While the oral arguments recently given at the Dobbs vs. Jackson hearing at the Supreme Court proved to be more beneficial to the pro-life position, it nevertheless highlighted two perennial weakness of that position.
The first issue has to do with what is colloquially called “the narrative”, i.e. the way the abortion argument is framed in the minds of ordinary Americans. The legal and philosophical arguments against abortion have only grown more sophisticated and stronger since Roe vs Wade, but they generally go right over the head of most people. Not only do most people have little exposure to the law or philosophy, most Americans have for the last the last two generations been deliberately educated to not think about issues.
This points to the other weakness in the pro-life position, which is that in the absence of an informed and rational deliberation, Americans have merely been taught how to “feel” about the issue, which has been framed in terms of freedom and personal choice--in America who is going to argue against that?
The problem this creates however, is that amidst the rhetorical wranglings over responsibility and rights, the issue of the humanity of the unborn child gets left out of the conversation- not once was it discussed during the court proceedings. This is a deliberate choice made by abortions proponents in schools, the government, and the media who have mastered the art of emotional and verbal manipulation when it comes to this issue.
Hollywood has been the main purveyor of “the narrative" regarding abortion, and while there are rare films such as 2007’s Juno that will get close to challenging that narrative, most will tow the dominant pro-abortion line. However, every now and then a movie comes out that (from Hollywood’s point of view) inadvertently calls the narrative into question. Interestingly enough, this happened right around the same time as Juno with Michael Bay’s 2008 film The Island that actually made a strong pro-life case for the dignity of each individual human life and why they have a right to live.
A Dystopian Future that is All Around Us Today
The Island stars Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Sean Bean, and Djimon Hounsou. As the film opens, we meet “Lincoln Six Echo” (McGregor) and his friend “Sara Two Delta” (Johansson) who, with hundreds of other people, are living in a towering compound that is sealed off from the outside world because a plague has wiped out almost every living thing on Earth.
Every aspect of their lives is tightly controlled from what they wear, their diet, their work and leisure time, and even the level of intimacy they can have with one another. All of them are living out monotonous lives until they are chosen in a lottery to go to “the Island” which is said to be the only pathogen-free space left on the Earth.
Lincoln 6E is a head-strong and inquisitive person who is unhappy and frustrated with his daily routine and his inability to know more about why he has to do the things he does and about the outside world. He shares all of this in his counseling sessions with the compound's administrator Dr. Merrick (Bean) who simply tells him to be patient and wait his turn to repopulate a “new Garden of Eden” on the Island.
The only respite Lincoln 6E gets is when he visits his friend Mac, who is a computer technician that lives in a restricted section of the compound. Although Mac is friendly and they have pleasant conversations, he too tells Lincoln 6E not to be so nosy and to just do his job like he does.
However, on his way back from visiting Mac, Lincoln 6E spots and captures a moth and wonders where it came from and how it got past the pathogen sensors. Later that day, Lincoln 6E watches the Island lottery drawing, and three people are chosen: a man, a pregnant woman, and his friend Sara 2D. That night, he is unable to sleep and decides to go explore the area where he found the moth, and eventually makes his way into a hospital. There, while disguised in hospital scrubs, he witnesses two of the Island lottery winners, the man is seen screaming and trying to run away before he is captured and strapped to a table so his heart can be removed, while the woman is euthanized after she gives birth to the baby (which is given to an unknown couple).
Horrified, Lincoln 6E runs back to the compound and fetches Sara 2D and tells her that there is no island and that she will be killed if she goes. Together they escape the compound, the hospital, and out into the real world, where somehow they find Mac and demand to know what is going on.
Mac tells them that the there is no plague and there is no “Island” and that the two of them are human clones. Dr. Merrick is really the CEO of a biotech company that produces what they call “agnates” which are as, Merrick describes to a group of prospective customers and investors, “a living frame engineered into adulthood to match our client's age...a carrier for your baby, a second pair of lungs, fresh skin. All genetically indistinguishable from their owner.”
Mac says that Lincoln 6E and Sara 2D are some rich person’s medical “insurance policy” that allows them to live longer lives or to survive a fatal disease or accident. Originally the agnates were kept in a persistent vegetative state but Merrick discovered that “without consciousness, without human experience, emotion, without life, the organs failed.” Thus the clones had to be raised and pampered in a perpetual child-like state in an underground compound hidden with sophisticated holograms so they will grow properly, until the clone’s “owners” wanted to harvest their body parts.
