August 27th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Child sexual abuse now allowed in films

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The wages of spin is ... death? / First, the good news / Indoctrinating Muslims, and others / Hacks and spivs

OPINION: The shocking reality of sex trafficking

CINEMA: 'The Ninth Day' - Priests who suffered under Hitler

CINEMA: The Island - Futuristic nightmare of disposable humans

Women in combat (letter)

We already have a Bill of Rights (letter)

NCP not to blame (letter)

BOOKS: BETWEEN PACIFISM AND JIHAD: Just War and Christian Tradition, by J. Daryl Charles


COVER STORY: Is Canberra listening to 'the real world'?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Family First senator throws down gauntlet

WORLD AFFAIRS: Behind Washington's nuclear deal with India

THE WAR ON TERROR: Tony Blair's U-turn on Islamic extremism

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Quarantine and trade policy - a deadly mix

QUARANTINE: Citrus canker outbreak 'a national disgrace'

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The Island - Futuristic nightmare of disposable humans

by Len Phillips (reviewer)

News Weekly, August 27, 2005
Len Phillips reviews The Island.

Recently released The Island is the Hollywood version of a movie of ideas. That is, it has four chase scenes and very few ideas at all. But it does try, and inadvertently it actually asks some questions it had no serious intention of answering.

The setting is this. We find ourselves in an institution of some sort in which the inmates are being cared for almost like cattle and where their continued good health is the most important issue.

The world outside has apparently been subject to some catastrophe that has poisoned the atmosphere. The only hope for anyone is eventually to end up on the Island, which is free from these poisons.

Menace is always in the air. The lead male, Lincoln Two Echo, is summarily refused bacon and eggs for his breakfast and must eat creamed sludge. The forces of authority intervene when he tries to talk to the girl he is attracted to, Jordon Six Delta, and send him on his way.

The big moment in everyone's lives is the lottery where individuals are chosen to go to the Island. Winners are immensely happy and everyone else is saturated with gladness at their good fortune.

Meantime, when not hanging about looking at lottery results, the residents work in laboratories where they do various tasks whose point is completely unknown to them.

When at one stage a new person is introduced into the lab who must be taught the most basic things, one of the others asks whether they were all like that once.

And the answer is that they were. Because what we find out, soon after, is that we are not dealing with survivors of elemental catastrophe, but instead with a facility filled with clones.

Each of the inmates is a specially cultivated replica of a person on the outside, which is the world just as we might know it in the year 2019 but where the ability to clone exact duplicates has been perfected.

There has been no environmental catastrophe; but to keep the inmates passive, that has been what they have been told.

Not a bad premise at all. It is a cross between 1984 and Brave New World - a brutal totalitarian polity of individuals who have been manufactured according to design specifications.

As we find out soon after, each of the clones is to be harvested to heal some illness of a person on the outside or, in one case, to have the baby the clone mother original, for one reason or another, is unable to have.

But, once finished with their function, they are dispensed with immediately. They are "product" and their human form is mere by-product of no further interest or value.

As we also find out, when the process was begun, the intention was not to give the clones a conscious life. But it was found that inert copies were not as useful in providing babies and spare parts. They therefore had to take that extra last step by creating identical twins who are exactly the same chronological age as the originals.

Do we need Hollywood to tell us that this is an evil idea? But where to take it? Once the apparatus is set up, and enough belief is suspended to allow the story to deepen and mature, what should come next?

The film does ask one truly interesting question. If the person on the outside were to know that their life is to be saved through the death of an individual in all respects exactly like themselves, how would they react?

We know that the clones have a desire for life as strong as their originals. But do the originals care? Since the fact that sentient beings must be created and then killed is being kept from them, what would they do if they knew?

And if they were so morally empty that they were quite okay with the idea, what would it say about the morality of the clones themselves, since both would equally have a desire to live, each would be biologically identical and in each case life would be at the other's expense? For one to continue to live, the other would without question have to die.

This was touched on, but then left to wither. Yes, Lincoln's original didn't care, but he was presented as a vicious wastrel of no serious moral worth (and in that case what was the clone really like?).

But the morally puzzling question then has nothing to do with the film itself but with us. If the audience is happy to see one die so that the other lives - and it is the clone whose side the audience is meant to be on - what does it say about our own ethic?

Then we have Jordan, whose clone original is dying on a hospital bed. What her attitude is, after speaking to the original's son, is left unexplored. Bad luck to you, I suppose she thought; but even to have hinted at it would have spoiled the effect the film was trying to create.

Instead, we were left with a movie filled with vacuous chase scenes and a tedious night at the movies when there was something special that might have been done instead.

  • Len Phillips

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