“Instinct” (1999): a worldview of naturalism

The following displays the motion picture “Instinct” released in 1999, a motion picture which conveys that there is nothing more savage than civilization when compared to the natural world. Below, is this author’s summary and analysis of this drama/thriller, written in a philosophical and theological view to explain and illustrate the film’s predominant worldview, that which is a worldview of naturalism. This author will first present his summary.

The motion picture takes its viewers to the time of the incarceration of Dr. Ethan Powell, a renowned anthropologist, and primatologist. After disappearing and living with native Rwandan guerrillas for two years, Powell, also called “Lost Man,” returns to civilization to be put on trial after murdering two Rwandan wildlife rangers/poachers. Before standing trial, Powell is imprisoned at a Florida mental institution while his strange and regressive personally is observed by a young, aspiring psychiatrist named Dr. Theo Calder. During Dr. Theo Calder’s observation sessions, he examines Powell’s primitive attributes along with his regressive attitude, which is displayed in Powell’s refusal to speak. Powell is finally shown to speak after Dr. Theo Calder asks “Can you take me with you?”, in hopes that he might be guided by Powell into his dream world of nature. Agreeing, Powell confesses that he is a murderer.

He confesses, however, while attempting to teach Dr. Theo Calder about his worldview.

Powell "commands" Dr. Calder to pass-on Powell's understanding onto a “people [which] are not of this world” (Dr. Calder’s civilized and modern society). When Powell is asked by Dr. Calder why Powell pick him as his “messenger,” Powell tells him that it is because his eyes show “a look of curiousness…” as if searching for truth from a feeling of being unsatisfied. At this point, Dr. Calder is shown to take on a more student position rather than one of a teacher or observer. Powell is then shown throughout the movie telling of his experiences which he had while he was in Rwanda, being an anthropologist enthralled in the observation of nature and gorillas.

In his fourth session with Powell, Dr. Calder mentions how Powell, “lived like an animal for two years.” An understanding which Powell corrects by stating, “I lived as a man living among animals as humans did thousand years ago…” After being put in a chokehold while being yelled at with a sarcastically asked question of “Who is in control?”, Dr. Calder is forced by Powell to answer life’s biggest question, “What is mankind’s true nature of being?” Through this intense physical and philosophical struggle, Dr. Calder "learns" that mankind's act to control everything is just an illusion as they have no free-will and that the true values of existence can be found. Powell changes Theo's worldview forever as he ends up adopting a naturalistic worldview that says that there is nothing more savage than civilization, and man is nothing but a mere part of nature which has only progressed on illusions. At the end of the movie, Powell escapes the mental institution, and Dr. Calder is shown “escaping” his own civilize mind by embracing nature by standing in a rainstorm with arms outreached high.

This movie heavily promotes a naturalistic worldview with its’ pro-evolutionary propaganda. There is a message given in this movie which devalues man to be only a part, a complex machine, in nature; not only this but that man must be killed to protect gorillas. Throughout the movie, there are serial scenes, lines, and symbols which showcase this movie’s naturalistic concepts which are profoundly humanistic and pro-evolutionary. Below, this author will point out some of these details to show their naturalistic thought.

In this movie, man’s equality to nature and how they should learn to live in harmony with nature are based on evolution. Throughout the movie, the concept of “going back” to a primitive state and living among nature is chiefly explained. Towards the halfway mark of the movie, Powell, while describing when he identified with guerrillas, mentioned “I felt in a way that I was coming back to something I had lost long ago, there I was only now remembering.” Again, this concept of “going back” is affirmed by looking to the beginning of the movie when Powell states, “I lived as a man living among animals, like humans did thousand years ago…” Later on, Powell is shown drawing on his prison cell’s walls, as if like a caveman, a mural displaying the history of man. Powell explains to Dr. Calder, that hunter-gathers only hunted what they needed, and plowed what the needed; never taking more than what their need called for. He then states “They shared nature, [and] where among nature.” When Dr. Calder asked what can man do to return to this state, Powell states, “Dominion. We only have one thing to give up. Our dominion. We don’t own the world. We are not kings yet; not gods.”

In this way, man is shown to be just complex machines equal to all of creation as he is made from the same matter as all of nature. This movie makes its real damage in attacking God-given responsibilities to have dominion over earth. This gives way to a felt need of “going back” to nature, that which is perceived to be the prime reality or that which is eternal. This causes a number of ethical issues, such as situational ethics. One issue can be clearly seen in the movie when Dr. Calder justifies Powell’s murders in his statement “You are not to blame, not for any of it, you were just defending your family.” Again, this movie goes over the top presenting the message that man needs to be killed to protect the gorilla’s way of life. The understanding, however, that man is equal to all of the natural world is only the first major concept of naturalism which is conveyed in this movie. Not only are humans not special as they are equal to all of nature, but that they are ruled by the same natural law in a closed system.

In the movie, man’s progression in evolution is marked by his mysticism and need for control, which are the bases of man’s captivity to illusions (illusions such as values of existence and love). This view of man’s quest for control is found in the illusions which he believes. This theory was named within the movie as “the game” which mankind plays. About midway into the movie, Powell states that when he held the hand of a guerrilla he realized that in “the deep of those forests, away from everything you know, everything you have ever been taught, high-school, a book, a song, or rhythm, you find: peace, harmony, pure religion, and even safety.” Here we not only find a naturalistic view about knowledge (that man makes up knowledge), but that man has been enslaved to illusions. This understanding is shown when Powell ended a session with Dr. Calder, by possessing the question of “Are you free?” The comparison of freedom and control, found within this topic of truth versus illusion, was played off one another quite consistently throughout the movie.

As mentioned above, after Dr. Calder is placed in a chokehold, it was yelled sarcastically “Who is in control?”. Dr. Calder came to the conclusion that control, love, and values of existence are all illusions of man. This concept was symbolically shown through the prison’s use of playing cards within a “game.” It was a game which allowed the “patients” to experience a quest for control and freedom: when someone received or “found” (sold) an ace card, it was determine that this person would be given the privilege to experience freedom by being placed outside for thirty minutes. When Dr. Calder comes to find out about the game’s propose to create an illusion, he confronts his supervisor, only to be told “We can only afford the time and personnel to do one rotation, for one patient a day so [we] make it random using the cards… It helps them. It keeps them focused on something.” The prisoners, therefore, played a game with the illusion of control in a determined system, only to be really occupying themselves with this illusion. Although a somewhat funny, this scene promotes a naturalistic understanding that mankind is only playing game of illusion so he can experience the illusion of control in a determined system.

In this way, the concept of “survival of the fittest” is at play as man is seen to be in a game of control, seeking advantage and purpose in life, which contributes to man’s higher status in evolution. This understanding is briefly revealed when Dr. Calder responds to his supervisor, but the “stronger take it from the weak.” Thusly, this concept gives birth to the naturalistic conclusion that evil, although not having an ultimate, is just man’s maladjustment to nature in seek for control or a deviancy from human norms.

In short, this movie coneys the worldview of naturalism: 1) that prime reality is matter (nature), 2) man is just a highly evolved animal, 3) man and nature are entirely determined to live in a closed system; 4) knowledge is humanly developed to effect progress, 5) ethics are situational and based on man, 6) evil is just a maladjustment of that human create which causes disturbance in nature’s harmony; 7) evolution may give natural history meaning, as man’s history has no purpose. This author would summarize this movie’s dominant thought to be “There is nothing more savage than civilization.”

The movie is an attack to the innate transcendent value of humans and the image of God in which they were made and given special purpose. For this reason, among other things, I would not recommend the movie to the immature or those acceptable to falsehoods.

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