The Island, redux

the island
click for larger pic

So I rented “The Island”, as per Jeff’s
“Underrated Movies”.
I thought it was a nice, enjoyable action-adventure.
Unfortunately, I knew too much about the plot to enjoy the “twist” (such as it is).

My feeling about the movie was mostly that it was a Logan’s Run tribute in many ways.
Mostly in how the clones are kept in a child-like state, only to be killed for reasons that are completely beyond them.
My favorite bit of acting was Ewan MacGregor trying to ask why Tuesday was Tofu Day, and what the heck was “tofu” anyway!!
His anxiety over not knowing something that should be so simple defined his performance, which was overshadowed by the action sequences.

There were numerous plot holes.
The bit about having to be concious for the organs to work was a doozy, and very reminiscent of the Matrix question: “Why didn’t the machines use cows instead of people?”.

Aside from that, we have the usual romp of growing awareness.
A bit of a shortcut is taken when the main character, Lincoln Six Echo, suddenly connives to leave the controlled environment.
It’s a dodgy narritive cheat that deprives us of Lincoln’s first exposure to anuncontrolled environment.

How did he meet the worker?

How did he first go outside the environment?
What was his reaction?

These would have been important moments in the movie,
and it would have been the better for it.
I think too much time was taken up by having “The Girl” in the movie.
She didn’t contribute much of anything, except for the reaction of knowing her “original” was a mother – that wasn’t bad,

Cut down on the chase scenes, too.
Do more with perhaps navigating this fantastic world and coming to grips with it.

They let get away the whole trained-by-Xbox thing.
If you’re going to prostitute your movies, try to get some good out of it.
Have him go into an arcade and beat the crap out of someone.
Or perhaps use the martial skills he’s learned in the Xbox to beat up a bad guy.
Anything – throw me a bone.

Okay, despite my original intent to make this a light-hearted review of an innocent piece of fluff (with the occasional sledge-hammer of anti-Naziism),
I’ve gotten a little testy.
Ah well.

It’s just that it could have been so much more.
Especially with that cast and that budget.

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5 thoughts on “The Island, redux”

  1. Speaking of differences of opinion on movies, I watched something called “Crazed Fruit” (1956) Japanese aka “Juvenile Jungle” in the Criterion Collection, and I was somewhat unimpressed by it despite it being a “forgotten movie”, having caused a moral uproar in Japan in the 50’s even from critics, and also having had forced cuts made to it by the censor boards at the time. However, I then listened to the commentary, and I was pleasantly surprised that things people usually mock me for, for having “read into” the movie (and no offence, your review up there is missing the socio-political context, I presume Wikipedia covered it enough for you), were covered by the Japanese film scholar who did the commentary. So in any event, approaching “Crazed Fruit” understanding the subtly of it, I was more impressed by taking the film in the context of its era. … anyway don’t watch it.

    The Matrix question “Why didn’t the machines not use cows instead of people” also has an answer, by the way.

    Both the Matrix (cows) and the Island (“Why do I have to be the one to tell the kids there’s no Santa Claus”) are direct allusions to the state the public acts in, when taken as a whole. The folks in the Matrix are useful to it for the thinking they do, and in the Island, their education, training and health. i.e. some form of “work”.

    Anyway, back to my point, to me, the Japanese equivalent of “Rebel without a Cause”, “Juvenile Jungle”, which to me seems like a rather innocent piece of fluff, which in the context of 2006 looks like a truly naive collection of childish nonsense, understood in the context of its time is actually a surprising movie. Similarly, after reading 3 or 4 books on the philosophy of the Matrix, I imagine rewatching the thing would be interesting. In fact, I was intending to buy a book on “Reloaded” & “Revolutions”, as I was not greatly impressed by “Revolutions”. I suspect I missed something.

    I find it interesting to watch a movie and try and understand the subtext, and then get a thrill when a book comes out, or a scholarly commentary agrees with my findings about the movie. Some people feel uncomfortable when a movie undermines their understanding of their society. That’s okay however, as I don’t agree with all written interpretations of movies either. In this case however, I don’t think you like CGI chases as much as I do.

