Watch Instinct

"Nothing is more savage than civilization."
  • R
  • 1999
  • 2 hr 6 min
  • 6.5  (34,159)
  • 43

Instinct is a thought-provoking drama from 1999, directed by Jon Turteltaub and featuring an all-star cast, including Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Donald Sutherland. The film is a story about a famous anthropologist who has been living among the mountain gorillas in Africa for years and his gradual transition back into western civilization after being accused of murder.

Dr. Ethan Powell (played by Anthony Hopkins) has been living in the jungles of Rwanda for two years studying mountain gorillas, acclimatizing to the great apes' way of life. However, after something inexplicable happens, he goes missing. Four years later, he reappears and is accused of murdering two poachers who were killing the gorillas. He is quickly arrested, and the story unfolds as the authorities try to unravel the mystery behind the incident.

The film then shifts its focus to Theo Caulder (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), a psychiatrist assigned to speak with Dr. Powell and understand the reasons behind his alleged crime. Theo has a troubled personal life that mirrors the problems Dr. Powell faced in the jungle. They both have experienced isolation, and time in the wild as a way of healing themselves from their past traumas.

Theo is intrigued by Dr. Powell's way of life and becomes fascinated with his knowledge about nature and its creations. In their conversations, Dr. Powell shares his views about civilization and humanity, where he perceives humans as selfish species who destroy everything they touch. He tells Theo that this is why he chose to live among the gorillas, who are a much better role model of how to live in harmony with nature.

The relationship between Theo and Dr. Powell quickly develops into a father-son dynamic, reflecting Dr. Powell's relationship with his own son, who died years ago. During their sessions, Dr. Powell divulges why he disappeared from his family, why he chose to live among the gorillas instead of coming back to the western world.

Dr. Powell becomes more animalistic, exhibiting violent behavior, proving that although he tried to assimilate into gorilla culture, he is still a wild human. However, his knowledge of gorilla behavioral patterns and the significance of communication and interaction between them offers a key to understand his state of mind. The more Theo delves into Dr. Powell's psyche, the more he realizes that there could be much more at play.

As Theo starts to understand Powell's past, he begins to notice that Powell's gorilla knowledge could be a tool for survival in the present. This discovery also leads them to reveal secrets about each other, and how the knowledge they acquire in the wild could help them become better people in civilization. Powell motivates Theo to see things differently, to pursue the truth and fight for it, regardless of the consequences.

Instinct is a perfect example of a movie that tackles difficult subjects such as the psyche of damaged individuals, nature vs. nurture, and the flaws of modern society. The film does not glorify the hunter-gatherer philosophy or anything of the sort but instead encourages the audience to appreciate the beauty of the harsh realities that come with living in the wild. The characters are well-written and well-acted, starting with Anthony Hopkins’s performance as the great Ethan Powell, which solidifies his position as one of the finest actors of his generation.

The other actors, such as Cuba Gooding Jr. and Donald Sutherland, offer their takes on the characters, displaying their versatility and quality acting skills. Gooding Jr. brings a certain warmth and strength to his character Theo, which helps foster the father-son dynamic with Powell, while Sutherland is at his best as the overbearing and loud-mouthed Dr. Ingo, who tries to upstage Theo's discoveries.

Instinct is a well-executed film about self-discovery, redemption, and the power of communication. It enables the viewer to appreciate the complexities and mysteries of human interaction, along with the importance of understanding others' experience. It urges people to respect others' right to survival, even if it involves great sacrifice, and to strive for something bigger than hard tangible possessions. The film inspires the audience to appreciate life for what it is, and to live in harmony with nature.

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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    2 hr 6 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.5  (34,159)
  • Metascore