Friday, August 5, 2011

Planet of the Apes

One of my favorite movies of all time (let's say top 20 at least) is the original Planet of the Apes.  It gave an interesting (if mostly one-sided) treatment of science and religion at a time when not many were talking about those two together.  And the macro-plot was so fascinating.  So when I heard that a prequel was coming out, I put opening day on the calendar.  And this afternoon, I took my boys to go see it.

I'll confess that I was a bit nervous about it.  The sequels to the original became more than a little goofy, as only the 70s could be goofy, and the remake by Tim Burton was visually nice but the story line was emasculated.  But I figured that if nothing else, it would be good for a few laughs.  We didn't laugh much.  This movie was frightening--frighteningly awesome, as my kids would say.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is easily my favorite movie of the year--though admittedly, that isn't saying much.  But even if I had gone to see a bunch, I'm pretty sure this would still be my favorite.  Don't worry about spoiler alerts, because you know what's going to happen: the apes win.  And even just a little way into the movie, you know how they are going to win: there is a virus developed that causes brains to build a bunch of new synaptic connections and increase intelligence, but humans can't ward off the nastier element of the virus that kills them, while apes are immune to that part.  So essentially what we have is an event like the meteor crash that wiped out the dominant species (dinosaurs) and allowed the mammals to flourish.  But I don't suppose the dinosaurs sat around and reflected on the demise of their dominance or made movies about it.  And I guess that is what was so frightening and fantastic about the movie.  We were forced to so reflect.

The computer animation was stunning.  In the slower scenes, the emotion with which the primate faces is infused is incredible.  I thought some of the action scenes made the apes look too much like Spiderman, but I suppose we have to let Hollywood be Hollywood.  And it did a fantastic job of setting up the original--especially the subtle mention of a manned space mission that appeared to be lost.  The development of language was in there too in a climactic scene (though I understood that to be a physical--not mental--impossibility for apes). The film didn't pick up the religious themes of its predecessor/sequel, but certainly the animal ethicists will be happy.  How should we be treating these creatures who can obviously think and feel at significant levels?  They aren't so different from us, right?

Well, actually the real apes are significantly different from us.  Yes, they have the rudiments of intelligence, emotion, social structure, and even language.  But the complexities of these in us are such to put us on a completely different plane.  Some will want to emphasize that it is the imago dei that makes us so different.  But I'd suggest (without being too dogmatic about it) that that is getting the cause and effect switched around. Instead of the image of God that was somehow stamped onto us at some point and that making us different, I'd suggest that we as human beings were very different in kind and it is that that allowed us to enter into conscious relationship with God.  In that relationship, then, God allowed that we would be his image here on earth (rather than letting wood and stone idols be the image, like the gods of other Ancient Near Eastern religions apparently did).  Being God's image has nothing to do with what we look like, but rather we are the bearers of his character.  And I'd suggest that the character of God would be nice to the apes!

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