C.S. Lewis and the Tao of "The Island"
- Tuesday, August 02, 2005
In writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul noted that people who know God, yet suppress the knowledge of their Creator, are driven to worship creatures. Such people become debased in their thinking and are given over to all manner of sin. In time, people regress from a belief in God to a belief that they are God, and once that belief becomes entrenched in significant elite cultural power bases the results are devastating – they are willing to do anything.
Michael Bay's new film, "The Island," represents his first real foray into thoughtful action films. He gives us a glimpse into that Romans 1 world.
"The Island" begins as a kind of post-apocalyptic/utopian story of a facility where survivors of a world-wide contamination are cared for until they can be moved to the one remaining uncontaminated, idyllic island – a pristine paradise for lucky lottery winners to repopulate. But the illusion is shattered when an inquisitive citizen, Lincoln Six Echo, discovers the truth – he and the other residents are actually human clones, "insurance policies" for their wealthy sponsors looking for a ready supply of biologically-compatible spare parts. The truth, in this case, does not set Lincoln, or his friend, Jordan, free. It makes them targets for elimination. Bay has admitted in interviews that the film's premise touches on the current embryonic stem-cell debate, but the actual implications go far beyond any particular current event directly to the heart of what happens when a culture abandons God.
C.S. Lewis, in two of his most engaging works – "The Abolition of Man" and "The Weight of Glory" – provides important critical tools for understanding the philosophical and theological underpinnings of "The Island." Grasping Lewis' ideas can create unique opportunities to discuss pressing temporal and eternal issues, particularly the need of humans for law, for a hope of heaven, and what happens when the powerful elite harness that need and hope for their own personal ends.
In "The Abolition of Man," Lewis argues that there exists in the universe a law to which all people are beholden whether they acknowledge it or not. For the sake of brevity Lewis refers to it as the Tao. It is expressed in the Doctrine of Objective Values, which Lewis defines as "the belief that certain attitudes are really true and others really false" about the way the universe works and the way we are to behave in it. In all previous ages cultures believed that they received this law, and that both those who taught it and the young who were instructed in it were equally obligated to obey it. In modern times, Lewis argues, such people have been replaced by Conditioners – influential elites who see moral law not as something universally binding, but as a tool to shape others to their will. "The Island" takes us into a near future in which the rule of the Conditioner is nearly absolute.
Dr. Merrick is the administrator of the cloning facility. He discovers that he cannot merely incubate human tissue – it keeps failing. In order for the clones to thrive they need interaction, education, and law. Instead of using the Tao to nurture the clones, the scientists reject it and replace it with an artificial Tao. For example, they create "the law of proximity" limiting physical closeness of the clones to each other. The goal is not to create complete human beings, but a crop for harvest – just enough is given to assure a quality product.
Lewis argued that humankind's increasing ability to conquer nature was actually the power of some people over other people. By way of example, Lewis claimed that the discovery of birth control gave one generation not only the power to overcome the natural cycles of fertility, but conferred upon them life or death power over the next generation. They could determine who would or would not be born. By crafting moral law out of thin air, while convincing the clones that this is "natural," the technologists of "The Island" control the thought and emotional life of their subjects, while the technologists are above, separated from the need to obey the law they impose. In one scene, Lincoln asks if Dr. Merrick is going to the Island. Merrick sees nothing wrong with lying to Lincoln, both about the nature of the Island and Merrick's own role in perpetrating this ruse for financial gain at the cost of each clone's life.
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