This is the start of our look at important movies through the decades that have reflected or influenced the worldviews of their time. I’ll be looking at two or three movies from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and 2010s. Let’s begin with 1960s
The 1960’s has a reputation for being the start of a great cultural revolution. John F. Kennedy became president in 1961 and was assassinated in 1963. 1964 was the start of the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights movement was in full effect. Martin Luther King Jr. was staging historic non-violent protests, marches, and speeches that are remembered to this day. The Stonewall Riots took place in 1969, which became the foundation for modern gay rights activism and perhaps LGBT activism as a whole. Also as the 60’s came to a close, The Woodstock Festival left its mark on music history and perhaps most significant of all- we landed on the moon. In 1969 the Apollo 11 landed on the moon and was one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.
The 1960’s was a complete eruption of worldviews, which led to plenty of conflict, history, and changed perspectives. The movies I have chosen that reflect some of those ideas are: The Time Machine (1960), Planet of the Apes (1968), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
The Time Machine
Starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Yvette Mimieux. Directed by George Pal.
I have to say before anything that I am not a fan of 60’s cinema. I’m not really a fan of 60’s anything. But the films of 1960 in particular I just do not enjoy. The Time Machine was a movie is saw when I was a teen, up way too late flipping through the channels, eventually landed on the Sci-Fi channel, and happened to catch part of this movie.
The Time Machine is about a man (George) living at the end of the 19th century. He feels out of place in his time and uncomfortable with all the conflict and strife going on in the world. He decides to build a time machine to travel into the future and learn what has become of man. He sees all the wars throughout history and finally stops in the incredibly far future. Mankind has become shallow, uncaring about the circumstances around them, and merely exists to fulfill short and meaningless pleasures. They sit, they laugh, they eat, they sleep.
We comes to find out that at some point mankind split off after a terrible explosion and chose to live above or below ground. The people below ground evolved into hideous creatures known as Morlocks. The people above ground become beautiful but completely stupid humans known as the Eloi. The more intelligent Morlocks, under cover of night, provide food and material goods for the Eloi but only to raise them to become around 20-25 years old and then eat them. Dave tries to ignite the human spirit within the Eloi and lead a rebellion. With little help, he defeats the Morlocks and returns to his time. His friends refuse to believe him and George decides to return to the distant future where he helps those people regain their intellect and enthusiasm for life.
I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this film. One hour and forty three minutes zip by and tell you everything you need to know to enjoy the film. The effects range from quaint but effective to hilariously dated; you’ll enjoy both.
It’s hard for me to frown on a movie that starts with four well dressed men smoking cigars, drinking their scotch and brandy, discussing the relevant intellectual theories of their time. By the end you’ve got blue-skinned monsters with glowing eyes trying to eat people. And in the middle you have a lot of substance to observe.
So what are the worldview topics for this movie?
We really see the development of humanity over the twentieth century. From culture and style to war and violence. The main character, George, grew tired of man’s need to hurt one another and hoped to bring back something that could stop all the fighting. As it turned out, he only found increasing violence that just took different forms.
The movie leaves you in suspense and George decides to go back in time. His house keeper and best friend David look for evidence of where George may have gone but find his house completely untouched… except three books. And we are left to wonder, what three books would you bring to rebuild human civilization?
Planet of the Apes
Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his astronaut crew crash on a planet as they travel through space and time. They find out that the planet is run by intelligent apes who use underdeveloped human beings as slaves and test subjects. The arrival of intelligent humans is a challenge to ape-religion and their way of life. The ruling science and religious leaders allow Taylor to live, but away from their community. On his ride out, Taylor is confronted with a shocking revelation… he was on Earth the entire time.
Who hasn’t seen elements of this movie somewhere? Planet of the Apes is a cultural touchstone and like most touchstones, the general population probably has no idea how great the original is. POTA has been a favorite of mine for some time. I’ve even written about it in a previous post. The twist ending, in its original showing, was the equivalent of finding out Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time back in 99.
The worldview aspects of this film are abundant and I think that’s why I have always been drawn to this film. Aside from the campy sci-fi elements that make this movie fun, there is a strong battle between the honesty of science and it’s pursuit of truth against the oppressive traditions and expectations of religion. One of the leading ape scientists regularly requests access to “the forbidden zone” so he can excavate and study the surroundings. The problem is that the area is forbidden because it contains evidence that intelligent humans predated intelligent apes! That goes against the history and religious beliefs taught by the simian elite. So the Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith Dr. Zaius deems the area forbidden.
