The Island is a 2005 science fiction/action/drama film. The story takes place in the year 2019. The two main characters of the movie: Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta live with others in an isolated compound. Their community is governed by a set of strict rules. The community believes that the outer world has become too contaminated. There is however one place that is contagion-free, which is simply called: The Island. Every week, a lottery is conducted and the winner gets to leave the compound to live on the island.
The main ethical issue that is invoked in the movie is the questions: What does it mean to be human? And how far should medical professionals and scientist gofor the improvement of public health. The movie shows the possible potential of eugenics by sketching a situation in which “human” bodies are produced without human emotion and feelings. These clones are in turn, legally, used as “life insurance” for they are not recognized as human because of the lack of the just mentioned cardinal human characteristics such as emotion.
This movie is included in the Fiction movies for RCR education.
Key words: Conflict of interest
Medium: This film is available on DVD
- Fragment 1 [24:50 – 26:05]
- Fragment 2 [49:00 – 50:08]
- Fragment 3 [53:00 – 54:10]
- Fragment 4 [1:01:10 – 1:02:45]
Internet Movie Database (IMDb) about this movie: IMDb
Action/advancer/romance / playing time: 140 min.
Content and context
The Island (2005) is a science-fiction/action/drama film starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. The story takes place in the year 2019. The two main characters of the movie: Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta live with others in an isolated compound. Their community is governed by a set of strict rules. The community believes that the outer world has become too contaminated. There is one place that is contagion-free, simply called: ‘The Island’. Every week, a lottery takes place and the winner gets to leave the compound to live on The Island.
Dr. Merrick, a scientist who runs the compound, is concerned about Lincoln who starts having dreams that clearly do not originate from his experiences, and places probes in Lincoln’s head to monitor his cerebral activity. While secretly visiting an off-limits power facility in the basement of the compound, Lincoln discovers a life moth in a ventilation shaft, which triggers doubts about the stories told about the outside world. He starts to suspect that the contamination story may not being true. Lincoln follows the moth to another section, where he discovers the ‘lottery’ is actually a disguise that is created to enable the removal of inhabitants from the compound. He discovers that the winner of the weekly lottery is used for organ harvesting, surrogate motherhood, and other purposes for so called ‘sponsors’. The sponsor is a person, identical to the one living in the compound, living in the real outside world.
This discovery forces Lincoln to escape the compound together with the winner of that week’s lottery, Jordan. Lincoln and Jordan escape the facility, and enter an Arizona desert. Lincoln and Jordan find out that all the compound residents are clones of wealthy and/or desperate sponsors. The inhabitants are kept ignorant about the real world. Lincoln and Jordan set out on a quest to figure out the names of their personal sponsors in the real world. Jordan’s sponsor; model Sarah Jordan, is in a coma caused by a car accident and requires transplants from Jordan to survive. Lincoln’s sponsor, Tom Lincoln, gives Lincoln some explanation about the cloning institute, causing Lincoln to realize he has gained some of Tom’s memories. Tom agrees to help Lincoln and Jordan but secretly contacts the chief of the compound, who sends mercenaries to their location. Lincoln tricks the mercenaries into killing Tom instead of him, allowing him to assume Tom’s identity in the real world.
The compound director then realizes that a cloning defect was responsible for Lincoln’s memories and behaviour. To prevent this from happening again he decides to eliminate the four newest generations of clones. Thereafter Lincoln and Jordan plan to liberate their fellow clones, causing them to return to the compound planning to destroy the holographic projectors that conceal the outside world.
4 fragments have been selected for their combined educational value. The ethical backgrounds underlying these fragments are discussed, as a whole, in the section on ethics.
Fragment 1: [24.50 – 26.05]
This fragment is on the creation of a human being. This fragment provides a clear example of the just discussed question about science going too far in its quest for improvement of public health. It provides a good idea of how the artificial creation of human being might go in to work. Furthermore, it also shows a situation in which scientist are unaware of the goals of the project they are working on, let alone the moral concerns connected to it. More explicitly, it shows a situation in which the scientists are just following a research protocol. It shows the importance of transparency in research, and also a simple example of unknowingly conducting questionable research practices.
Fragment 2: [49.00 – 50.08]
This scene shows the true motivation of the company. Which is the mentioned organ harvest of human beings/clones. Again, the question following question arises; when does scientist research for improving public health go too far?
Fragment 3: [53.00 – 54.10]
This fragment shows us the motivation of the organ harvesting company that is behind the creation of the human beings/clones.
Fragment 4: [61:10 – 62:45]
The fragment gives insight into the moral boundaries of eugenics. Again, the question of what is it to be human plays a central role. First of all: should we produce human clones? And secondly, what kind of problems would arise if we started to actualise it. It is primarily important to demarcate what it is to be human, and if that is determined. For on the basis of the set demarcation one is then able to determine what are good and what are bad research goals or practises. To put it in other words, only then are we able to morally condemn certain research practices. This fragment thus shows the importance of moral deliberations and moral demarcation of scientific research. These are important questions scientist or future scientists have to think about; what is it I am working on? What is it that I want to achieve and for what reason and costs.
The main ethical issues that are invoked in the movie are:
What does it mean to be human? And how far should medical professionals and scientist go for the improvement of public health. The movie shows the potential of eugenics by sketching a situation in which ‘human’ bodies are produced without human emotion and feelings. These clones are in turn, legally, used as ‘life insurance’ for they are not recognized as human because of the lack of emotions and or feelings. One question that could arise is: is it our emotions that make us human? And can people be legally distinguished from clones on these grounds, as clones are mere ‘products’ produced in a factory. Another question one could pose is: can scientific research conducted for the purpose of improvement of public health, still be justified when it reaches the proportions illustrated in this movie? Or should certain moral guidelines be established, and if so, which ones, and from what moment?
This movie illustrates a science-fiction idea of possible future research practices. Although most of it is now still science fiction, it is surprisingly appealing to our moral awareness. This is due to the fact that the movie is in many senses related to today’s scientific practices. It raises many questions concerning good and bad research behaviour, but also stimulates the deliberation on future research practices, how do we as scientific community what our future to be like? It is on this basis that I conclude that the movie is very realistic and useful for today’s questions about research integrity.
Suggested use for education
This movie could be used for educational purposes during courses for BA and MA students and Post Docs, but also for refresh courses on research integrity for docs and professors. For it stimulates a critical way of thinking about the interpretation of the current and the future state of affairs of science.
A practical implementation in a university course could be to divide a class into different groups with the assignment of thinking about the two important questions discussed in this movie analysis; ‘what does it mean to be human?’ and ‘until what point is research justified?’ Afterwards each group could give a small presentation on what they think scientific research will look like in, say, twenty years. Finally, one could start a discussion between the different groups and formulate a conclusion.
The factory director is killed and the clones are freed, after which they see the outside world for the first time. The film fades out with Lincoln and Jordan sailing off in a boat together.