The Island: A Movie Review

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on August 17, 2005

The Island falls flat because director Michael Bay couldn’t’t decide whether to make a Hollywood action flick or a provocative film calling into question the creation of a cloned class of people to serve as spare parts for society’s rich and famous.

The film begins in a sterile, high tech environment, where those who live there have been rescued from some terrible global contamination. As new people arrive, they are told they are just more survivors who have been found and rescued. Each day the people get plenty of rest, exercise and dietary scrutiny. Their every move is monitored and controlled. To keep them happy and to give them something to be hopeful for, there is a lottery each day, where one lucky person is selected to go to the Island-freedom in paradise.

Ewan McGregor’s character, troubled by nightmares and bad hunches finds out one day that the lucky lottery winner is not going to the Island, but has been called up because the ‘client’ has become sick and is in need of an organ transplant. What McGregor’s character witnesses is ghoulish; slimy people being grown in pods, women being killed after delivering their clone’s babies and Island ‘winners’ being sacrificed for their organs.

He manages to escape with his friend, played by Scarlett Johansson, who has just been selected to go to the Island. Their goal is to tell others what is happening. Of course they realize all to soon, that others really would rather not know about this dirty little secret and that clients have paid some serious money for their own personal “product”. There is not much concern surrounding the cloning industry.

Throughout the film, Bay does an excellent job of raising great questions about what it means to be human, who is human and who is not, and about the ethical use of science and technology for the human good. There is even the bad, evil Dr. Merrick who plays the mad scientist turned God (the film overtly and ham-handedly portrays him as the God character). But instead of pushing his audience to come to some serious conclusions Bay distracts you with cars being trashed, buildings being blown up and way too many scenes that are just so unbelievable that they take away from the film’s core message-cloning is bad, ethically and morally.

Bay should have decided what kind of film he wanted to make before he began filming The Island. He should have asked himself if he wanted to make a film about the ethical limits of science and the appropriateness of human beings used to serve others, or did he want to make another Arnold Schwarzenegger, terminator type film? Because film is such a powerful medium, I wish Bay would have focused more on the ethics this movie explores and leave the car chases and blow-ups to lesser talents.

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