“Instinct” is a movie about discovery … the discovery of self, the boundaries of freedom and control and, ultimately, how man has usurped the natural order of things.
The story revolves around anthropologist Ethan Powell (Anthony Hopkins) who disappeared for two years while studying the mountain gorillas in Africa and his return to civilization, incarcerated for murder and his diminished mental capacity. Back in the United States, Powell is imprisoned in a maximum security prison and being submitted for treatment to Dr. Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a rising talent in the psych department at the University of Miami.
Referred to as “Ape Man” by one of the prison guards because he has not spoken since his arrest back in Africa, Powell stands out as a menacing creature to all who would approach him. Even the crazies in the prison are tame by comparison.
Cocky Caulder, however, is convinced that he can break through to Powell. It would be a big boost to his career in academia, publishing a book and reaping the accolades of his peers.
When he goes to the prison, he sees Powell as an abused, broken man, albeit a violent one. It is his intention of getting him to speak and explain the causes of the violence that lead Powell to murder two park rangers and injure several others. Caulder respects Powell’s accomplishments and knows that he walks a fine line with such an intelligent figure. When he gets him to speak, he is as surprised as any of the guards. Because even he realizes that Powell has simply chosen him as his sounding board. Powell’s mind is as sharp today as it was years ago in Africa. It is the man’s perception that has merely changed.
And that perception is made abundantly clear in flashbacks that reveal that Powell had gone all the way from noted anthropologist living on the fringes of civilization in his base camp in the wilds of Africa to a man living with and accepted by a tribe of gorillas. The beautiful sequences reveal the innocence, fragile nature and the “humaneness” of these magnificent beasts while we see Powell getting sucked deeper into their existence. His discovery is that man no longer exists in the real world, only one fabricated to remove him from being in touch with his surroundings, the natural world around him.
Caulder’s is a discovery of self, that sacrifices must be made, that everything’s a trade off and that another man’s life is more important than his own career.
Anthony Hopkins portrays the tormented anthropologist with much finesse and when we look into his eyes, we see only truth. He is that good. Gooding, Jr. serves well as Powell’s messenger – he is there so that we may all keen our ears and listen to the sounds of nature and learn a little of the order of things.
Lotta says this is an intelligent earnest film.