The Inevitable God-Complex
Michael Bay’s 2005 film The Island had several scenes straight out of the action movie handbook. While watching the movie, I looked away for 30 second of a chase scene and looked back to find the protagonists perched on letters on a skyscraper. Tried and true hooks like this surely helped the film pull in an audience and earn 162 million dollars world wide. However, these classic cinematic features give way to more provoking messages. The Dr. Bernard Merrick serves as the movie villain, but he is overtly tagged with something usually left unspoken – “the God Complex.”
If we set aside the adrenaline triggering music and loud motor vehicles, The Island can be viewed as a commentary on the God complex, namely, the God complex side effect of genetic science. We’ve seen it again and again in our studies – Dr. Moreau, The World Controller, even Madame and Miss Emily. Those who fully understand the science sit in a position of untouchable power and prestige and see themselves exactly so. It seems the paths of technologies such as genetic engineering and surrogate mothers all lead to one destination – power crazed rulers.
Or do they? The environments created by the fictional works play off of much more than science alone. The social structures in place halt the spread of knowledge. In Brave New World, taking drugs is the norm whenever a citizen becomes anxious, concerned, or even curious about the world they live in. Never Let Me Go plays off the mean-girl-esqe social drama of Hailsham. Students are encouraged to focus on games and crushes of their own design as a distraction from their origin and fate as clones. In The Island, we see the most complete withholding of knowledge yet. Human “products” are given a false past and a false future, both more spectacular than the present. With the 360 view of hope surrounding them, they tolerate the prison-like condition of the present without question.
The protagonist of The Island only becomes dangerous by breaking the social structure. His communications with James McCord inform him of things like God and the God-complex. As much as the director would like us to believe our hero is dangerous because he’s a crafty liar born to ride motorcycles, from my perspective Lincoln is dangerous because he is curious. He gains knowledge of the inner functions of his facility in a quick montage. We see what “the Island” actually means, how the clones are born and conditioned, and the fate of a natural mother all within a few minutes. However, after this montage Lincoln’s scientific knowledge is nowhere near that of the Doctor’s. He could not create a clone or design the stimuli used to condition them. What he has is the power to cripple the social structure by revealing the true origins and destinies of his peers. It is this knowledge, the awareness of suppression, that threatens the God-complexed ruler.
Scientific progress alone will not inevitably lead to super-genius-dictators. All fictional examples we have encountered employ a second dimension of secrecy and strict social structure. The “God-complex” is fueled by a systematic restriction of information, not science.