While I love to see worldview battles like this in film I certainly don’t have to agree, and I don’t. If you are someone who believes there is a war or conflict between science and religion I would strongly suggest you listen to the thought’s of John Lennox on the “Religion vs. Science” myth.
We also see parallels to the civil rights movement in this film and obvious allusions to antebellum slavery. It’s quite a bold move to reverse the roles and have mostly white men and women held in captivity by ruling apes, gorillas and orangutans. Playing on the racial slur of African Americans being labeled “monkeys” is a shockingly risky move. And while the hero of the film is white male human, several apes play pivotal roles with lots of screen time. Overall I think that despite the social justice allegory playing out here, the villain is bigotry in general and we shouldn’t get too far into the specifics of whether man or ape did more wrong.
I always enjoy watching this film but I cannot deny that some parts drag and while some of the costuming is revolutionary, some is also genuinely bad. It’s not perfect, but it’s a high recommend!
2001: A Space Odyssey
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester. Directed by Stanley Kubrick
OK everyone, here we go. This is one of perhaps three movies I’ve dreaded doing in this “Through the Decades” series. This movie is a Sci-Fi standard that is held in high regard and considered homework for movie lovers AND official Sci-Fi nerds. There is an added personal pressure to reviewing this film as my brother has informed me:
I’ve watched this movie three times in my life and every time I fell asleep. I’m not the type of person who can’t handle a longer, explosion-lacking film. But I think there are intentional elements of this film that work against it. And truthfully, this movie was a complete failure when it was first released. If it wasn’t for John Lennon and the hippies embracing this film it may have floated off into obscurity. Stanley Kubrick aren’t known for being tolerable and easy-going, but I suspect the love for his later films had some influence on why this film is held in such high regard. That, and as everyone knows, this was Stanley’s test footage used to get him the job as director for the fake moon landing the following year.
The plot… “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” This film is not meant to be described, it is meant to be experienced and thought about. Diluting it into a paragraph goes against its nature. If you don’t believe me, here is the plot given by IMDB:
“Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest.”
You could also add that HAL, being hyper intelligent, begins to experience emotions and sabotages the ship, killing all the crew members except Dave (Keir Dullea). I could add some interpretation and say that the “object” known as the monolith is a higher being (or comes from higher beings) and witnesses or spurs on all stages of human evolution. The beginning of the film is shot like a nature documentary and we see warring tribes of apes who, after witnessing the monolith, discover how to use bones as weapons to defeat their enemies. But even in that one sentence there is too much interpretation to use as an objective plot.
There are arguably four acts to this film. The first being “the dawn of man.” The second is our discovery of the monolith on the moon. The third is the secret mission to Jupiter to study another monolith and surviving HAL’s attack. The fourth is Dave entering the monolith, experiencing time/space/existence in a frightening and trippy way. Then being “reborn” as a giant fetus star child.
The worldviews in this film are interesting if you have the tolerance to sift through a large amount of material produced about this film. Theories, documentaries, papers, and blog after blog posit lots of very interesting ideas. The chief idea, in my opinion, is the nature of man. Darwinian evolution is the lens we are probably meant to see this through but there is a strong foundation under-girding that worldview which posits intelligence. Did the monolith nudge life along, promoting a form of intelligence behind our development? Or was the monolith witnessing unguided key events in our species development and waiting to see when we were finally ready to come into contact with a higher intelligence?
Some movies leave question after question open for interpretation because the writers think they are really smart. And they aren’t (everything Damon Lindelof has ever done). Some movies leave open-questions because the people behind the story are truly smart and want to create something “more”. I think the latter is the case here. However, that doesn’t make it good.
The look of this film is stunning. For its day it is unbeatable! The music is either beautiful, terrifying (and I was genuinely scared at times), or absent. But there is zero emotional connection with anyone in this film and it lingers SO LONG in many places. I appreciate wanting to get the feel for a time and space. I don’t mind slowing things down and getting to know your surroundings. This movie takes that to painful lengths. It is artistry at its most pretentious. If you hate me for saying that please make sure you’ve seen the film recently and aren’t just operating on fond memories.
It pains me to say it but this movie is something you are meant to experience and not just view. But I don’t wish that experience on you. Skip this one.
Thanks for joining me on the start of this series. Next I’ll be going to the 1970’s and reviewing Taxi Driver, The Omen and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
If you have any questions about this post or want to talk more about the cinema of the 60s, leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Reviews by Ryan