The other day the LA Times published a piece asking how far Hollywood plans to go in marketing its big budget popcorn movies to gay audiences. It cited The Advocate cover story, How Gay is Superman, and noted that the X-Men movies, the first two of which were helmed by out director Bryan Singer, have been embraced by gay audiences for their mutants = queer metaphor. This of course is happening just as the Senate Republicans and President Bush are throwing their support behind a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which only goes to prove that the Hollywood cultural elite is attempting to sabotage traditional values. Again. Where, at this crucial juncture in the Zeitgeist, are all the anti-gay, pro-heterosexual superhero movies? Well, there was that Sgt. Rock film that Arnold Schwarzenegger that was signed to star in, but that seems to have been quietly dropped, so apparently someone Asked, and Rock Told.
It seems unfair that with only the three branches of Federal Government and all the corporate media on his side, the President’s agenda should be undone by an onslaught of gay superheroes. But what can we do to help? Well, it’s clear that the only way to fight a tentpole movie about a man who wears tights and leads a double life is with a movie about a man who openly wears tights. So tomorrow I’m going to the Liberty Film Festival and pitching my movie about the crimefighting prima ballerina from Ballet Trockadero.
But before I go in for my meeting, I should probably figure out just what qualities make a conservative movie. For more on that, we must turn, as s.z. did back in January, to Human Events Online, where Don Feder tells us that “Conservative cinema does more than entertain; movies that do no more are visual candy. It instructs and inspires.”
And in 2005, the third most instructive and inspiring film of the year was Michael Bay’s The Island.
3. The Island: Reviewers despised it. Audiences treated it as just another sci-fi flick. But The Island is a forceful and compelling pro-life statement.
I’ve already seen the #2 conservative movie of 2005, King Kong, and I’m disinclined to watch the #1 choice, Cinderella Man, since it’s a period film and I’m afraid Russell Crowe will step out of the screen like in The Purple Rose of Cairo and throw a telephone at me. So, it looks like I’d better take the plunge into conserve-cinema with The Island.
The Island (2005)
Directed by Michael Bay
Written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen and Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Story by Caspian Tredwell-Owen
We should probably dispose of the most contentious issue up front. Some have charged that this film is nothing more than a shameless rip-off of an obscure 1979 horror movie called Parts: The Clonus Horror, which featured Peter Graves and the relief Darren from Bewitched, and starred that guy who played the Gene Shalit-looking fireman onEmergency! And while one must concede that The Island does seem to recycle the premise and every major plot point of the earlier film, recent events have shown that plagiarism is a conservative value, so this fact only seems to strengthen its cred.
We open on a sleek, high-tech yacht. Scarlett Johansson is standing in the bow, wearing a filmy white gown and a long, gossamer scarf that’s whipping around in the wind like a Water Wiggle. As we pull out, we see Ewan McGregor parading about the deck in a skintight, futuristic Union suit, while Scarlett ineffectually attempts to outwit her own scarf. The huge head of smirking middle-aged man suddenly appears in the sky and tries to sell us a Caribbean cruise package. Cut back to the boat, where Ewan has fallen overboard into the churning sea, and is playing Marco Polo with the Blue Man Group.
Just as he drowns, Ewan wakes up in his tiny and extremely white bedroom, where a thousand gallons of water is rapidly draining from his mattress. The viewer assumes that the previous sequence symbolized a violent bed-wetting, but apparently not, since Ewan goes into the bathroom and we get to spend precious screen time watching him take a lengthy whizz. But hey, director Bay has over two hours and fifteen minutes to kill, so why not linger over our hero’s entire morning routine? French cineastes stilltalk about the austere beauty of the flossing sequence.
Ewan lives in the Mall of Contaminated America, with a bunch of clones who think they’re the survivors of an ecological catastrophe, and who gad about in matching track suits like those elderly couples who lead “active lifestyles” at leisure villages in Coral Gables. He apparently lives on the 3000th floor, since the ride down to the food court takes so long that instead of playing Muzak, the elevator screens Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” starring Michael Clarke Duncan. Except in this version, he doesn’t get stoned to death to promote local crop yield, but instead wins a ticket to Fantasy Island, the last unpolluted spot on Earth.
Unlike the similar mall in Logan’s Run, the inhabitants of this installation don’t spend their days getting plastic surgery, committing ritual suicide, or teleporting into strangers’ living rooms for a bout of anonymous sex and caftan modeling. Instead, they take yoga and tai chi, swim and play tennis, all with their cloned hair.
While there are sinister, black-clad guards who gently chide people if they get out of line, the complex seems to be ruled entirely by lunch ladies, who imperiously deny Ewan’s request for bacon. But Scarlett suddenly appears and wins Ewan’s heart by coaxing the luncheonfuhrerto add some fried swine flesh to her bowl of Purina Clone Chow.
