3 Stars – Thought-provoking
From the story of the Garden of Eden to the fictional tale of Tarzan, the question of whether we can have a close companionship, and even a familial relationship, with the animals is explored. The Bible answers the question in the negative with the introduction of Eve as the only suitable companion for Adam while Edgar Rice Burroughs says yes by creating a fictional tale of a young British aristocrat raised by apes. Although he has to create a special breed of Mangani apes to make that believable, it is nevertheless a fascinating premise. Though he created this character of Tarzan in 1912, now104 years later, we have another chapter in the tale simply described as The Legend of Tarzan.
Directed by David Yates of Harry Potter fame, this tale is the creation of the writing team of Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer. Perfectly cast in the title role is Alexander Skarsgård with his alluring Jane played by Margot Robbie. Joining this duo is an American former slave and now highly educated doctor, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson).
A classic struggle between good and evil, the story is set in the beautiful Congo where the Belgium King Leopold is attempting to subdue the native population and take the wealth of the land. Unsuccessful in his first efforts and bankrupting his nation, he enlists the help of a sociopathic and ambitious friend named Leon Rom (Christopher Waltz). Planning to enslave the entire population through purchasing an army of 20,000 mercenaries, Rom is the perfect villain.
Rom discovers that the tribe who knows where the diamonds are is willing to sell them for a simple trade: Bring Tarzan to their chief so he can avenge the death of his son. This death had occurred years before when Chief Mbonga’s (Djimon Hounsou) son was proving his manhood by killing a great ape. The problem was that he killed Tarzan’s ape-mother who had rescued him as an infant and raised him as her own. This father’s vengeance and Rom’s maniacal ambition create an unholy alliance that drives the action of the film.
Although we won’t spoil the way all of this plays out, the underlying uniqueness of Tarzan is shown to be the only power that can stand up to their evil. Employing both his friendships with the animals and the other tribes, Tarzan, or more accurately John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke, is unparalleled as a force strong enough to stand up to the evils of uncontrolled greed and ambition as well as bloodthirsty revenge.
The fact that we share the planet with the animals and so have a responsibility to care for them is not only supported by biblical teaching but also is an obvious implication of our shared life. Although we do not have the ability to commune with the animals as Tarzan does, we do have the ability to care for them and fight the evil greed and ambitions that destroy their future and ours. That is a clear message none of us can avoid.
- Have you ever had a relationship with an animal that caused you to feel as though the animal was part of your family or you were part of theirs? Did you feel you could communicate with each other in ways others couldn’t? How much of this do you think was your own projection of human qualities upon the animal and how much do you think was real?
- The reluctance of John (Tarzan) to return to Africa was different from Jane’s excitement. She considered Africa her home. Why do you think he didn’t want to return as well?
- Rom’s use of his rosary as a weapon reveals the disturbed state of his soul. Why do you think it is that evil often perverts religious symbols and practices?
- The dignity and respect with which John (Tarzan) treated both his human and animal friends was in stark contrast to the degrading use of both humans and animals that the colonial powers made of them. We see that depicted graphically when tribesmen are shown in chains of slavery on the train and truckloads of elephant tusks are hauled away. What are specific ways we can show dignity and respect for all life, both human and animal?