Most people remember The Island as “that clone movie” or “the movie Michael Bay recycled footage from for Transformers”, if they remember it at all. The Island is an uninspired imitation of its dystopian film predecessors, mixing serious science fiction quandaries with Bay’s trademark explosion-heavy action.
Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor star as Jordan Two-Delta and Lincoln Six-Echo, respectively. They live on in a giant compound that looks equal parts Apple and Orwell. Everyone in the compound lives according to strict rules. There are dietary restrictions and a ban against sex, so obviously everyone wants to leave. The only way to do so is by winning the weekly lottery; one resident of the compound is chosen each week to go to the titular paradise island.
Lincoln begins having dreams of memories that aren’t his own, leading him and Jordan to try to discover more about their surroundings and themselves. Lincoln befriends one of the compound’s employees, a technician named James McCord (Steve Buscemi). Buscemi injects some much-needed humor and gets some of the films’ best lines. He helps Lincoln understand things and answers his questions about the world.
“What’s God?” Lincoln asks.
“You know when you want something really bad and you close your eyes and you wish for it?” McCord explains. “God’s the guy that ignores you.”
After Lincoln and Jordan escape the compound, it’s McCord who must explain to Jordan and Lincoln what the heck is going on:
While the movie hints heavily at Jordan and Lincoln being clones, Buscemi is the one who gets to explicitly reveal this knowledge to the characters and the audience. Though his dialogue is similar to Deckard’s reveal to Rachel that she’s a Replicant in Blade Runner, Buscemi’s empathy for the clones is tangible. He laments that he’s “the guy who’s gotta tell the kids there’s no Santa Claus.”
If you’re going to have someone deliver exposition through dialogue, you can’t go wrong with Steve Buscemi. He brings something genuine to the role and is the most “human” of all the characters. In a movie that’s otherwise emotionally cold, Buscemi brings a bit of warmth. He helps the clones and lets them into his own house, which is a ramshackle shack compared to the sterile, massive compound. He’s brutally honest with them, interrupting Jordan when she recites a memory to him to prove it's not her own.
“At least you had a bike,” he says. “Wanna trade your rosy memory implants for my shitty childhood? Be my guest.”
McCord helps Jordan and Lincoln despite knowing it could end badly for him. He’s a complex, interesting character in a movie full of two-dimensional tropes and literal clones. This seals his death, of course, because people apparently really like seeing Steve Buscemi die. Poor McCord is shot point-blank in the chest by an agent of the cloning facility, and he falls through a massive glass bar display.
Buscemi’s role is critical to The Island. He serves as plot navigator, exposition espouser, and comic relief in an otherwise dour movie.
The Island isn’t terrible, by the way – it’s a by-the-numbers sci-fi action thriller with some great casting and all the Baysplosions audiences can handle. But Buscemi brings it up a notch, drawing empathy from the audience and giving us a character that feels real enough to latch onto. His character’s death hurts and is the most effective part of the movie in evoking emotion.
Rest in peace, McCord, you sad weird bastard.