There are a lot of movies that tell us to disobey God, or insist that He doesn’t exist. Most of them are implicit, simply showing us how a sinful behavior is actually beneficial, or pushing the idea that all authority or authority figures are corrupt. Some movies, however, get more bold. Some of them take the subject of God and religion head-on, screaming with tenacity of its evil. Planet of the Apes is such a film.
But before getting into the analytical details, let’s take a look at the setting of the film itself. Planet of the Apes was released in 1968 and stars Charlton Heston, an astronaut who, along with fellow Americans, lands in the distant future on what they think is Earth, until they find humans acting like animals, and a society of sentient apes controlling them as the intelligent species of this new mysterious place. Taylor’s (Heston) companions are all killed in a man hunt by the apes, while he is captured and taken back to the Apes’ home.
Having a damaged throat at first, Taylor has no way of communicating to the Apes that he can speak. Over time, he manages to communicate this to the zoologist, Zira. When he finally is able to speak, she believes him, and claims that he could be proof of the supposedly crackpot theories of her fiance Cornelius. Cornelius believes that the sacred writings of their religion are inadequate to explain their origins, and instead believes that they evolved from humans into apes.
Starting to sound familiar yet?
But Dr. Zaius, who holds a position of authority both as a cranky theologian and as a scientist, isn’t so sympathetic. He believes that Taylor is an animal who holds no rights, and deserves to be put down. He also has no tolerance for the theories of Cornelius, even as evidence for his theories continue to rise up throughout the film, particularly at its conclusion. So instead of appealing to reason, after seeing the brutal condemning tribunal and the brutality and arrogance of the enforcers of the status quo, Taylor and his ape friends decide that, to do the right thing, they have to rebel against the authority figures that are in place.
The particularly remarkable thing in this story is that Taylor doesn’t really want to stay and change things in that society. He just wants to be free to go his own way. But the monarchs of this dystopian ape society aren’t content to let him leave. They are insistent that they must have dominion over him, or else they are not content.
There’s so much here, it’s hard to even know where to begin.
Let’s start with Cornelius. The guy is a revolutionary scientist who believes that apes evolved from men. Obviously, Cornelius is meant to represent Charles Darwin, as well as evolutionary science as a whole. The entire narrative is really about evolution versus God. Even if you wanted to argue that evolution and Christianity are not mutually exclusive (which they are), the film makes it clear that, in its world, that is the case. Religion has kept Cornelius from presenting his reasonable theories. Religion has kept him from giving a sentient being basic rights. Religion has impeded progress.
Part of me wants to launch into a narrative about how science doesn’t disprove God, and how science overwhelmingly gives evidence for a creator. But this isn’t a science blog. And part of me suspects I’d be preaching to the choir. So instead, I’m linking to some helpful books on this topic in the Amazon links at the bottom of the page, and continuing a discussion of the film.
Despite the film’s rather generous depiction of evolution, the true problem in the film’s worldview lies elsewhere. It lies in the depiction of religion, and the religious. According to these filmmakers, religion is inherently closed-minded, oppressive, and intellectually dishonest. Dr. Zaius even destroys evidence of Cornelius’s theories!
Then, there’s the plot’s conclusion. The only way to combat the evils of religion is to rebel against it, violently, if necessary. The religious can’t be reasoned with. They can’t see outside of their pitiful little worlds. They are not misunderstood friends. They are enemies.
That’s what this film is saying. That’s what it’s about. The religious are enemies to reason, foes to progress. So as this franchise ever expands, with the eighth film coming in July, we have to take our stand on it. The story is built on an anti-Christian foundation, so why should Christians tolerate it?