"The Island" is one of the best science fiction movies I've seen in a long time. Aside from its obvious strengths, which include stunning action sequences thanks to director Michael Bay, "The Island" also explores important science fiction themes that are reflected in today's culture of corporate ethics, medical ethics, prison populations, organ transplantation, class warfare and others. The movie is based on the idea that, sometime in the near future, the wealthy citizens of the world might pay a private corporation to grow replacement body parts so that the clients might achieve immortality even as they destroy their own organs through unhealthy lifestyle choices such as reckless drinking, partying, drug use, smoking and consuming junk foods.
In "The Island," a private corporation is selling this organ-replacement service to wealthy clients, and telling them the organs are grown in a laboratory. But in reality, the corporation is cloning these wealthy clients and growing entire adult organisms -- human beings who have consciousness, intelligence, feelings, memories and creativity -- and then "harvesting" those humans when the replacement organs are needed by the paying clients.
To keep the clones controlled, they are told that they are the planet's only survivors of a global biological contamination disaster that makes it impossible for anyone to leave the cloning facility. When a paying client in the real world has a sudden need for a liver or other organs, the cloned human is told they've won the lottery and that they'll get to move to the only uncontaminated tropical island left on the earth, where they will enjoy a tropical paradise of prosperity. In reality, they are taken from the cloned human population, sedated, and then surgically stripped of their organs, which are delivered for transplantation to the paying client.
Not as far-fetched as it sounds
If it all sounds far-fetched, it actually isn't. There's talk today of not only growing human organs for precisely this purpose, there is also talk about using animals as hosts for human organs. There are plans to genetically modify pigs so that they can grow human hearts that could then be surgically taken out of the pig and implanted into wealthy customers who have the funds to pay for such a procedure. Pigs, of course, are mammals. Pigs have memories, emotions and families; they have life force and consciousness. They even have their own language and modes of expression. Pigs are living, breathing beings much like the cloned humans in this movie
. Yet some modern medical scientists would treat them like the cloned humans are treated in the movie: As a "product" that can be killed and stripped of its organs at the command of a for-profit corporation that routinely placed profits before ethics.
In the movie, the cloned humans are treated worse than animals. They're actually treated like products. In fact, they are called product, not humans. When one of them escapes, the administrator of the facility finds himself in the awkward position of explaining to a group of bounty hunters that, "[his] product has escaped."
The script of "The Island" is insightful, as it explores the issue of corporate and medical ethics in one power-packed presentation. Would corporations cross these boundaries and use conscious beings as products in order to generate profits? If you know anything about corporations and the way they act today, the answer is undeniably "yes." They are doing so right now, in fact. Approximately forty percent of the U.S. population is now being used for medical experimentation by the prescription drug industry, where dangerous drugs with no long-term safety record are knowingly unleashed on the population in order to generate profits for Big Pharma corporations. Thus, the ethics demonstrated in "The Island" almost perfectly mirror the lack of virtuous principles practiced by free market corporations in the United States today. In fact, I don't find the corporate activity in this sci-fi thriller to be any different than what's actually happening in the real world right now.
Movie doctor parallels real-life MDs by thinking his misdeeds are for the "greater good"
Interestingly, the inventor of this cloning process and the head of the cloning facility (played by actor Sean Bean), believes he is doing a great service for humanity. He thinks he is a pioneering scientist who is acting within the guidelines of positive ethics and helping to extend the lives of patients. Yet his god complex blinds him to the ethical questions he has chosen to ignore in his effort to commercialize his pioneering technology.
This puts him squarely in the shoes of many medical researchers and scientists living in the real world, who routinely put their power, ego and profits ahead of fundamental principles of ethics. It leads the intelligent viewer to ask some important questions about modern medical ethics, such as: Should our nation's children be drugged on brain-altering narcotic chemicals? Should people be told that normal human behaviors are actually brain chemistry diseases that must be treated with patented chemicals? Should scientists be allowed to "play God" with the human body? When does consciousness begin and in what life forms is consciousness present? What is the definition of pain and suffering and, ultimately, what is the value of human life and the human experience?
"The Island" doesn't stop with these fascinating questions. It also explores other contentious themes such as prison labor. In the cloning facility, cloned humans are put to work, given simplistic jobs feeding amino acids into the food tubes that ultimately help generate new cloned human beings. They are told that they are manufacturing food for the cafeteria, but in reality, these slaves unknowingly perpetuate the system of enslavement by helping make more clones.
This mirrors what goes on in the prison system in the United States today. The United States is the world leader of imprisoning its own people, managing to incarcerate an alarming percentage of its population while simultaneously turning some of those prisoners into for-profit slave workers. This is what happens when prisoners are handed over to for-profit corporations that use prison labor to manufacture items that are then sold to consumers for profit.