    Oh that reminds me of something, on imdb someone criticized the island for having metal train wheels on a truck, when the Amtrac train was maglev. In Toronto, and even more so in Tokyo, there are multiple subway technologies all running at the same time, old and new. This is no plot hole. What’s the point of replacing all subways and their metal wheels with maglev?

    The bone for the X-box training for me, was that Lincoln 6 could function at all in a violent manner outside. This harks back to Ronald Regan’s comment that video games make good soldiers. Back in Vietnam, some soldiers needed heroin to fight, and in the 19th century rum. In the early 20th, propaganda worked well. The early gulf war battles moved fast enough that heavy metal music worked to motivate fighting / killing. In the Island the Dr. was motivated by money and power, the special forces guy first by money, but then turned (this was a radically important issue.. hm), for Licoln 6, obviously, it was first survival, but he then remembered friendship. Then in the end it ended a bit like Freejack, which I know you didn’t like. It is not a crime to have a $600,000+ boat. Most people do not realize that the banks get more than that out of them in a lifetime of mortgage payments. Anyway, the point being that Lincoln 6 Echo took on some characteristics / identity elements from his loathsome sponsor ala Freejack.

    …it’s just a movie.

  2. Also, to be honest, there’s a Big Secret lurking in the Island. I’m going to hedge my bet, and wait for the inevitable book about The Island to come out before I reveal it. Hey, now there’s an idea, I could write my own damn book about The Island, so vast is the philosphical secret. Maybe you should watch it a second time. The brain-scan and Lincoln 6’s dialogue at the start of the motorcycle-chase scene are rather important, as are the sponsor’s comments about hepatitis and lot’s of sex, and Scarlet Johansen’s key role is the purity of the new beginning without the immorality of the sponsors. The technical ability of motorcycle and enjoying the boat, plus the clones losing their virginity.

    I think it’s a plus thing that a movie entertains the eyeballs the first time through, and then throws you for a philosphical loop the second time through.

    Renovatio is “rebirth”. It starts and ends the movie. It has a slight smell of “newage” to it, but the movie doesn’t preech… It just asks innocent questions. Laugh them off if you must.

  3. Another thing, while we do have turkeys in Toronto who will imitate a video game or a movie and kill an innocent taxi driver during a street race, and ditto for L.A., the Japanese film scholar on “Crazed Fruit” posited that film might act as an outlet for these sorts of thoughts (instead of acting them out). I think it might also work in a related sense: the tagline for The Island is “Plan Your Escape”, not them, but you, and in the same function of the Matrix, acts to free you by teaching how not to get caught up these sorts of situations. Practically speaking, one has to look at the metaphor, of course, which for both is a large system acting against your interests. Perversely the characters of The Matrix, Freejack & The Island eventually all greatly capitalize on these systems. This is the lottery undertone in the Island. In the false liberal utopia at the start, the downtrodden cheer for the (supposedly equal) winner (naively). In the end, the capitalist/right-leaning champion who never needed the lottery to begin with, acts unilaterally with his better skill, power and knowledge for the greater good.

    He’s no superman (I’m looking forward to the 2006 Superman Returns, btw.)

    Oh ya, as for Superman: I am concerned that the early incarnations had to work within “the code”, as well as be true to form with “Truth, Justice …”. Comics can be dark, but the movies seem to have to work within a tight framework of American liberal values. I think it’s great that lacking better guidance, people under 20 should be liberal, and over 20 should probably pick from left/center/right and be moral and judge on an issue by issue basis.

    So I think the best formula for a movie is that it appear left-leaning to under-20’s and have a deeper meaning that is not so left-leaning, that is just and moral too.

    Perhaps we can discuss the Superman values. On the left, it appears he is a champion of truth. On the right, he quietly hides his powers from mere mortals through white-lies, disguise and well a bunch of cliches as well. On the left, he is a mere wage-earner and our enemies are independently wealthy. On the right, he acts as a spy inside a news organization looking for stories/info to further his agenda of unilateral judgement of good and bad. Juries and skilled judges are not part of this story. In fact, the council of Krypton is seen as blind to their own world’s demise in ignoring SM’s scientist father’s warnings.

