728Movie-Dharma : From "The Island" of Illusion to "The Desert of the Real"
- Aug 3, 2005
Another "Enlightenment thru Entertainment" Dharma-Inspired Movie Review:
From "The Island" of Illusion to "The Desert of the Real"
"The Island" is a visionary film, telling a cautionary tale of a probable near future - when clones are illegally and discreetly bred in an elaborate underground biotechnological facility. Somewhat similar to the way some gods come spontaneously into being as adults in the higher heavens, the clones were "born" fully grown, though having undergone accelerated growth processes. The citizens of the facility are carefully shielded from the dark secret that they are created as physical copies of the rich, who were in turn fooled into thinking they had paid to create vegetative non-sentient versions of their bodies... for the harvesting of organs, should theirs fail in time. The clones were also used as surrogate mothers to give birth to previously "lost" children.
The clones live in a squeaky clean world, maintained to ensure their peace of mind and thus best of health - so as to in turn ensure their sponsors' best of health. With most things white-washed in elegant hi-tech efficiency, it reminds one of an idyllic heaven of ease in the clouds. More regimental than liberal in nature, it disguises its true identity as a high security prison. The view beyond its windows is a holographic projection of a post-apocalyptical world - one in ruins deemed "contaminated". Yet in a sense, with the clones' conditioned innocence, it is true that the world out there is a relatively spiritually "contaminated" Samsara. The sustained illusion of them being fortunate survivors is perhaps the best defence against "jailbreak". Their situation is reminiscent of Prince Siddhartha (the Buddha-to-be) being fenced within his luxurous palace, oblivious to the reality beyond its walls. As the clones do not know they will be murdered before their time, they simply live "another day in paradise", though biding their time before their eventual fall, not unlike complacent gods who suddenly fall from their grace when their merits are depleted.
To instill in the clones a sense of hope and purpose, they are sold the dream of the possibility of migrating to a paradisical island, which is supposedly the last remaining ecologically uncontaminated place on Earth. Marketed as a lottery prize of being an Utopia or a "higher heaven", winning migration to "The Island" becomes euphemism for the winner being sent off for harvest - an excuse for his or her required absence. The slogan of the lottery goes "Everyone will win - your time will come." Yes, death's eventual - and it is death who wins, not us, lest we win Enlightenment in time.
The clones were "manufactured" with child-like intelligence such that they do not enquire about anything in depth. The clone of Tom Lincoln, Lincoln Six-Echo (both played by Ewan McGregor of course) was considered a "product defect" when he began questioning his existence - about how they got there and where they are really going. Six-Echo catches glimpses of Tom Lincoln's memories in his dreams, similar to the accidental recollection of a past life, and asks the "forbidden" but right questions. He asks about the routine he follows day in and out and yearns to know more than to merely anticipate going to "The Island". With increasing curiosity and thinking, his mind develops much faster than expected, rendering him a menace to the controlled "balance" of the facility. Is the above not a striking parallel to the spiritual danger of not questioning dogmatic religious beliefs?
Just as the Buddha encourages us to be wise by doubting the doubtful, the real "defect" in us is when we cease to ask intelligent questions, thus ending our spiritual growth. Since the clones were indoctrinated through fake collective memory imprints, it suggests how some of us might have been habitually and negatively influenced in ways to be attached to certain deluded systems of thought. What makes us truly human and not machines or plants is the presence of our consciousness and the mindful questioning of even our thoughts and beliefs. Six-Echo tastes the First Noble Truth of the prevalence of existential dissatisfaction and becomes a rebel with a cause - to discover the truth of everything. Like Prince Siddhartha who ventured beyond his illusory luxuries into "the desert of the real", he comes to realise the fuller picture of reality.
Merrick (played by Sean Bean), the director of the facility, displayed a "God complex". "Playing God", he warned Six-Echo, "I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it." The truth is, all of us individuals are the true gods of our own destinies, as exemplified by Six-Echo, who fought for and won his rights for freedom. In another scene, he asked, "Who is God", and recieved a sarcastic reply - "You know when you close your eyes and wish for something really hard? God is the guy that ignores you." Does this not hint that self-reliance on personal wisdom and compassion to each other is the key to true salvation?
With thought-provoking statements strewn throughout, "The Island" explores the issue of human rights and the ethical problems of cloning. Every clone is an individual human being, a complete sentient being in his or her own right - never a mere copy of another. Every being has his or her individual karma - even clones. You can clone physical bodies but not karma or minds. Cloning is only possible as the result of beings of similar physical karma coming into being; not unlike the similar karma of twins. Be one a clone or not, we all fear death and crave to live. Thus are we equal in our rights to survive, to not be exploited. The idea of cloning body parts to prolong one's life attests to the general human desire to live as long as possible.
As uttered ominously by McCord (played by Steve Buscemi), "Humans will do anything to survive." Six-Echo remarks similarly in desperation, "I just want to live - I don't care how!" Who then are we to say the "original" or the clone deserves to die for the other? That aside, all lifeforms are transient, subject to eventual decay and renewal in other forms. Even the gods who live in extended bliss of unimaginable thousands of years can fall. When the two Lincolns have a confrontation with a mercenary sent to kill Six-Echo, he had difficulty differentiating which was the "original" Lincoln. The two Lincolns' desperation in trying to prove they are "real" made it clear that both had the same rights to live. Six-Echo had earlier wanted to meet Tom Lincoln, to which McCord quipped, "Just 'cos 'you' wanna eat the meat doesn't mean 'you' wanna meet the cow!" "Food" for thought indeed - extend the above principle of rights to other sentient beings (such as animals) and it makes equal sense too.
Six-Echo manages to trick the authorities into thinking they killed him, as he takes on the guise of the Tom Lincoln, who was living a successful life. He could had simply lived free and happily ever after with his "reborn" (renovatio) identity, turning his back to the thousands who remain trapped in the facility. Instead, he chose to return to it out of compassion and a sense of justice. Like a a courageous and skilfully disguised Bodhisattva, he overthrows the corrupted system. Turning off the hologram, he lifted the veil which shielded the citizens from the truth out there, leading the masses to "awakening". It reminds one of how Maitreya Buddha (the next Buddha) is prophesized to need hold only a few Dharma assemblies to awaken the masses of His time - thanks to their high spiritually-inclined capacities! With the right conditions ripened, Enlightenment is but a moment away! This is how Zen-like experiences of Enlightenment occur.
On discovering the worldly pleasure of making love with Two-Echo, Jordan Two-Delta (played by Scarlett Johansson), exclaimed to him that "'The Island' is real - it is us!" Symbolic of paradise, "The Island" was realised by her to be within their own grasp. Well, love-making might be pleasurable, but even much more pleasurable is the bliss from reinquishing desire altogether. Interestingly, the Buddha did teach using "island" as a metaphor, related somewhat to Two-Delta's statement of "self-reliance" - "Be islands for yourselves, be refuges for yourselves! Take no other refuge! Let the Dharma be your island, let the Dharma be your refuge! Take no other refuge! Does an Utopian world like "The Island" truly exist? Yes - when one realises Enlightenment, there is nowhere that is not paradise or Pureland. "When the mind is pure, the (is)land is pure!" The true "island" is being totally at one with the Dharma - it is liberation itself!
~ Shen Shi'an | pics: moviemarket.co.uk