Views & Reviews
No. 19 Copyright (c) 1994 Biblical Horizons January, 1994
reviewed by James B. Jordan
Greystoke was produced and directed by Hugh Hudson, the man who gave us Chariots of Fire. Thus, it is of interest to thinking persons who appreciated the subtle interplay of ideas and perspectives in the earlier _lm, and it is also of interest to Christians for obvious reasons.
Greystoke is the _rst _lm version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes to come anywhere close to presenting the story and characters of the original book. Even so, however, Hudson has invested the story with quite a bit more than Burroughs ever did. If the basic themes of Chariots were nationalism, human motivation, and religious faith, the basic themes of Greystoke revolve around the nature of man, of society, and of science.
Starting with the modern assumption that human beings are related somehow to animal ancestors, Greystoke explores various comparisons and contrasts between man and beast. In the _rst half of the movie, as Tarzan grows up among the apes, we are shown a series of events each of which shows that Tarzan is fundamentally di_erent from his primate family. (1) Tarzan is shown imitating the sounds and actions not just of apes, but of other animals as well, showing his transcendence over the animal realm. (2) Tarzan learns to throw objects, not just wield sticks and clubs, showing a concept of transcendence over space. (3) In the next scene, Tarzan smears mud on his "ugly white face," so that he can look more like an ape brother; yet when a panther attacks the two, the ape is killed, while Tarzan swims to safety, showing dominion over water which apes cannot have. (4) Encountering a mirror, Tarzan examines himself in it, in contrast to the apes who pay no attention to it. (5) Tarzan uses a tool to kill his enemy.
The next section of the _lm brings Phillipe D’Arnot into the picture. This Belgian is travelling with English hunters and explorers. The anti-British theme in Chariots of Fire carries over here, for the British are shown as completely out of touch with nature. They kill animals for fun ("sport and blood"), or to study them clinically, but they have no sympathy or kindness in their approach to nature. The more emotional D’Arnot has no use for the British.
Attacked by primitive blacks, the English _ee, leaving D’Arnot wounded by an arrow in his back. In a scene designed to show the strength of human dominion, D’Arnot pokes the arrow through his body and pulls it out the front. This contrasts with the earlier death of Tarzan’s mother who, shot by an arrow, simply lay down and died.
Tarzan _nds D’Arnot and nurses him back to health. D’Arnot teaches him English, and tells him that he is not an animal but a man. Tarzan’s _rst two words are "mirror" and "razor," which signify the uniquely human capacities for self-examination and self-alteration.
To this point in the _lm, then, we have explored di_erences between men and beasts. Hudson’s viewpoint is more sophisticated than much of modern anthropology, which tries to reduce that di_erence to one thing or another (took-making, or language). Here we have a whole complex of things that separate men from beasts. The second half of the _lm explores similarities between men and beasts, but before discussing that, let us survey brie_y the remainder of the movie.
Tarzan and D’Arnot come to a town on the edge of civilization. As they arrive, we hear a church service in progress. They take a room at an inn, which is also a whorehouse. The opposition of Church and whorehouse, however, is not explored. Comparing the _lm to its previews, it is obvious that a big hunk of the movie was cut just at this point; in fact, the credits give the name of a character called "Rev. Stimson" who does not appear in the _lm at all. I don’t know if Hudson himself made the cut, or if the distributors did. Naturally, I’d like to know if there was some presentation of the Church and Christian faith at this point in the movie.
Arriving in England, Tarzan is presented to his grandfather, the aging Lord Greystoke. As Tarzan arrives, the old man issigni_cantlyshaving. The aged Greystoke represents the best of human culture. Beloved by his servants, he is kind and caring to them all. His Christmas party celebrates the best and _nest in human culture. His grace in dealing with an idiot boy in his entourage is set in contrast to the sharpness and harshness with which the retarded boy is treated by others. Greystoke’s kindness and childlike outlook on life complete the picture of true humanity, and point to how men should relate to other men, and to beasts.
In contrast, Sir Evelyn Blount represents the scienti_c viewpoint. We cannot be sure that Tarzan is really the heir of Greystoke without scienti_c tests, he intones. Blount’s hero is Charles Darwin, but when Tarzan visits the museum dedicated to Darwin’s work and sees all the stu_ed and mounted beasts, he becomes physically sick. Wandering out, he comes to a scienti_c laboratory where experiments are being conducted on apes. He _nds his old ape "father" in a cage, and sets him free. They wander in a park, frightening people unintentionally, until a policeman under Blount’s direction kills the old ape. The Darwinian viewpoint is presented as characterized by an utter lack of sympathy and kindness. As Silverbeard dies, D’Arnot removes his hat, and John (Tarzan) cries out in French, "He was my father!"
