Knowing from experience that when I stay alone in a hotel, despite my best intentions, I will get bored and end up watching Mudcats or Dual Survival until my brain feels like a boiled egg, I anticipated my trip to California. I packed Planet of the Apes, the original and best of the lot, hoping for some intellectual stimulation. Having grown up in an anti-evolution household, we were curiously allowed to watch Planet of the Apes, a kind of forbidden zone of the mind. It remains one of my favorite movies of all time. It is also a manifesto of science besieged by religion. Note what Dr. Zaius says, “There is no contradiction between faith and science… true science!” And he is the Minister of Science, and Chief Defender of the Faith. The trial of George Taylor, a thinly disguised parody of the Scopes Trial, has Honorious (read William Jennings Bryan) stating, “It is based on our first article of faith: that the almighty created the ape in his image, that he gave him a soul and a mind, the he set him apart from the beasts of the jungle and made him lord of the planet,” and turning on his fellow apes Zira and Cornelius, he accuses them of being “perverted scientists who advance an insidious theory called evolution!”
Dr. Zira, as one of these “perverted scientists,” asks Cornelius (incidentally, the name of the first non-Jewish Christian, according to Acts), “How can scientific truth be heresy?” This is echoed by Dr. Zaius in the trial where he states, “It is scientific heresy that is being tried here.” Indeed, the entire simian culture is based on the blurring and blending of science and religion. Throughout the film various characters make barbed statements about the human propensity to ignore the obvious. Landon, challenging Taylor about the time change they experienced in space, says—in a line that could come straight from Answers in Genesis—“Prove it! It’s still just a theory.” The exact rhetoric currently used by creationists in school board meetings around the country. To which the most apt reply seems to come from Dr. Zaius, speaking of humanity: “his wisdom must walk hand-in-hand with his idiocy.”
Occasionally even the gun-toting humans get the picture clear. In his opening monologue George Taylor wonders about the world seven hundred years from now, “Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego. I feel lonely. That’s about it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor’s children starving?” This seems to be the true measure of heresy—a religion that puts fellow humans on the same level as animals (and even animals deserve far more credit than we are willing to give). Among my favorite lines is Cornelius’ response to Taylor shaving his beard; “Somehow it makes you look less intelligent,” he opines. Endlessly remade, Planet of the Apes is a movie that still answers some of the issues that plague our society nearly half a century later. Perhaps the last line should go to the apes, adjusted of course, for gender sensitivity, “[hu]man[ity] has no understanding.” Well said, Dr. Zaius, well said.