In the 1950s-60s, a researcher named Dr. Harry Harlow performed psychological experiments on rhesus monkeys.  His work, always controversial and sometimes cruel, included separating infant monkeys from their parents and raising them in isolation.  This resulted in profound mental illness and unchecked aggression in the creatures, which he then attempted to re-socialize.  Harlow’s research inspired science fiction author Gene Wolfe to write the beautiful and sad (and Nebula Award-winning) novella The Death of Doctor Island in 1973.  The novella in turn provides a loose framework for this project.

The story revolves around Nicholas, a young boy whose brain has been split in half by radical neurosurgery.  The film opens with his literal ejection from a hole in the sand into a tropical paradise.  At first his only companion is “Doctor Island,” a godlike presence who is only sensed by his voice and his effect on the environment – including rocks, trees, ocean waves, and a group of monkeys, all of which he temporarily inhabits in order to communicate with the boy. 

nickHowever, Nicholas soon discovers that two others share this strange world with him:   Ignacio, a homicidal madman who beats him mercilessly, but to whom Nicholas feels strangely drawn; and Diane, a troubled girl plagued with catatonic schizophrenia who believes she has a bird living in her stomach.  The boy's attempt to unite this odd "family" and discover the reason for their incarceration on the Island leads to brutally tragic results.
 
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