More so, since as Tarzan approaches the scienti_c laboratory, the camera shoots the scene through a grated fence. Tarzan is caged as well, visually. The association is pregnant: As men have caged and abused the animal, so they have caged and abused their fellow man. The Darwinian treatment of the beast is but a precursor to the Darwinian treatment of humanity. Thus, the scientist in the laboratory is given a German name. Darwinism leads to Nazism.
This leads us back to the nationalistic symbols in the _lm. Jane delights to hear Tarzan (John Clayton by this time) speak English with his French accent. If anything encapsulates the message of Greystoke it is this line, for Hudson clearly presents the French (Belgian) D’Arnot as more humane than the English characters in the movie (except for the aging Greystoke). As he leaves to go to home, D’Arnot says to John, "When I get back, you will have forgotten all your French." "Never," replies Tarzan.
As mentioned earlier, the second half of the _lm sets up similarities between beasts and men. In an example of territorialism, the old Greystoke encourages his grandson, Tarzan, never to sell o_ the estate. "Keep it whole, and keep yourself whole," he advises. His house is like a tamed jungle, with plants and animals displayed everywhere. Moreover, there are parallels between his household and the tribe of apes among whom Tarzan had grown up. At the end of the _lm, with both his ape father and his grandfather dead, Tarzan cries out "Father, father, family, family!" The question raised is, thus: Who is my father, and who my family?
A good question, and one for which Christianity alone has a real answer: God is our only abiding Father, and the Church our only abiding family. Similarly, the key _gures in Tarzan’s life seem to die, one after another (Kala, Greystoke, Silverbeard), and each time there is a strong mourning scene in the _lm. What then is the meaning of death? What is the answer to it?
The need for a new science is presented in Greystoke. The aging Greystoke is out for a ride on a large tricycle, and a motorcar drives past him. "Infernal machine," says the old man, shaking his _st. At the end of the _lm, Sir Evelyn Blount says that John (Tarzan) should remain in England and not go back to Africa, "because of the needs of science." "Whose science?" replies the French D’Arnot. The cold sterility of Darwinian experimentation, or something new and better?
The great weakness of Greystoke as a _lm is that it raises all kinds of problems, and sets up extensive contrasts and symbolic matrices, yet leaves everything unresolved. All the same, the issues raised by the _lm are worthy of Christian re_ection. God brought the animals to Adam so that Adam could learn from them. The Bible always presents animals as object lessons for human social life and behavior. This "use" of animals is a far cry from the modern "scienti_c" use of them. Moreover, the theme of kindness in Greystoke is an important one, for if God cares about every sparrow that falls, so should we.
There are a number of very tense scenes in Greystoke, as when D’Arnot pulls the arrow through his _esh. Also, there is one implied sexual encounter. Parents will want to preview it before letting children view it.
Two by Hitchcock
reviewed by James B. Jordan
Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier movies display a strongly moral, even Christian, point of view, and certainly can be enjoyed by Christian viewers. His later works, such as Psycho, The Birds, and his television series, are not as clearly moral in tone. In these later e_orts, Hitchcock brought humorous or absurd twists into his plots. Hitchcock was able thereby to trick his audience, precisely because the audience was still committed to a moral worldview, but the overall e_ect of his later works is to confuse the moral perspective.
This is not the case, however, with his earlier _lms. Two you will enjoy are I Confess and Rope. The _rst of these takes place in French Canada. In the opening scenes, a man commits a murder and confesses it to a young priest. Because of the separation of church and state, and the privacy of the counseling o_ce (the confessional booth), the priest is not able to tell the police who the murderer is. As it happens, the young priest himself falls under suspicion, and is eventually charged with the murder!
In this theologically sophisticated story, the young priest is called upon to imitate his Master, and give his life as a sacri_ce to ransom the sinner. I Confess is a dramatic story that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
The other _lm I recommend is Rope. Based on a true story, the _lm opens as two young men murder a mutual friend. They commit this murder for no reason except to prove to themselves that they are "supermen," men who are beyond the mundane categories of good and evil.
After committing the murder, they place the body in a chest and invite friends over for dinner. Dinner is served on the chest in which the corpse lies, a parody of the catholic idea of the altar as, in part, the tomb of Christ. This is no feast to commemorate the self-sacri_ce of Jesus, but a feast to celebrate guilt-free murder.
One of the people they invite over is their philosophy professor, played by Jimmy Stewart, from whom they had learned their "superman" philosophy. As the evening progresses, the professor begins to _gure out what his two students have done. They have actually put his armchair paganism into practice! This _lm exposes the humanist philosophy taught in our public schools and universities. The movie is too intense for small children, but it is a rewarding and thought provoking experience for Christian adults.
