One morning, Eben sets out to confront the mainlander who has been fishing in his territory. When he finds the fisherman and his sternman hauling traps, Eben fires a warning shot. This shot, aimed squarely at the buoy the boy was hoisting out of the water, is proof enough that Eben is serious. In a panic the fisherman hits the throttle on the boat, not realizing the boy’s foot is ensnared in a rope trailing overboard. The teen is thrown into the icy waters of the Atlantic, vanishing immediately. Shock descends over Eben’s face as the full scope of his actions settles in. He sinks down in the stern of his boat, leaving himself adrift until the coast guard arrives to take him into custody.
After serving five years on a manslaughter plea, Eben returns to the island a felon and a pariah. His homecoming is bleak: his now ex-wife, Cheryl (Amy Jo Johnson), has moved in with Eben’s rival and refuses to let him see his daughter, Sara (Emma Ford); his estranged father died while Eben was in prison; and, seeing him as a harbinger of bad luck, no fisherman wants Eben anywhere near his boat. From the whispers and turned backs, it is clear no one is ready to forget the past. Humbled, he is determined more than ever to rebuild his life on the island, mend his relationships and win back the respect of his daughter.
Eben takes a job at the local dump, the only place willing to hire an ex-con, but still dreams of getting back out on the water. He slowly regains his footing in his changed community. Emily (Judy Prescott), the local doctor he meets after landing in the clinic with a nasty injury, is the first person to look beyond his past and see him for the man he has become. Popper (Philip Baker Hall), an old fisherman from his father’s generation, hires Eben to work as the sternman on his lobster boat, an opportunity no other fisherman would consider. This old islander is weathered and gruff but kindhearted; he shows Eben the support and affection he never received from his own dad. Although Sara is hesitant to reconnect with her father, her instinct to learn more about her dad is too powerful to resist.
Islander is a classic American story, portraying the gravitas in the everyday as one man learns to accept the consequences of his choices with grace. Eben discovers that self-respect is the hardest thing to earn and can only be found in community. Islander is an authentic portrait of weakness and courage in human kind.