The Island—Modernity Meets 17th-Century Piracy

Modernity versus 17th-century pirates? Bet on the pirates. If you’re “Jonesing” for a fascinating and exceedingly violent pirate adventure yarn, I highly recommend the 1980 overlooked film The Island. If you’re wondering who would win in a winner-take-all battle to the death between pirates and the modern (by 1980 standards) U.S. Coast Guard, check out this film.

First, this is not necessarily an Alt-Right film or even a good film for that matter, particularly if you’re watching it while sober. So I would encourage you to indulge in some spirits—Booker’s bourbon should hit the spot, though rum would likely be more appropriate. However, what it does illustrate is the tenacity and savagery that our ancestors were capable of inflicting, especially when it’s juxtaposed next to the impotence of modernity and its lack of resistance or situational awareness.

Based off the novel, The Island, by Peter Benchley, who also wrote the screenplay and the novelist behind the critically acclaimed Jaws and somewhat entertaining The Deep, this was budgeted to be a summer blockbuster in 1980. Unfortunately, by modern viewing (and even audiences at the time), this is clearly a B-level film. It contains executions, rape, torture-by-jellyfish, disturbing violence and weird sex, though not entirely degenerate. Its pacing is inadequate and the acting, other than the leads and pirate cast, is sub-par. The score, while inspiring at times, is uneven. And the film doesn’t know what it is—black comedy or thriller/slasher. But, most importantly, it’s fun.

What other film would depict SWPLs, while piloting a cocaine-laden pleasure craft (remember, this is the '80s), lacking even the most basic agency to defend themselves from makeshift wooden boats transporting toothless marauding pirates, sporting antique flintlocks and rusted cutlasses, and have them slaughtered to the man to a rousing Ennio Morricone score? Answer: Not many.

Michael Caine is the lead role as Blair Maynard and David Warner does a nice job as his foil, the pirate leader Jean-David Nau. The pirate cast seems to enjoy themselves immensely and shine throughout the film, each one adding their own nuances to their depraved characters.

The plot is fairly simple and uncomplicated. Maynard is a journalist from New York and is sent to the Bermuda Triangle to investigate the disappearance of ships in the area, his son tags along, and they get captured by 17th century pirates. In turn, the pirates attempt to brainwash the son to join their band and become their heir. Escape attempts are involved, multiple deaths and pirate boardings occur and a truly vicious reckoning takes place on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter New Hope.

Other than the violence, which would be watered down in a “current year” film, the most intriguing aspect of the film is naturally the pirates. The pirates are descendants of the French Buccaneers of Hispaniola and have not been touched by modernity. Their enclave, the island, has been in existence since it was established by Jean-David Nau, also known as, François l'Olonnais (1635 - 1668) during the 17th century. Interestingly, l'Olonnais was a real-life pirate who was active in the Caribbean during the 1660s. Warner’s character, sharing the same name, is named after his legendary ancestor. And, unlike modernity, veneration to ancestry and reverence to lineage play an important role for the pirates.

For instance, Caine’s Maynard is spared execution due to his last name. The character has the same last name as the Royal Navy Captain Robert Maynard (1684 - 1751), First Lieutenant of the HMS Pearl, who killed the bloodthirsty pirate Blackbeard in a fight off the coast of North Carolina. The pirates make the connection and spare him because of his presumed lineage.

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The pirates have had little contact with the outside world, other than raiding passing pleasure craft. So in a bizarre and slightly LARPy way, they have very little understanding for the pozzed contemporary world. For instance, after pillaging the SWLP/coke craft (mentioned above), they carelessly spill thousands of dollars of cocaine. To them, it’s worthless and trivial. Their captured breeding stock (yes, women), trinkets and weapons are more practical and interesting.

The pirate voice work is equally interesting as well. Due to their isolation, their mannerisms, customs and speech, while already unsettling due to their profession, are more devolved and foreign. To my Virginia ears, the only thing comparable would be the Tangier Island accent, which is fitting, since Tangier Island is a small and isolated island off the coast of Virginia and its people speak a unique English Restoration-era dialect of American English.

Isolation does have its drawbacks though. Inbreeding has shed an unhealthy amount of IQ points off the group, which necessitates the need for seizing women for breeding or outright kidnapping children for assimilation. Amusingly though, the pirate island is fairly well behaved and anyone captured by the pirates seem well adjusted and content.

The film has little diversity, which is an added plus, but customary for the time period of the film and topic. The pirates and their victims, unfortunately, are all White. What bothers me about modern pirate films, and there are very few, is the need to imagine pirates as a multicultural and sexually diverse family—see (((Jerry Bruckheimer’s))) Pirates of the Caribbean series and the feminist fantasy bomb Cutthroat Island. They’re pure fiction and nonsensical not only in the diversity aspect, but also in their depictions of a charming, non-threatening piracy.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, the climax is incredibly rewarding. The pirates, discovered by happenstance by an incompetent U.S. Coast Guard, go on the offensive utilizing treachery and pure barbarity. Heads are set on fire. M16s and hatchets meet in gangways. Flare guns are used as they should in battle.

If you’re drinking and having movie night at your local pool party, I give this film four out of five stars. If you’re bored and watching while sober, it’s barely a three (that’s being generous).

PS. The film depicts a black police officer as a corrupt buffoon.

Ranking System:

0 Stars – Red Tails
1 Stars – The Bird Cage
2 Stars – Prometheus
3 Stars – Eye of the Tiger
4 Stars – Presumed Innocent
5 Stars – Death Wish