My wife has beaten me to the punch in posting about it, but we saw the sci fi flick The Island last night. We didn’t see it just because Scarlett Johansson was in the film, although that might be a fine reason. We’ve been seeing a lot of films in the theatres this summer, something we have not done much of for some time. I think we’ve hit most of the blockbusters and The Island, while not as good as could have been, is not a shabby flick at all.
The film is also surprisingly friendly to pro life concerns – Ewan MacGregor and Johansson play a pair of runaway clones, fleeing the facility that created them merely to be an insurance plan for its wealthy clients – one of whom is the president of the United States.
The film is beautifully shot, with some terrific lighting that reminded me of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. Scott had nothing to do with this one, however. Micheal Bay directed and he does a pretty fair job. For Bay that means he actually let the story build once and a while, in between long scenes of carnage and mayhem. The carnage and mayhem are well done and there is a highway chase that is almost as good as the one in the second Matrix film. My bones took a beating in that sequence.
Still, I wish the story could have been given just a little more depth. It’s missing a soliloquy on the sancticy of life. It offers instead Steve Buschemi explaining to MacGregor and Johansson that since they were created by men, they have no souls. The clones look on blankly, and from this I suspect we are to surmise that Buschemi is wrong on both counts. Look, I plant a seed in my back yard, but I can’t take the credit for “creating” the plant. All I’ve done is supply conditions conducive to its growth. The film could milk the wrongness of its premise just a bit better than it does. The gunplay under a broken angel statue is a step in the right direction.
The negatives include large, blatant product placement scenes for MSN and Cadillac, a somewhat too low key role for Johansson, and one gaping plot flaw. The plot flaw is that somehow we are to believe that MacGregor’s character is the first of a whole batch of clones who has somehow inherited the memories and skills of his original. I’m at a loss as to how that is possible. A clone is built off of the genetic code of the original and that code does not include memories. There is even a name for this discredited theory, Lamarckism. This idea is utterly uncessesary to the film and it actually undermines the premise in some ways, ie. perhaps the cloning would be ok if the memories were not there? Better to just leave it out.
If it really was possible to transfer the full identity of an original into a clone, you would have a very different film, one that raises very different questions. It would be less of a film about the sanctity of life and more of a film about the question of identity. If you’re intrigued by the questions raised by the idea of ‘cut and paste’ identities Greg Egan wrote a good novel on the subject called Permutation City. See the Wikkipedia entry here. Egan writes really terrific hard sci fi.
The biggest plus remains The Island’s premise, which serves to show how a western free market countries can (and do!) engage in Lysenkoism, or the subordination of science to ideology – in this case the ideology of “choice” over all other considerations.
Finally, I should mention that the movie is also very violent and not suited to young kids but could be an excellent starting point for discussion with teens.
For more on The Island see here.
A summer movie re-cap…
Worth Seeing –
The Dukes of Hazzard, and
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Revenge of the Sith.