    It’s an interesting story, I like it, I like watching it, but after a long stretch on this planet, I’m not so quick to accept all corporations as evil, nor champions for the ignorant as good. I want to see the issues presented and judge for myself. I think it’ll be a good movie.

    Let’s also take “DOOM”. In this movie they machine-gun a possessed scientist without judgement and it is seen as the best thing to have done. Last night I watched an episode of ER where a violent old lady punched the psychiatrist early in the episode and then she left at the end, after having taken her meds as a kind old woman hoping she had not inconvenienced the staff too badly. Very un-DOOM like, a bit wishful, but the woman was judged appropriately, without the heavy hand of the DOOM boys… Justice is a complex topic. Good & evil are a dynamic (to a limited extent). etc.

    Many of the movies on my top 110 have this dynamic. The Island is another.

    [edited for spelling (only!)]
  4. Heh, I don’t think I’ve written enough about film scholarship here, so I shall continue with “Crazed Fruit” / “Juvenile Jungle”. The social conservatives probably liked the ending where the innocent boy who lost the girl ended the love triangle by killing his brother and the not-so-innocent girl, at least this sort of moralizing was expected of the movie. The good/bad bit here is that the girl, who is married to an American, is not seen as entirely good and is badly punished and/or taken advantage of by the older more experienced brother. However, in my mind, the younger brother is innocence-wasted on this girl. This girl is a more appropriate match for the older brother and he very forcefully takes her away from the younger brother and her American husband, so to me, although the 2 characters who are murdered by the “innocent” for their immorality, I feel rather that the good/evil dynamic is shown to be, unintentionally, I feel, inappropriate in this case. Thus, the film scholar viewing such a movie might rewind in his mind the part of the film appropriate for 1956 and inappropriate for 2006 (or maybe 1970, actually) and imagine an alternate ending.

    Similarly, the film scholar might restructure the morality of The Island slightly, by examining the rebirth aspect, and how L6E started to take on the identity of his sponsor. The sponsor tried to buy his own rebirth, and although he lost his individual life, his clone, identical in physical detail, and as hinted in the movie, beginning to take on learned aspects of his past life [this is dumb, because of the existence of identical twins, but bear with me for a moment], by taking over the former identity, the immoral sponsor’s life continues washed of its previous immorality.

    This leaves us with the question of how we look at people’s past history. The tag line of Minority report comes to mind: “What if you were suspected of a murder you had not yet committed”.

    What if Scarlett / Jordan were given the opportunity to be the adoptive parent of her sponsor’s child? This harks back to ancient asian traditions. Anyway, this has nothing to do with the Island, but more to do with the shallowness of typical Hollywood fare. There isn’t even the slightest chance a north American audience could sit through in-your-face culture shock like that, or like the at least 2 scenes in the Island that have a cultural shock theme [e.g. the incinerator and the special forces boss’ conversion]. The code says: a bad person is always bad.

    The elevator scene in the Island was notable for this aspect. One of the special-forces hit-men just looks at the other and says “bad day”. Now that was funny. Stolen from the Blues Brothers, really, but the idea is that they see themselves as just doing a job. However, its part of the larger idea that a system, rather than an organization is what is wrong. Like when Germany was defeated at the end of WWII, there were a lot of different newspaper headlines, but one I came across said “Nazi Power Defeated”. It wasn’t a score card of 10,000,000 Jerry’s killed, revenge or whatnot, but rather seemed to point to the idea that an evil system had at last been shut down.

    So anyway, putting 2 and 2 together, was the special forces commander simply a solider who was finally released from an evil system, to become a soldier for the good side? He refused to engage in the obviously Nazi incineration, otherwise, he was in it for the chase and the money. A free agent, if you will. Now that the ringing from the sledge-hammer is gone, does he seem like an acceptable part of the movie? [Btw, I personally don’t think we could say for sure, its just a movie, and these are purely philosophical questions]. Anyway, most of the employees of the Dr. were seen to be deeply indoctrinated.

    [edited for spelling (only!)]
  5. ..and btw, in the advertising to myself department, was in one of your google ads, and they have a 2 week free-trial going on. It runs through and you can even rent “Crazed Fruit” from them. I still don’t recommend the film, I am only using it because I suspect you have not seen it so that I can critique without causing trouble.

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