Ewan thanks Scarlett, but alas, he’s a close talker, and there are rules against proximity to girls (apparently, the plague that wiped out all life on Earth was cooties). He gets sent to the Principal’s office, where Sean Bean gives him a stern talking to, and a test which involves strapping Ewan into a Lay-Z-Boy and shoving tiny robots into his tear ducts. The results indicate that Ewan has an aptitude for working with the public, indicating his suitability for careers in the Retail sector, Airline Hospitality, or Rock Stupid Action Movies. Then he leaves and walks down a long hall.
Turns out that Ewan has pretty much the same job that Robert Duvall had in THX1138, except without the good drugs. For that, he must go to Steve Buscemi, a construction foreman who pours booze into Ewan during their clandestine rendezvous, presumably because he’s one of those guys who think it’s funny to get his girlfriend’s Pomeranian drunk on malt liquor.
Steve goes to fix the plumbing in the Maternity Ward, and we get to watch the birth of a clone, which turns out to involve pretty much the same process as preparing a Boil-in-the-Bag entrée, except with less MSG and more placenta. The important thing is, we get to see a gooey, naked, middle-aged man yanked out of a Ziplock sandwich bag.
Meanwhile, Ewan, still loitering around the construction site, catches a butterfly and places it tenderly in a matchbox, in a moment that would be every bit as poignant and lyrical as the last scene of All Quiet on the Western Front, if only someone would shoot him.
Alas, no one does. In fact, it’s now nearly 30 minutes into the film, and all we’ve seen so far are people walking down halls, a mild scolding, and a conspiracy to defraud a lunch lady of bacon. I don’t mean to come off the Philistine, but there were more gunfights and action sequences in The Red Balloon.
Anyway, the work day is through. Now comes Product Placement Time! Grab a tall frosty Aquafina and head on over to the X-Box Pavilion, where it’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Clones as a holographic Ewan and Scarlett literally knock each other’s teeth out. Finally, some action! Except we have to cut away from that after about ten seconds because Bay has some more scenes of people walking down halls.
Ewan and Scarlett go to some sort of Clone Danceteria, where everyone sits on couches and watches high definition videos of sunfish while sipping fruit juice and making awkward conversation. It’s either the dullest disco on the planet, or they’ve wandered into a Whit Stillman film. Anyway, Scarlett wins the lottery and she and Ewan limply clasp each other’s forearms in celebration. But this tepid embrace sets off a “proximity alert,” so evidently the installation is run by nuns from a Catholic high school.
That night, Ewan releases the butterfly and follows it to General Hospital, where he skulks around and watches one of the clones give birth. But the instant the baby clears her vulva, the mother is given a lethal injection, which suggests that in the future, HMOs will finally get tough about curtailing the length of hospital stays.
Meanwhile, Michael Clarke Duncan is in the OR having his liver involuntarily harvested, which means that he won’t be going to the Island, but will instead wake up in a tub full of ice in a hotel in Mexico. He doesn’t seem to care for this prospect, so he gets up in the middle of the operation and runs screaming down the halls. The guards shoot tiny grappling hooks into his calves, which is technically not an action sequence, but it’s still an improvement over watching people walk down halls while getting nothing shot into their calves.
Finally — okay, this time for real — we get some action, as Ewan grabs Scarlett and they run around the steam plant where they shot the end of Highlander. (Admittedly, running isn’t much, but it’s still more exciting them watching them take their spinning class.) Scarlet is naturally skeptical about Ewan’s story. Fortunately, by the most random coincidence ever, they fall through a hole in the floor and right into the boil-in-the-bag nursery, where Caribbean Vacation Sales Guy is on the PA system, tediously explaining the plot to the Ziplocked clones.
Scarlett is thunderstruck. After all, she’s a four-year old clone who has spent her entire existence sealed in an artificial environment and fed a constant diet of false information. To accept the truth, she must reject everything she has ever believed. Fortunately, the producers didn’t cast George W. Bush as the ingénue, because she actually makes the adjustment, and we’re free to get on with our movie.
Principal Bean hires mercenary Djimon Hounsou from Blackwater — sorry, Blackhawk Security — to hunt down his truant merchandise. Meanwhile, the merchandise pops out of the top of a derelict missile silo in the middle of the desert. They head to a biker bar, where Ewan bursts into a filthy toilet stall and interrupts Steve in mid-defecation. Now, no offense to Steve Buscemi, who I think is a very entertaining actor, and who I’ve almost forgiven for aiding and abetting Bay in making Armageddon. But — and again, no disrespect intended — if you find it necessary to make Steve Buscemi unappealing, you really don’t have to work. This. Hard. First of all, he’s standing next to Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Contrast is working in your favor. Give him some dorky glasses or a pair of high-water pants and Mission Accomplished! It really isn’t necessary to get his metabolic ejecta involved. Thank you.
