Truth or Illusion

“The Bear”. It caught my eye in the DVD section of the Library last week. Looked like a refreshing bit of scenic wildlife footage, just the sort of thing I love—reminiscent of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” on TV Sunday nights when I was growing up. Yes, this would be just the thing.

The caption on the cover read: “The greatest thrill is not to kill but to let live.” The unarmed fellow on the cover pinned to a rocky outcropping by an enormous roaring grizzly didn’t look too thrilled but…

Hey, I wasn’t going to let a silly “animals-have-all-the-rights-hunters-are-evil” agenda keep me from enjoying some awesome wild footage of God’s creation. I figured I could ignore the running commentary and just enjoy the pictures.

WRONG. I was duped. It’s not just words that can deceive. If ‘seeing is believing’ I was in for a pictorial primer on the virtue of wild animals and the vice of man. “Thou shalt let animals have dominion” was the silent mantra.

With the opening scene—majestic snow-capped mountains, alpine meadows teeming with wildflowers, orchestral accompaniment—I was hooked. Curiously the movie had very little verbal monologue, or verbal anything. I lowered my guard. How could real-life nature footage lead me astray?

Ahh.. what a cute little bear cub. Wow, must have taken quite the patience to film that bit of him playing with the butterfly… Ah, Mama Bear in the honey tree, how nice, sharing with baby bear. Ahh, look at them loving each other, licking lips together. Isn’t that sweet…Uh-oh. The rocks are falling down. Watch out Mama. Too late. Boulder hits Mama Bear and she’s out cold. Dead. Baby bear’s abandoned. Poor thing. Listen to him whimper and sniffle. Sounds just like a baby…He’s crying. He’ll have nightmares tonight.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, haunting sound track begin. Crackling firelight. Leering laughter around a fire. Ah, the big bad hunters–surrounded by their bear skins, polishing their rifles…oooo they’re wicked. Just look at them. It’s obvious.

Fast forward. Baby goes a-wandering and meets bachelor Grizzly. Fierce fellow, recently injured by a big bad hunter. Snarly. But little cub wins his affection and voila they become best of companions. Wow, isn’t that sweet. And on go the images. No commentary. Next thing you know it’s a wily mountain lion after little cub. Amazing footage. What a lot of patience this must have taken to get these pictures… Cats are bad, wild ones anyway. Bears are good. So, no cat, you can’t eat that bear cub. But bears can eat antelope. That’s ok. That’s good even. Don’t mind the blood and guts. It’s ok. Bear’s hungry…

A picture paints a thousand words… and has power to beguile where words could never do the job. I shan’t bore you with all the details of this beautifully contrived movie. We’ll get right to the climax. Hunter on lookout for bear to kill needs a drink. Abandoning all caution and good sense he heads to the water hole unarmed and inattentive. Of course the grizzly (clearly? out for revenge) meets him there and threatens his very life. In terror big bad hunter becomes a whimpering cowering idiot, crying to wild animal for mercy. And of course the great Grizzly, good bear that he is behind all that wildness, closes his roaring mouth, turns and strides away. Big bad hunter is transformed by grace from that moment on into a bear-care advocate. He gathers his guns and companions and goes home a new man. And it is hoped, the viewer shall henceforth be likewise transformed having seen the truth about bears and men…

Cool movie. Beautiful footage. Minimal scripting… or was there?! The bonus trailer and commentary features blew away my illusions. ‘Real-life nature footage’ it was not. The credits rolled to reveal such things as ‘bear-trainer’, ‘pima trainer’… and pet bears with names…The behind-the-scenes features revealed honeybees imported by the thousands from Germany, trained bears being led around on leashes, monstrous machinery rearranging whole stream beds to get the flow just right….And scripting?– shot by shot it was all scripted with the express intent of evoking human sympathy for the cause of animal protection by making animals appear almost human in their capacity for expressing human emotion. A masterfully done film, but nothing ‘natural’ or ‘wild’ about it, except perhaps the honeybees when they got over excited and began attacking the film crew!

As I listened to the director explaining his mission and saw these behind-the-scenes details I felt both silly and angry. Silly that I’d been partially duped despite my intent to remain unaffected by the movie’s bias. Angry that the producers were creating something with intent to deceive.

Of course this scenario is replayed countless times. We are bombarded all the days of our lives with deceptive imagery with intent to persuade…This was perhaps a minor case. Does it matter if I think hunting is evil or animals possess human emotions? What other fallacies have I taken in because my eyes have ‘seen’ them? Why do I believe what I believe? Is it because I heard it somewhere or I ‘saw’ it with my own eyes? Is that safe evidence? How do I know what I believe is true? I am challenged to consider these things and to guard the gateway of my heart against counterfeits. What I need is a sentry that will not flex with the flow of modern thought. It’s got to be authoritative and always right, an unchanging standard. Never has the Word of God looked like such good news!

“The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” I Peter 1:24,25

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