Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlet Johansson, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou.
Director: Michael Bay
Distributed by: Dreamworks
“You Have Been Chosen.”
“You have a very special purpose. You want to go to The Island.” Or so you may be told in the year 2019, according to Michael Bay’s science-fiction/action film, The Island. A global contamination of the world led to the establishment of a high-tech compound where everything related to the lives of the residents is monitored and regulated. The restlessness of sleep cycles, nutritional excesses and deficiencies, clothing colors, and even the proximity between men and women are strictly and rigorously measured. The residents all have jobs to complete in the compound, but they live for one goal: To win the lottery so that they can go to The Island, “nature’s last remaining pathogen-free zone.”
Viewers are immediately introduced to the film’s protagonist, Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) who is the first resident “to question his environment, his whole existence” in the compound and the goings-on within it and lamenting that there isn’t “more than just waiting to go to The Island.” He discusses his concerns with fellow residents, Jones Three Echo (Ethan Phillips), Gandu Three Echo (Brian Stepanek), and his closest friend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlet Johansson), which leads them to start wondering questions of their own. Lincoln also brings up his questions with Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), the director of the compound and the owner of quite possibly the coolest interactive desk in existence. This conversation puts Lincoln on Dr. Merrick’s radar as someone to watch a bit more closely, and the audience begins to notice the subtle signs that things are not quite right in the compound. The plot really picks up when Jordan wins the lottery. Lincoln’s uneasy feelings and curiosity lead him to discover the truth about The Island along with who and what he – and the residents like him – really are. With this new knowledge, Lincoln’s first thought is to save Jordan’s life by escaping Dr. Merrick’s compound. They are helped by Mac McCord (Steve Buscemi), a pivotal character to the story, whose profession is a tech staff member in the compound who befriended Lincoln through several conversations about life before the contamination. Mac answers Lincoln’s and Jordan’s questions and helps them as they become fugitives in an unfamiliar and hostile world.
The Island may be a science-fiction/action film, and it delivers on both counts, but the action is not its best aspect. That distinction goes specifically to the prominent and vivid use of color in the film. Not only is environmental color clearly a major factor, but it is used symbolically and it is used well! The Island features three dominant environmental colors: white, blue, and yellow. The residents of the Merrick Institute all wear white, the walls are white, and their rooms are white. This is because the residents and their lives are empty, blank-slates. Within the confines of the compound, blues are everywhere! Blue is often used in media to symbolize calm, peace, tranquility, and relaxation which is precisely what the staff of the Merrick Institute make sure to instill in the residents of the compound to make them more malleable and obedient to the staff and to Dr. Merrick. This is clear with the intercom’s morning announcement reminding the residents to “be polite, pleasant, and peaceful.” Blue is everywhere in this compound. The most noteworthy color choice is every single time the film makes yellow the dominant environmental color. Yellow is a color that represents enlightenment, knowledge, and curiosity. This should go without saying that in every instance that Lincoln’s curiosity is piqued, he experiences something new, when he learns more about who and what he is, or when he simply receives answers to his questions, yellow saturates that moment or scene. The use of color in The Island is vivid, deliberate, visually appealing, and most importantly, meaningful. However, the film’s visuals, while dominantly featuring color psychology and symbolism, don’t skimp on the action half of this science-fiction/action film. There are plenty of action sequences including a chase on foot, another chase on foot, hand-to-hand combat, a car being chased by cars and helicopters, and a car chase that becomes an aerial chase with many explosions along the way. That last one concludes with a side-character exclaiming, “That was the craziest mess I ever seen!” Action lovers will not be disappointed with The Island.
Neither will the academics and the intellectuals be disappointed because there is so much for those viewers to sink their teeth into with The Island, particularly with regards to philosophical, moral, and ethical concepts. There are many of them sprinkled throughout as main thematic elements and the situations of Lincoln and Jordan should make viewers think about these questions and concepts. What does it mean to be human or not human? What defines life? What is sentience? What is consciousness? As the movie progresses, viewers should be thinking about the ethics and morality involved in mental and brain conditioning, free will, bodily autonomy, immortality, inevitability, slavery and slave labor, governments preferring an uneducated and obedient populace, eugenics, and genocide. All of these topics come up throughout The Island though very rarely are they explicitly stated with the exception of a scene later in the film between Dr. Merrick and Mr. Laurent (Djimon Hounsou), in which the latter poses the question, “When did killing become a business for you?” The Island brings up all of these philosophical, ethical, and moral questions effectively as the plot continues, and if viewers aren’t thinking about at least one of these questions or concepts, then they just aren’t paying that much attention to the movie.
There’s no question that The Island is a science-fiction/action film, but it’s properly imbued with philosophical ideas like science-fiction should be and certainly cannot be dumbed down to a mindless action romp because it’s more than that. The cast delivers top-notch and understatedly emotional performances, including the supporting roles. You’re rooting for Lincoln and Jordan the entire time, and you look forward to a time when Dr. Merrick gets brought down a notch from his towering hubris and uncompassionate coldness. The childlike naiveté of the supporting cast earns your empathy. The cast does an excellent job in all performances with a more intellectual-than-usual science-fiction/action script. While tackling these cerebral concepts, The Island is ultimately a survival story for Lincoln and Jordan. As Mac tells Lincoln, who reiterates the line later in the film, “The only thing you can count on is that people will do anything to survive.” Audiences will likely agree. However, by the end of The Island, the question every viewer should ask themselves is, “Where would you draw the line?”
Renovatio in Latin means ‘Rebirth.’
As with many of Michael Bay directed films, the visuals and action scenes in The Island are beautiful and brilliantly executed. However, the plot of the film is thin and little more than a vehicle to carry us from impressive visual to impressive visual. For a film that seems to want to raise social and ethical questions about humanity, it does not delve far enough into these topics to make me reflect on them for more than a second. But, the actors deliver solid and even exceptional performances with what they have and the action sequences are fun and exciting. A sub-par sci-fi/action film, but fun for a fan of the director or actors.