The Island Is No Paradise
If it were possible, as it likely soon will be, for people to grow ‘clones’ in a laboratory setting, thereby making it possible to harvest parts from them for medical procedures, should it be done? Will these clones, being man-made, have souls? Should they be considered human? All very troubling, very complex questions.
Unless you’re Michael Bay, in which case they’re trifling concerns, far less important than glass breaking in slow motion and exploding things of every sort. The man who set outer space aflame in Armageddon is back to take on more timely subject matter. Set in 2019, The Island stars Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor as agnates, sentient clones commissioned by the super-wealthy and whose body parts are harvested as needed like so many stalks of wheat. Your agnate ensures that you won’t have to wait on a donor list if your kidneys fail, or that you can have a surrogate mother to save you the pain of childbirth. Not that these copies know what ‘— or where ‘— they are. Programmed to believe they’re the only survivors of a worldwide plague, they wait in their subterranean bunker for their chance to go to the Island, the last uncontaminated spot on earth. When their sponsor is in dire straits, it’s the agnate’s turn to win the lottery.
It’s already a widely noted criticism that McGregor and Johansson’s characters, though well-acted, are horribly inconsistent. Mentally, the agnates are supposed to be 15 years old, but they shed their naÃ¯vetÃ© when the plot requires it. In fact, the plot becomes negotiable pretty early on, constantly breaking with the film’s reality to clean up whatever mess it’s written into. The product placement, excessive even by today’s standards, doesn’t help. (Why, for instance, are people in 2019 driving brand new 2006 GM products?) These ingrained commercials would be annoying in any film, but in one that already stretches logic to a tether, they underscore how fast and loose the filmmakers are willing to play with their creation.
But the heart of Michael Bay’s appeal has never been the story. Supposedly, it’s the action. Sorry, not buying it. Nearly everything meant as spectacle in his films is obscured by the violent shaking of his camera, making even the most ‘fun’ parts of the film visually incomprehensible, and The Island is just more of the same. Only by looking at the wreckage in the aftermath of an action sequence can you piece together what went on beforehand. Consequently, this film doesn’t offer anything you can’t see at a demolition derby.
The Island somehow ends up as a diatribe against scientific hubris. (Damn those scientists and their progress!) In Bay’s films, there have to be painfully obvious heroes and villains, and herein the latter are easily vilified by their cold euphemisms ‘— the clones aren’t people, they’re ‘products.’ Thus, people aren’t killed; products are merely disposed of. It’s a cheap mechanism, employed for the sole purpose of making the cartoon bad guys more evil. And like many elements of The Island, including the action scenes of which Bay is so proud, it’s borrowed from better works of dystopian science fiction. Even though the subject of human cloning is still on the horizon, it’s an issue that may well become more prominent in our lifetime, so perhaps it should be treated more sincerely than Bay does here. He doesn’t seem to care about his characters, his story, or his overall vision. He shouldn’t blame his audience for not caring either.