Everything you’ve heard about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is true. The movie is visually stunning, it’s exciting from start to finish, the special effects are some of the best I have ever seen, and…the movie is an amazing commentary on the flaws of humanity.

According to a recent article over at the New York Express Tribune blog, this may well be the whole point of the movie:

Director Matt Reeves specifically chose to focus on the evolution of the apes and the irony that while the simian virus may have helped to set them free, by making them more human, it also becomes their greatest weakness. Gradually, it made them prone to the human elements of mistrust, jealousy and a thirst for power that leads to an internal rebellion.

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This concept is not unfamiliar to Christian belief.  It echoes through the Garden of Eden story in Genesis.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve had no knowledge of good or evil, and we’re told they were happy.  In time, though, they were tempted by the serpent to want to have knowledge, presumably “good” knowledge or, as the biblical account puts it, “wisdom.” With the good knowledge, though, came the bad as well.  With all the “good” traits which we associate with humanity, like logic, deduction and higher reasoning skills, came humanity’s flaws, among them lust, greed, jealousy and so on.  Just like the apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Adam and Eve evolved into knowing both the good and the evil, and as a result everything was permanently changed.

It’s important, too, to bear in mind Paul’s understanding of the outworkings of these events in the Garden and their effect on humanity.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul lays it out thus:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned…

Paul is saying that the world and everything in it was changed because of Adam’s and Eve’s transgression in gaining the knowledge of both good and evil, such that not only did they gain knowledge of evil, but evil entered the world as a result, because with the knowledge of evil came the doing of evil.  And because Paul sees all of us as descended from these two, then the sin, the knowledge of evil (and the means to commit evil acts) is inherent in each of us.  It’s something we’re born with.  Of course, Paul’s reliance on the biblical Adam may be too narrow a view of evolution for some, but it is uncanny the way we can observe the behavior of little children and see in them the key human element that is present in all acts of sin/evil: self centeredness.

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Consider what was said of little children by the Minnesota Crime Commission.  A secular agency, the Commission was tasked with determining what turns people into criminals, so that the criminal justice system might seek ways to help individuals turn away from a life of crime before they turned to it in the first place.  Here’s an excerpt from their findings:

Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He’s dirty, he has no morals, no knowledge, no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children but all children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.

So, “the killer in me is the killer in you,” so to speak.  Never minding whether or not all humanity descends from a literal Adam and Eve, there is nevertheless a common trait which we all share at a deep substratum, and this trait gives each of us the means, motive, and impulse to commit harmful acts against each other in the name of protecting, preserving or advancing oneself.  Of course, whether or not we act on these impulses is a different story, yet the impulse is certainly present, if we’re honest with ourselves.  Monitor your thoughts on a long drive during rush hour, or get held up in line at a store because someone wants to write a paper check, and you’ll see what I mean.  Even the best of us have the worst thoughts every now and then!

This is what theologians mean when they speak of “total depravity.”   To loosely quote Rod Rosenbladt, a Mockingbird favorite who spoke at the third NYC Mockingbird Conference, total depravity does not mean that each of us is horribly evil.  What it actually means is that each and every part of us is tainted with evil, such that there is no place within ourselves where we could plant the lever which would pry open the gates of heaven.  We are not “basically good,” as people in the postmodern age like to assert.  Rather, we are all terribly broken and cannot fix ourselves.  This is why our help must come from outside of humanity.  It’s why we need a savior, a Christ.

So, it’s going to be very interesting to see where the third installment of this new iteration of Planet of the Apes chooses to go.  Will the ape culture destroy itself, or will Matt Reeves as director (the equivalent of God on a movie set) send them an ape savior?  Because sending a savior is absolutely what God did for us.  As Paul puts it in that same letter to the Romans:

For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by that one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.