrible science. But we'll let it slide.) Then EM remembers he has only a year or two to live. So he decides he will turn EM2 over to the guys who are pursuing him, or even kill EM2 himself so he can get at all those yummy organs.

All this makes perfect sense in the fundamentalist worldview, where people are basically rotten and will do anything to survive. [fundie]Heck, women will even murder their own poor little babies so they don't have a little bit of inconvenience![/fundie]

Except that people don't act like that. Really. They don't. I don't know a single person who would act like that. Oh sure, we're willing to drop bombs on people half a country away, but we don't have to look them in the face and have a conversation first. Even our soldiers don't do THAT.

Excuse me, but did they bother to ask me? I'm pro-choice. Even if I have only two years to live, I don't kill the guy who's sipping chardonnay in my living room so I can get his organs. Clones or no clones. If the people in this world are willing to do that kind of thing without being troubled by the ethical issues, then why bother cloning anyone at all? Why not just grab people off the street and say "Congratulations, you won the lottery! Step into this helicopter, please..."

In the end, the anti-choice message is so blatant that it's hard to miss, but so badly handled that it's hard for me to imagine anyone seeing themselves in it.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the heads up. I won't be seeing this one. I haven't read anything good about it.

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  2. It's a remake!
    I saw this film years ago, possibly under a differnt title.

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