Horrified Sara 2D asks, “Don't people care that they kill us?” Mac replies that “they don't know, they think you're a vegetable simmering in a jelly sack” and that even if they did know Mac grimly points out “Just because you want to eat a hamburger doesn’t mean you want to meet the cow.” At this point Lincoln 6E and Sarah 2D get Mac to help them hunt down their sponsors to tell them the truth. Meanwhile, back at the compound Dr. Merrick hires a private security firm lead by Albert Laurent (Hounsou) to hunt down the escaped clones. The rest of the movie is one action-packed chase scene after another (sometimes ridiculously so) as Laurent and his team try to capture Lincoln 6E and Sara 2D. Eventually the two of them decide to go back to the compound and free the rest of the clones, with the help of Laurent who has a change of heart.
The Unacknowledged Case for the Right to Life
From Hollywood’s perspective, The Island was meant to be one of their standard diatribes against evil corporations run by a megalomaniacal CEO (by a well-established movie bastard like Bean no less!) and a Blackwater-like security force that plays by its own rules of engagement, as they profit off the lives ordinary people--oh the humanity!
However, it is precisely that exclamation that highlights what makes The Island’s storyline (purposely or not) an unacknowledged proponent of respecting the life and dignity of each and every person precisely because of their “humanity.” The film shows that despite being clones that were bought and paid for by someone else, they are still human beings who have the right to live a life of their own.
The Catholic Church has decried the very kind of therapeutic cloning (cloning in order to generate body parts) shown in The Island in the Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions because
“it transforms human reproduction into a laboratory undertaking, rather than the interpersonal and shared marital activity it is meant to be; and second, because it sanctions the raw arrogation of power by one human being over another by allowing the former to choose “who” the latter shall be through direct predetermination of many of that individual’s most fundamental characteristics.”
Moreover, while Hollywood did a good job in The Island in showing a Frankenstein-like dystopian nightmare future where science and technology are used to enslave and ultimately kill other human beings, it didn't follow through on its own assertions. What it gets wrong, but which one of the characters in the movie gets right, is that as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
“Science and technology by their very nature require unconditional respect for fundamental moral criteria. They must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, of his true and integral good, in conformity with the plan and the will of God.”
In one scene, after Laurent fully understands what Dr. Merrick is up to, even he who has had to kill as a soldier and mercenary, is taken aback. In a final meeting with Dr. Merrick, Laurent quips to him that they are in the same business- killing. Dr. Merrick angrily retorts, “It is so much more than that. I have discovered the Holy Grail of science, Mr. Laurent. I give life. The agnates, they're simply tools, instruments. They have no souls. The possibilities are endless here. In two years time I will be able to cure children's leukemia. How many on Earth can say that Mr. Laurent?”
Laurent replies, “I guess just you and God. That's the answer you're looking for, isn't it?”
How in the world that line got into the script is beyond me! But yes, Laurent was right, that was the answer Dr. Merrick wanted to hear, because in many ways like our own modern world, the world of The Island is a world that has left God behind.
A world St. Pope John Paul II warned us about back in 1995 in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae,
“The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism...The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one's own material well-being. The so-called "quality of life" is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure.”
This attitude is displayed by all of the sponsors who are trying to cheat death no matter what the cost, and in particular in the case of “Thomas Lincoln”, Lincoln 6E’s owner, a boat designer who is dying from a case of cirrhotic hepatitis acquired from a life of sexual promiscuity. When Thomas meets his clone, someone who is genetically-speaking his own twin brother, and even though he can see and is intrigued by Lincoln 6E’s humanity, he still ends up saying, “I’m just not ready to die” and is willing to let Lincoln 6E to be captured and killed.
Finally, the same pro-life message hiding in plain site in the film, is even more applicable to the issue of abortion. Replace the underground compound with the womb, the clones with the unborn child, and harvesting of body parts with the grisly world of the abortion industry revealed by the undercover work of David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress. Or how the lottery "winner" shown running from the operation room was a playing out of the 1984 documentary The Silent Scream where an ultrasound caught the terror and contortions that an unborn baby went through right before it was aborted.
Watched under the right circumstance, The Island brings all of these issues out into open for discussion, especially with your religious “None” friends, cynical youths, or anyone else whose mind is open to being changed on the issue of abortion or the sacredness of life in general. The film is rated PG-13 for language, violence, suggestive conversations, and a ridiculously placed sex scene where no nudity is shown (it can easily be skipped to next chapter). However, of all the sci-fi films that are worth watching for their social or cultural commentary, The Island is one of them.
Photo Credit- ranker.com