HERE'S THE STORY: A CELEBRATED anthropologist (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is studying a family of gorillas in a remote jungle in Rwanda when one day he decides to abandon civilization and enter, heart and soul, into the world of the apes. He spends the next two years in their company--following them, eating with them, sitting in the heat and rain, absorbing their mysterious ways and grunts. All of this comes to a sudden end when, in defense of his adopted ape family, the anthropologist brutally murders two park rangers and is returned to civilization (Miami, to be exact) to pay his debt to society. In Miami, he refuses to talk with anyone. It's up to a brilliant young psychologist (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) to restore not only his voice but his humanity.

Here's the problem with the story: Despite the evident "chemistry" between Gooding and Hopkins, the film feels unreal. Oddly enough, this "unreal" quality has nothing to do with the movie's incredible premise (in fact, I fully accepted the idea of a man joining a family of apes), but more to do with the absence of a realistic race context within the structure of the plot. For example, in one scene, Sir Anthony Hopkins (now talking) tells Gooding about the jungles of Africa, a place Gooding knows nothing about because, as Hopkins complains, he is too civilized. What is unreal about this scene is Gooding's reaction (or lack thereof) to the irony of this situation: a black man is being told by a white man that he is too civilized to understand Africa. The effect of this absence (if not total evasion of a realistic race environment) is that the whole film seems so unreal--it's like watching a drama unfolding on another planet, with a completely different social history from ours. This helps make Instinct one of the strangest films to come out this year, but certainly not one of the best.

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