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The Island (2005)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“They don't want you to know what you are.”

Like many movies made in the last decade (Matrix, Truman Show, etc.), one of this film's themes proposes that things in the actual lives of its protagonists (and by reasonable artistic extension: that of the viewer) differ from what they seem. Before the movie ends both viewers and the movie's protagonists discover the differences in the film's world. Like many other films from director Michael Bay, this film also contains complex and extraordinary action sequences. Although as science fiction it may seem a bit strained at times (for different reasons than the Matrix), it should still have some appeal to SF/Sci-Fi aficionados as well as anti-establishment individualists.

The film opens with what seems an almost quasi-Randian sequence at sea. A boat, apparently piloted by Lincoln 6 Echo (Ewan McGregor), also carries Jordan 2 Delta (Scarlett Johansson) through a beautiful aquatic environment. Abruptly, events take what seems an unpleasant turn. Unidentified men take them overboard, capturing Lincoln and Jordan. A figure, who appears to wield authority, tells Lincoln: “You're special. You have a very special purpose in life. You've been chosen.” Sequences of what seem like past events flash on the screen. The authority figure tells him: “The Island awaits you.”

The flashing images change to a figure laying in bed. Lincoln 6 Echo wakes from his dream. A ceiling mounted screen displays “GOOD MORNING, LINCOLN SIX ECHO” then “ERRATIC REM SLEEP CYCLE DETECTED.” Lincoln sits up in bed to observe a similar wall mounted display showing “PLEASE REPORT TO TRANQUILITY CENTER.” Lincoln seems less than ecstatic at the prospect and murmurs “I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine” into his hands as they hold his head. Rising, he heads to his bathroom. The wall display adds: “FOR WELLNESS EVALUATION – 0800 HOURS.” As he urinates, another screen mounted at eye level displays: “SCREENING...”; then: “SODIUM EXCESS DETECTED” and “ADVISING NUTRITION CONTROL.” He offers his wrist bracelet to a scanner mounted in the wall. Drawers in the wall open with clothing for him, but one of his pairs of footwear lacks a left shoe. He speaks into a pick-up also in the wall telling of this “misfortune” and the camera shifts to the receiver's end, where monitors track hundreds of similar situations.

As Lincoln walks down corridors apparently on his way to the Tranquility Center, he greets many similarly attired other inhabitants also en route to their respective destinations. He speaks with Gandu Three Echo (Brian Stepanek). When Gandu asks: “How ya doin'?” Lincoln tells him of his missing shoe. While Gandu, Lincoln and others ride the elevator one of its walls becomes a screen which flashes a sequence of vaguely familiar images (from Lincoln's dream), finally showing an island. An attractive woman announces that Starkweather 2 Delta (Michael Clarke Duncan) has won The Lottery and will leave for The Island. A jealous Gandu strikes the display, which attracts the attention of a monitor who dispatches police. Gandu makes excuses and they leave, but the point has been made: don't get out of line.

At breakfast in a cafeteria line, the server refuses to give Lincoln bacon because of his reported dietary needs. When Lincoln meets Jordan she tells him to: “Watch and learn.” When Jordan goes into the cafeteria line the same server who was surly to Lincoln displays far friendlier ways with Jordan. She gets 5 slices of bacon. When Jordan rejoins Lincoln they exchange some dialog which might seem to carry an undertone of sexual innuendo. She gives Lincoln the bacon before a guard tells them to separate.

Arriving at his appointment, Lincoln meets with Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean). Dr. Merrick asks Lincoln about Jordan, whose files he had been reviewing. Merrick expresses concern over possible “proximity” problems and also Lincoln's nightmares and metabolic changes. Lincoln expresses vague dissatisfaction with his life. He has questions. Essentially, he does not like his life's regimented and meaningless character. Merrick tells Lincoln of his luck in surviving “the contamination” and nature giving him “a garden of Eden to repopulate.” Merrick runs some tests. Those tests show some more obvious “serpents” in Lincoln's paradise.

Arriving late at work, Lincoln talks with his workmate and friend Jones Three Echo (Ethan Phillips). Lincoln expresses some of his doubts about their jobs to Jones, who seems incurious until Gandu joins them and they discuss the Lottery. Jones shows that he also has doubts by offering his speculation that someone might have rigged the Lottery. He has composed mostly indecipherable scribblings which he shares with Lincoln. Jones predicts that he will win the next lottery.

Later at work Lincoln claims to have computer problems and goes to meet a staff acquaintance: McCord (Steve Buscemi) in a maintenance area. McCord seems much like a regular early 21st century person, i.e. not like the others in Lincoln's world. With the exception of Djimon Hounsou's character: Albert Laurent, who enters the story later, I've introduced all the central characters. When Jordan wins the next lottery and will go to the Island, events show Lincoln that his world differs considerably from what he has been told about it. The need for action seems immediate. Information which might contain spoilers follows.

In many aspects this film qualifies as a remake of Parts: The Clonus Horror or Clonus. Although I didn't notice any crediting of that much earlier film, the ideas behind the stories seem very similar, though in some ways they differ: plot details, budget, quality of direction and acting, etc. From those differences / benefits The Island makes large gains over its predecessor. Clonus has a poor reputation, which I don't believe it wholly deserves. A fair amount of time has passed since I last saw it. When it was “honored” by “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (MST3K), I saw many things in the film which I believed deserved more positive attention.

As I recall, Clonus displayed a very antistatist attitude. In The Island that has been moderated somewhat. The main villain, a scientist with a “god complex,” heads a corporation. Although he has been enabled by the State and they benefit from his work, Merrick does not work directly for the State. Perhaps that divergence relates to differences in the cultural milieus of the two periods; or, more likely, the differing ideologies of the film makers. In any case, both films target the establishment class and its exploitation of innocents. One of Clonus' taglines was “Welcome to America.” Although The Island has been rated much higher than Clonus, both have their good points. If you like SF action with an anti-establishment slant, I think you'll like The Island.

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