A flood of reverse motion images captured in colored filters and fisheye lens, The Island bursts onto the screen in a frantic fever dream, caterwauling through faint remembrances of childhood, destruction and persecution before submerging into steely blue water. The nightmare belongs to Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), a resident of an authoritarian society that shelters itself from chemical contamination in a domed structure, one lined with lofty elevators and chilly arctic columns, resembling a pressure-washed variant of Metropolis’ underground factories.
Lincoln inhabits a cell that monitors his sleep cycles and temperament, governing his clothing, dining habits and work schedule, all through soothing, but autocratic, loudspeaker dictation. The strictness of his labor regimen is offset by the promise of reward, a lifetime of relaxation and procreation at an island refuge, “nature’s last remaining pathogen-free zone,” gained only by weekly lottery and conformity to the compound’s “rules of proximity.”
Discontent with the lack of variety and physical interaction in his life, Lincoln desperately wishes “there was more” and stresses the doubt and fear that plagues his dreams to Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), the staff psychoanalyst and shadowy patriarch of their community. Surprised by the subject matter of Lincoln’s nocturnal visions and perturbed by his disputative nature, Merrick stresses cooperative behavior and healthy mental outlook, implanting sensors into Lincoln’s brain to track the firing of his synapses and emphasizing the paradise that awaits the devoted.
Uninspired by Merrick’s platitudes, Lincoln’s lingering questions compel him to creep through restricted areas of the complex, seeking answers to the ominous manifestations in his nightmares. Following a moth as it flutters through the rafters of the structure, Lincoln confirms his greatest fears, discovering a lottery winner dissected on an operating table, mined for his vital organs and deliberately allowed to plummet into cardiac arrest. Startled by the true intentions of the organization, which synthesizes human clones and grooms them as surrogates and organ donors for silk-stocking celebrities, Lincoln seizes Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), the subject of his innocent hormonal desires, and dashes for an indeterminate exit.
In a heartbreaking moment, the pair discover the genesis of their people, stumbling into an incubation chamber where memories and personalities are impregnated through subliminal images, beamed directly into the synthetic womb. It’s a moment rife with symbolism, intended to parallel an American culture indoctrinated by religion and consumerism, unflagging in its devotion to a power-fueled machine that exists to exploit superstitions of the ignorant and widen the gap between wealth and poverty.
Michael Bay does a satisfactory job illustrating the pitfalls of faith, pinpointing the oppressiveness of the afterlife myth on the clones and their symbolic counterparts, documenting the exchange of free will for the promise of eternal pleasure. As expected, his role as a proponent of the Hollywood blockbuster machine doesn’t mesh well with his attempts at anti-consumerist rhetoric, evident through rampant bits of product placement, which reach their nadir in a sustained shot of a glistening bottle of Michelob Light.
Bay’s aesthetic tendencies further betray the philosophical aspects of the story, favoring stylistic gimmick over natural plot progression. Tinting the color of the film, intended to lend the picture a sun-drenched, bleached sheen, only dulls and softens the focus of the image, forcing the viewer to strain in hopes of capturing photographic detail. Tired visual motifs from previous films also work their way into the narrative, providing enough extraneous footage of flowing fabric and aerial whirlybird shots to successfully choke the suspense out of an otherwise engrossing piece of science fiction.
The remaining specimen is a heap of twisted metal and bone-crunching violence, a compelling narrative perverted into the type of motorhead pornography that has become Michael Bay’s stock-in-trade. The promise of the opening reels hinted at a more sophisticated filmmaker, one free of immature predilections and enthusiastic about crafting a spellbinding story, but the moment Bay refashioned Lincoln and Jordan’s quest for experience into an interminable car chase, the film shed its emotional core and became the consumerist product it claimed to despise.
The Island (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005)
Directed by Michael Bay
Written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen (story/screenplay), Alex Kurtzman (screenplay) and Roberto Orci (screenplay)
Photographed by Mauro Fiore