By Lowry Manders
Chimps and Children: “It takes a committed mother, day by day, to teach them how to live in the jungle.”
My family went together to see this movie on Friday, opening day. We were celebrating Dustin’s birthday, and were also excited for a portion of our proceeds to go to help save chimpanzees through the Jane Goodall Institute (if you see the film opening week). The footage was unbelievable, the story incredibly touching, and little Oscar, adorably endearing. It is a great family film – full of laughs, beautiful scenery, family drama, and excitement. I must warn you that a few parts are pretty intense (battle between rivaling chimpanzee groups), and sad (the loss of Oscar’s mother). However, Disney does a good job sparing the audience of any gory details. I felt comfortable having my nearly 3-year-old daughter there, but partly because we have discussed death with her before (out of necessity when my grandmother passed away). Both children did end up in our laps for comfort, but they loved the film. We give it 8 opposable thumbs up!
Mommy was a basket-case by the end of the film. There were just SO many moments revealing the connection between humans and chimps, and offering lessons for our own humanity. Here are just a few things that struck me:
- It is animal instinct that drives us to wage war over land and resources. Amazing to see that chimp societies do this, as well, and to realize that it has been happening on this Earth for millions of years. Will humans ever evolve beyond it?
- The wisest, oldest members of a society have valuable lessons to teach the youngest members.
- Touch is so important for bonding. Chimpanzees do this through the ritual of carefully grooming one another – that is, finding and eating bugs off of each other in a loving way. Not only do the caregivers do this for the young ones, but the male adults intentionally engage in this ritual to re-connect before difficult battles and struggles to build teamwork and cammeraderie. What are your touching/ bonding rituals with your children? Do they help to “gird” you for difficult times?
- Play is crucial to learning life skills. I preach this all the time in my seminars, and the chimps were acting it out on camera: playing chase and “Tag, you’re it!” teaches social skills and strengthens their ability and agility for survival in the jungle. Playing with sticks and rocks teaches them how to use tools for eating.
- All parents get tired and overwhelmed, even chimps! It was hilarious to see the chimp parents trying to nap in the middle of the day, annoyed that the little ones were disturbing them. And there is a shot of Mommy Isha looking older than her years, exhausted by the work it takes to keep up with little Oscar. We’ve all been there!
- A Mother’s strongest, deepest instinct is to protect her children: chimp or child. It was heart-wrenching to see the other mother chimps cruelly rejecting the orphaned Oscar, but they were protecting the scarce resources of their milk and their assistance for their own offspring. Isn’t this what we do when we allow “other people’s children” in America to live in poverty and hunger, to live without health care, to go to underfunded schools? But I believe that just as Freddy, the leader of the pack, does, we should rise above our animal instincts in favor of love and communal survival.
- There is a powerful moment when you witness the turning point for Oscar’s survival: it is when Freddie gives in to caring for this little one, to “adopting” him as a son and caring for him only as a mother would. It is the highest ranking member of society taking care of the lowest-ranking one, and it changes Freddie’s life and the trajectory of the entire society, as well. The act sets a powerful example for the rest of the group, a standard of acceptance and communal care for the “least of these” instead of “survival of the fittest”. No longer is Oscar ostracized by the mother chimps and their offspring, but he is now included as a valuable member of the family “group” again. Perhaps Freddie is not only setting an example for his fellow chimps, but for his cousins watching him on the big screen. Imagine the most powerful figures in our political climate choosing to care for the least powerful – the children of welfare moms, the children of immigrants, the homeless children – getting carried on the backs of the most powerful. If our leaders set the example as Freddie did, would we follow suit? Would it change the face of our society as we know it? Would we see the struggles of one as ourstruggle together?