Control of the masses via media propaganda
In the area of media and propaganda, "The Island" does a solid job of demonstrating how a population is very easily controlled through media messages and entertainment distractions such as the lottery. The inhabitants of this human cloning facility are, in essence, told a big lie
about why they're there and what exists in the real world outside the cloning facility. This lie is reinforced by the corporate-run media, which is of course centrally produced for the sole purpose of keeping the clone population ignorant of their true reason for being alive.
The big lie is that these clones are special people who may someday be lucky enough to be selected by the lottery. The lottery itself serves the same purpose as many aspects of our society today, such as sports, elections and television sitcoms, all of which effectively distract people from the big lie. People in the real world today are also living the big lie perpetrated by our own corporate-influenced media. Most people are, in essence, wage slaves who live under the illusion that they're working towards a life of happy retirement, full of riches and accelerating home equity, when in fact, they are simply perpetuating a system of financial exploitation engineered by controlling corporations that will most likely leave them bankrupt and dependent on harmful medications.
The "save for retirement" scam now being perpetrated on the American people is a big lie for a number of reasons, one of which is the simple fact that almost all U.S. citizens hold their savings in U.S. dollars as the default currency, and thanks to unstoppable spending by the federal government, the U.S. dollar will eventually have to be hyperinflated, thereby wiping out the savings of anyone foolish enough to be caught holding worthless greenbacks. The U.S. government's urging of citizens to save money in their retirement accounts is much like the tropical island lottery myth repeatedly sold to the clones. Give people hope, even if it's a lie, and they will keeping working like slaves.
Obviously, the system of control we experience in the real world today is a lot more complex than the one portrayed in "The Island," but it is no less effective. The system used in the movie's story was able to maintain near complete control over its inhabitants while exploiting them for massive corporate profits, all in the name of helping people and advancing science. Sounds a lot like Big Pharma, huh?
The action never stops
On the action side, "The Island" is a phenomenal action flick. To some degree, the action actually interferes with the depth of the script that could have been explored if the movie had been treated more as a science fiction classic than an action flick. Still, the action itself represents some of the best I've seen in a long time, and it helps keep the pace of the movie moving along quite briskly, unlike other sci-fi classics, such as "2001, A Space Odyssey," the Stanley Kubrick classic that could put you to sleep in mere minutes if you weren't interested in science fiction.
I found the acting in "The Island" to be, for the most part, outstanding. The star, Ewan McGregor (who also played Obi Wan Kenobi in the three "Star Wars" prequels), pulls off his acting brilliantly and makes a convincing play as two characters, both the cloned human and the wealthy Scottish client in the real world. The other actors pull off their jobs convincingly as well. Sean Bean, in particular, is simply outstanding, but that's to be expected from someone with his training and experience. He's truly a master of the art.
There are a few action scenes that require a leap of faith, such as the idea that the two main characters, who are holding onto a giant corporate logo that falls off the side of a 70-story skyscraper, manage to survive by being flung into chain link fence at the last instant. But overall, the scientific premise of the movie is feasible, if not eerily accurate, given what's happening today with stem cell research, cloning technology and the lack of medical ethics in private industry.
"The Island" and other sci-fi movies give great insight into "big lies"
In terms of the viewer experience, the movie deserves accolades for keeping you involved in the discovery process of the big lie, paralleling the main character, Lincoln Six-Echo, played by Ewan McGregor. This is a smart way to move the story forward. It keeps the viewer entertained, intrigued, and curious.
The big lie structure of the movie reminds me a lot of some other great films, including "Soylent Green," and of course, "The Matrix." Another film that explores the big lie is "The Truman Show," one of my all-time favorite movies starring Jim Carrey. Don't forget "Pleasantville," starring, believe it or not, Toby Maguire before his stardom took off from "Spiderman."
If you really want to see how today's world operates behind the curtain, it's not at all unreasonable to study some of these great films. Art often imitates life, and many Hollywood script writers have a clearer view of what's really going on in the world today than, say, your average cable news journalist. I recommend viewing "Soylent Green," the first "Matrix", "Pleasantville," "The Truman Show" and, of course, "The Island."
After viewing all these movies, if you don't start to get the idea that maybe a big lie can be easily pulled off, you might want to consider the possibility that you are part of a big lie yourself. If you could only get to the other side of the hologram, maybe you too could see the world from an entirely new perspective just like the characters in these movies.
Overall, "The Island" earns a strong thumbs-up recommendation. It delivers great action and an intelligent exploration of important themes that are reflected in our society today. Enjoy.