Beastly Behavior

One of the hottest movies of the season is The Island of Dr. Moreau, and with good reason: The film has all the ingredients for a sci-fi hit--a mad scientist, grotesque creatures, and a spectacular ending. But in a weird kind of way, The Island of Dr. Moreau is also a powerful Christian allegory. In this updated version of the H. G. Wells classic, Dr. Moreau manipulates the genetic code to produce an island of creatures who are part beast, part human, with the ability to talk and reason. The monstrous mutants are held to a behavior code through electrodes implanted in their brains, which cause excruciating pain at the press of a button. But one day the creatures figure out how to remove their implants. When they realize that Dr. Moreau no longer has the power to punish them, the creatures murder him. Then, in an exhilaration of freedom, they slaughter each other and set fire to the island. Under the trappings of a science fiction thriller, The Island of Dr. Moreau is a profound morality tale. While the creatures are still under the doctor's control, they bow down to him and call him "the Father." His rules are known as "The Law." One creature--half human, half ape--is called the "Sayer of the Law." His job is to interpret Moreau's laws to the other creatures. One film reviewer describes this character as "a simian version of Charlton Heston's Moses." After they murder Dr. Moreau, the creatures celebrate their freedom from the law. "The Father is dead," they chant. "The Law is no more." The film is a colorful allegory on the biblical theme that unless there exists a divine creator, who will surely judge each one of us, humans have no reason to behave ethically. This theme is reinforced by director John Frankenheimer at the conclusion of the film. As clips of modern-day riots flash across the screen, a narrator quotes from Wells's novel: "I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; [and] that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale." In other words, humans, like Moreau's monsters, will ignore a moral code if no one's around to enforce it. Our culture has already taken the first steps toward living out that principle. Modern thinkers have declared God non-existent. Even theologians have told us that God is dead. The consequences of the escape from God can be seen in the chaos eating away at our culture. Without God and his law, we are nothing but products of natural forces working through evolution. And as Robert Wright says in his book The Moral Animal, evolution "cannot . . . furnish us with basic moral values." Now, I haven't seen The Island of Dr. Moreau, so I can't recommend it. But the popularity of this film gives us a wonderful opportunity to make the case for Christianity--to draw a lesson from the silver screen that goes right to the heart of modernity's revolt against God. That without a divine Creator, we soon descend to the level of Dr. Moreau's crazed creatures.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary