FCC 05: Christian Themes in “Planet of the Apes”

Join us as we make a crash landing into the Forbidden Zone and seek out Christian themes in the original “Planet of the Apes.”

A Prime Example of Good Science Fiction

This is another one of those films Michael and I both grew up with. It actually came out one year before Michael was born, so he technically grew up with it more so than me. However, it was also one that my dad would encourage me to watch – even though I thought it was just weird at the time. Luckily, after watching it for this show, my mind’s changed.

But all that aside, both Michael and I agree that this is a prime example of good science fiction. If this genre had any requisites, they would probably include the following:

  1. A setting in a future that is more technologically advanced (i.e. space travel so advanced that it’s not unlike time travel).
  2. A conflict pitting Man against a product / result of said futuristic technology (i.e. a completely different social / cultural world).
  3. A resolution in which Man has realized the error of his ways but he lost that conflict.

In short, it serves as a cautionary tale – not unlike a parable, I’m just sayin’.

One of the finer moments of the film because Heston cannot talk.

One of the finer moments of the film because Heston cannot talk.

…and the Falsifiable Truth Will Unlock Your Cage

This is a world in which the “faith” of the inhabitants goes hand-in-hand with the “facts” of science. And it’s easier than it seems because both science and religion are controlled by one person: the Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith himself, Dr. Zaius.

But Dr. Zaius isn’t honest with this power. In fact, he uses it to control what citizens put their faith in as well as what they base their facts on. Such manipulation and suppression reminded me of Paul’s summation of the Romans and how they ultimately lost God’s favor:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

However, a constant thorn in his side is the scientific research performed by Dr. Zira and Cornelius who above all seek the truth – the whole truth at all costs. And it’s their efforts that lead to the revelation of a truth that has laid dormant in a cave in the Forbidden Zone…a truth that if made known, it would turn the Apes’ world upside down…a truth that Dr. Zaius knew along but suppressed it.

What truth? That, long ago, mankind existed before the “enlightened” Apes and, at one time, were better than them. And through methods unknown, mankind ended up destroying itself. But not before the Apes could observe mankind’s self-destruction. As the Lawgiver himself wrote in the Sacred Scrolls:

Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.

It’s almost like a bullet list of all the atrocities that mankind commits – I mean committed – against itself. And it’s enough for the Lawgiver to record so that the Apes of posterity wouldn’t make the same mistake. Nevertheless, this is the truth that has been hidden and is now brought to light – was lost, but now is found.

And I rejoice in the fact that Dr. Zira and Cornelius accept this truth. And they so readily accept it because it has set them free from Dr. Zaius’s suppression. This is very reminiscent of Jesus’s words to those following him:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

zira, cornelius, truth

We forget about the game – we accept the truth!

But after they all return to the city, Dr. Zira and Cornelius will go on to be tried for heresy, and (presumably) nothing will change for the Apes. And then the camera follows Taylor and Nova down the shore and ultimately to the fallen Statue of Liberty.

I use this point in the movie to simply urge everyone to know why they believe what they believe. The citizens simply believed the Lawgiver because Dr. Zaius told them to do so (in some regards, an unfortunately accurate mirror to our present society). This is an example of an unfalsifiable religion. However, once made falsifiable, it’s then proved false in light of the truth.

This is why it’s important to know why we believe what we believe:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14-16)

The Apostle Paul in Planet of the Apes

Exactly as I said before, this is a world in which the “faith” of the inhabitants goes hand-in-hand with the “facts” of science. This social norm is similar to that of the Grecian society. Not only for trying to combine science and faith, but also for the numerous statues serving as idols for the faithful. And also for being highly skeptical whenever a wondrous phenomenon passes through.

Don't forget: that was my idea!

Don’t forget: that was my idea!

This reminded Michael of the Apostle Paul’s visits to Athens and Ephesus. Maybe not the apostle himself, but at least in some of the situations he found himself in.

For example, when Taylor is in the outdoor cage with the rest of the captured humans, Dr. Zira wants to show him off to Dr. Zaius. She, at this moment in the film, is the only one that believes “Bright Eyes” can communicate with the rest of the civilized Apes.

As soon as Dr. Zaius arrives and distracts Dr. Zira and Cornelius with other questions, Taylor bends down and writes something in the dirt. Unfortunately, the not-yet-named Nova rubs it out.

But once Taylor is in Cornelius’s office, he has another chance to prove his intelligence. So whenever Dr. Zira and Cornelius ask Taylor a question, since he still can’t talk, he writes out his answers. Cornelius, in turn, calls him “crazy.”

Isn’t this like Paul in Athens?

Now while Paul was waiting for [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:16-18)

Even though he couldn’t speak, Taylor was a “babbler” in the Apes’ eyes because kept writing of things like “flight” and “space travel.”

Also, during the chase scene, Taylor crashes a very religious funeral service. This shows that the Apes take their religion very seriously, much like all of the Artemis worshippers in Ephesus. The following is nothing short of riotous, as once Taylor is caught, he is taken to trial, much like Paul is held to a sort of public trial, both of which had to be calmed down, as in the following:

And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:35-41)

Quite the peacekeeper, am I right?

And Paul’s final plea for both Athens and Ephesus – the hope he offered to these to pagan societies and how we can justify the transition from a multi-god past to the one-God salvation plan? Paul puts it plainly:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, butnow he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)

Our Question: Who Was More Right?

Both doctors are both right to some degree, but who is closer to the mark: Dr. Zira and her belief that man can be “tamed” and eventually trusted and respect, or Dr. Zaius and his belief in the opposite? Or are they on the same timeline of belief, but just at different points?

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Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is a graduate student pursuing his Master in Theatre Arts degree with Regent University. He is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. You can find him live-tweeting his favorite movies on Twitter @LeviTheBeliever or posting poetry and unsolicited opinions at thebookofbrenden.com
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