Sunday, May 27, 2007

Flux and Reflux: Planet of the Apes

I am still so pissed off about the paint job on the Hebrew Free Loan Association (see my immediately previous post); it is so galling when tiny minds or smug committees pollute the landscape with their witlessness. While I wrote that post, I flipped on the TV and managed to stumble on to The Planet of the Apes. Now, I am not much of a movie buff, though Netflix is allowing me to catch up (also killed some time today watching the hilarious A Shot in the Dark, the second Pink Panther movie), but for whatever reason, I have seen Planet of the Apes 4 or 5 times over the years.

This is a film thematically centered the relationship between religion and rule, often fought ought in a battle between faith and science. It is certainly curious of course that a bare-chested Charlton Heston represents the rebel for science and against faith. It struck me that the scene on the beach relates to my posts on flux and reflux in religion, and for that matter on the relationship between religions and rule that I wrote about in rehashing Constantine.

Dr. Zaius, who is a Jerry Falwell like cynical religious leader throughout most of the film, abruptly turns into a rather nuanced character on the beach. It starts when he says, "There is no contradiction between faith and science ... true science." This is a set-up line that played to rationalist sensibilities rising in public thinking in the 60s because what Zaius actually means is that true science is dictated by faith, not the other way around. So the audience was likely to see this as cynicism. Taylor (Heston) has no space for faith ... what he wants is a rifle and a horse (there are those damned horses again) and a shot at surviving by dint of brains and the quotidien application of reason to problems. Isn't it the more curious how that line about faith and science reads so differently in the present religious revanchism ... now true science is true faith, and butter does not melt in the mouths of those, be they the ludicrous creationists or the craven scientific apologists for religion, who claim that there is no contradiction between faith and reason. Nonsense.

But, as I say, this is a set-up line in the movie for a consideration of the role of religion. Remember that Zaius is the villain, and yet he argues that religion alone can prevent people (or apes, as it were) from enacting their worst instincts ... that without religion's deliberate suppression of knowledge, the worst instincts would come to the fore. Again, it is Moses ... I mean Charlton ... who snorts at this argument, only to learn the truth of it when he finds the shattered Statue of Liberty in the sands shortly thereafter. So the flux and reflux in the scene ... between Zaius as villain and Zaius as prophet ... mirrors the flux and reflux in the world between resurgent reason and the flight into faith.

Zaius ends up looking rather better than one might have expected as he threatens people with trials for heresy. I had to snort when the penalty was determined to be two years ... real religious history finds that the penalty for heresy is typically a horrible death or exile. Zaius's rehabilitation, however, stems from one of the most noxious of the religious claims ... not that they alone have truth, but that they alone have morality and depth of insight ... a brash rebel like Taylor cannot see that the fat establishment is protecting him when it denies him his freedom. So in his moment of subtlty, Zaius actually shows that he has harnessed his insights to repression and authoritarianism. That's theology for ya.

I'll try to come back to the question of religion and rule after I walk the dog.

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