Steve takes the two runaways home and explains that they’re clones who were cultured to provide spare parts for their super-rich sponsors, and then thrown away. This is probably the part that conservatives read as a slippery slope argument against stem cell research. To me it felt more like an allegory about the balance of power between the Bush Pioneers and anyone below the Federal poverty line. Well, less of an allegory and more of a documentary. Which probably explains Bay’s uncharacteristically restrained tone in the first half of the film; Harvest of Shame didn’t have that many car stunts either.
Steve drives the clones to the train station so they can take the mag-lev bullet monorail to LA, which eliminates the suspense about whether Al Gore won the 2012 election. Unfortunately, the mercenaries shoot Steve while he’s buying Ewan a Map to the Stars Homes, triggering a bunch more running. Our mimeographed heroes finally make it to the train, and we can see that Scarlett is deeply traumatized by Steve’s murder. “What’s wrong with these people?” she gasps. “They killed him!” FYI, she says this about ten seconds after she repeatedly nail-gunned a guy to a door.
Then there’s more running and shouting. The clones climb onto a tractor-trailer, and the mercs follow them onto the freeway, where Ewan releases the load. Huge truck axles pour off the trailer, smashing into traffic and causing cars to crash, flip and burn. Dozens of innocent commuters are killed, or so badly maimed that they have to cash in their clones. So Ewan managed to kill some of his friends back at the installation, too. Little Miss What’s Wrong With These People surveys the horrific carnage and chirps, “Good job!”
Ewan hijacks a flying motorcycle, and we get to enjoy that whole speeders-through-the-Forest-of-Endor thing again (with the same sound effects, too), until he crashes into a skyscraper, and we get more scenes of people walking down halls — except this time it’s spiced up by the sight of Ewan plowing into office workers at high speed, killing them on impact and sending their ISO9000 Quality mugs and TPS reports flying. Finally Scarlett and Ewan crash through the opposite side of the building and fall 70 floors, which doesn’t kill them, although it does reduce their resale value.
They hook up with Ewan’s sponsor, who’s a Scottish boat designer with a cirrhotic liver. Sponsor Ewan pretends he wants to help; instead, he and Ewan wind up in a warehouse where he holds a gun to his clone’s head while the two of them scream and swear at each other in a scene that’s sort of like watching the Olsen Twins in Reservoir Dogs. Fortunately, Djimon arrives and pwns the original.
Ewan goes back to his sponsor’s house, where Scarlett has apparently unscrambled the Playboy Channel and learned about sex, because she orders him to open his mouth, then jumps him. Considering that he’s 3 years old and she’s 4, I think this technically makes them both pedophiles, and the whole thing feels coming upon a sex scene in the middle of Rugrats.
Meanwhile, back at the installation, Principal Bean declares that Ewan has broken Ape Law by growing a soul, so he decides to recall the late model clones. Which means that all the hall-walking dullards we grew to barely tolerate during the first half of the film are going to die!
The guards start the massacre by going through the prenatal warehouse and slashing open the uterine Hefty bags, killing hundreds of unborn clones. I guess I should feel bad, but I once had a power failure right after I got home from the market, and lost a whole box of Bagel Bites, three Budget Gourmet entrees, and a brand new tub of Cool Whip Free, so cry me a friggin’ river.
Ewan flies back to the installation posing as his sponsor, while Scarlett lures the mercenaries to Venice Beach. After watching the guy juggle bowling balls on stilts, and getting their ears pierced, the mercs capture and return her to General Hospital.
Meanwhile, the installation guards put all the factory second clones with the slightly irregular souls in a chamber, which they fill with gas. I can’t shake the feeling that Bay is attempting to draw some sort of parallel here, but it’s just too subtle for me.
Then Ewan has a fight with Principal Bean, and it doesn’t go very well. “I brought you into this world,” Mr. Bean shouts as he throttles Ewan, “And I can take you out of it!” Fortunately, just then Bill Cosby serves the principal with a cease and desist order for stealing his act.
Countless white-clad clones pour from the tip of the missile silo in what I’m sure isn’t meant to be a visual metaphor of any kind. They commence to roam in a mighty herd across the prairie, while Enya-like music warbles on the soundtrack. Ewan and Scarlett survey their work with expressions which seem to say, “We’ve just released a lot of deeply stupid people on the world.” On the bright side, they’re in Arizona, so they can vote for John McCain.
As for me, I found myself with a deep and profound yearning that Bay’s vision of the future come to pass, because I drank so much in order to get through this film that I destroyed my liver, and I’m willing to pay Boromir for a spare.
Posted by scott on Monday, June 5th, 2006 at 1:20 am.