FEATURE-'The Island' poses question: Would you want a clone?
19 Jul 2005 12:00:03 GMT
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK, July 19 (Reuters) - "Armageddon" director Michael Bay likes big bangs, fast chases and fancy gadgets but his latest movie "The Island" takes a new turn, addressing the pressing political issue of cloning and the ethics of science.
Actors Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson play two clones who escape from a secret institution in the near future.
"I want people when they walk out of this movie to think 'If I could, would I want a clone?'" Bay said. "We all want to live longer but how far would you go? Would you be selfish enough to take someone's life to live longer?"
The movie starts with a view of Lincoln Six-Echo, played by McGregor, who lives with hundreds of other people in an apparently Utopian facility where everybody wears white and has their every move monitored and controlled.
The residents live in hope of winning the lottery which will allow them to go to "The Island," reportedly the last place on the planet uncontaminated by environmental disaster.
After his curiosity is awakened by conversations with a technician played by Steve Buscemi, Lincoln discovers his real purpose is to provide spare parts for rich and famous humans who have paid $5 million to be cloned.
He and Johansson's character escape with a band of mercenaries in hot pursuit, at which point Bay gets to go to town on big action stunts and flashy chase scenes.
ETHICAL HORROR STORY
Early reviews have been fairly positive, though its echoes of films like "Logan's Run" and "Matrix" may irk some.
"'The Island' starts off an aggressively derivative sci-fi thriller, then morphs into an above-average chase melodrama," The Hollywood Reporter said in its review, which also noted that the film was an "ethical horror story."
"What's troubling from a political point of view is that these filmmakers have, perhaps unwittingly, delivered a film certain to give succor to the religious right," it said.
Bay brushes off questions about the politics of his film, insisting he sees it as a "popcorn" movie aimed at entertaining the heartland of America rather than a contribution to serious debate about genetics or stem cell research.
Stem cells offer the potential for progress in curing diseases like Alzheimer's. But because embryonic stem cells are derived from human embryos, which are destroyed in the process, the research has raised ethical issues and President George W. Bush has vowed to veto a bill expanding their use.
"I've met several stem cell researchers; it's amazing how they feel they can cure so many diseases," Bay said. "This (film) is just taking cloning in a science fiction way to the nth degree. It's just to open discussion," he said.
Several of the actors in the film also said they did not see it as a cautionary tale against research.
"I certainly hope we don't get to the point that we're cloning whole human beings and harvesting them for body parts but I do believe that stem cell research should be funded and supported and continued," said Buscemi.
"I hope no one would use this film to make the case against stem cell research," he said. "Of course the technology is probably there. If we can clone an animal we can probably clone a human being," he added. "Should we? No. But that doesn't mean we should stop research in trying to cure diseases."
Paul Levinson, a professor of media and communications at New York's Fordham University, said historically movie audiences had proved their ability to discern fact from fiction.
"These kind of movies serve a very important public service, which is getting these issues before the public in a vivid and dramatic way," said Levinson, author of five sci-fi novels. "It's better than another movie about a cartoon fish that isn't contributing anything to the intellectual debate."
British actor Sean Bean's character provides the most complex insights on the issue. He plays the director of the institute who pioneers the technology for birthing adult human clones, or "products" in the terminology of the movie.
"He's standing up for science; it's a clash between humanity and science," said Bean, who played Boromir in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
"That's what drives him. It's not really a question of money. It's more the science and how far he can push the boundaries," Bean said. "I think he feels very good about what he's created ... As far as he's concerned he's saving lives."
"It depends which way you look at it," he added. "If you're the one who's had a terrible accident then he's a savior."