Rope is also interesting from an artistic standpoint, since the entire action takes place in one apartment, and in real time.
2001: A Space Odyssey
reviewed by James B. Jordan
In the November 1993 issue of Open Book Peter Leithart commented brie_y on gnosticism. The _lm 2001 is a great specimen of gnosticism, and is worth viewing as a Sunday School project for an adult class.
The author of the basic story was Arthur C. Clarke, an old-school science _ction writer whose novel, Childhood’s End, provided the basic theme of the _lm. Stanley Kubrick, the director and crafter of the movie, is well-known for his Freudian _lms Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange, both of which deal with the primitive sexual violence lurking in the hearts of men (the id) versus the restraining in_uence of society (the super-ego).
The theme of Clarke’s novel and of 2001 is mankind’s transcendence of the limitations of the _esh. The summum bonumthe greatest goodto which we can aspire is to be rid of the body, which according to these men and gnostics of all ages, limits us from ful_lling our god-like nature.
2001 is a visually stunning work of art (especially in a theater). It is packed with symbolism employed in a sophisticated fashion, and deals in a profound but pagan way with some of the most basic aspects of human existence.
As you watch the _lm you will notice that in virtually every scene people are shown eating food. The fact is that we need food to life. From a Christian standpoint, God gives us life by His Spirit as we eat food, which is dead and lifeless; we kill cows and tomatoes before we eat them. From the gnostic standpoint, our need for food is simply a limitation. The Starchild born at the end of the _lm gets his energy directly from the cosmos.
Other "limitations of the _esh" that are displayed in the _lm are sleep, birthdays, and the elimination of waste. See if you can count the number of meals, scenes of sleep, birthdays, and bathroom scenes. As the _lm moves to its climax, we are shown men running for exercise and breathing heavily, and then comes the long heavy-breathing sequence in the spacesuit. Breathing is another limitation of the _esh.
In the lengthy prologue to the _lm, the apes are shown sleeping and eating. Then, after encountering the Monolith, which raises them up to the next stage of evolution, they become aggressive and territorial, using tools to defeat the other tribe of apes. In a visual pun, the bone-tool becomes a spaceship as we transition to the main part of the _lm. The theme of territoriality is pursued as the Russians and Americans are shown in an uneasy truce on the space station.
At the end of the prologue, the "missing link" apes are shown at the end of their development. They are passive and clearly have no future. In the main body of the _lm, the human beings are shown the same way: passive and listless. Only the HAL 9000 computer, a new creation, has the drive to try and seize the next stage of evolution by killing o_ the men and joining with the matrix. (Ignore the stupid reworking of this aspect of the movie in the _lm 2010.)
The humanform character of technology is visually portrayed in two ways. First, the globular shapeship the lands on the moon has a clearly human face, seen as the ship is transported below the surface of the moon at the end of the visually beautiful and entrancing Blue Danube Waltz sequence. Second, the ship sent out to Jupiter is clearly phallic in shape, and from its spherical head the seed containing the last living crewmember is ejected into the matrix.
In an additional dimension of this theme, we see that the theme of territorial con_ict moves from ape versus ape, to American versus Russian, and _nally to man versus machine; for what/who is more "humanoform" than HAL 9000?
The fabulous visual e_ects we see as the man enters the matrix are not just for show. If you watch with your mind in gear you will see foetus-shapes in the fog. Clarke and Kubrick are inviting us to believe that the human race as a whole is the masculine part of a celestial marriage with the cosmos, which is female. From that union comes the Starchild.
Finally, we are shown a "transcendent change," as Dave, the crewmember, becomes timeless in what looks like an expensive hotel room of 18th century design. He experiences the limitations of the _esh for the last time: eating a meal, entering a bathroom, and lying on a bed. Then he becomes the Starchild, escaping the limitations of time and space, the whole world as his new toy.
Sadly, many Christians today think of salvation and spirituality in such gnostic terms. They overlook the physical, earthy doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and think of glori_cation as some kind of immaterial existence. The Eastern, Roman, and Anglo-Catholic sects conceive of the saints as transcendent over the limitations of space, able to visit people all over the world simultaneously through their icons. Protestants have ignored the food of the Lord’s Supper, savoring it only four times a year, with tiny bits of bread and impactless grape juice. The earthy, "bathroom humor" of the Reformers and the Puritans is viewed as o_ensive and downright sinful by modern Christians, who derived such notions from the gnostic Unitarians. In these and many other respects, pagan gnosticism is very much with us today.