Instinct is a 1999 American film starring Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., George Dzundza, Donald Sutherland, and Maura Tierney. It was very loosely inspired by Ishmael, a novel by Daniel Quinn. In the United States, the film had the working title Ishmael. In 2000, the film was nominated for and won a Genesis Award in the category of feature film. The film examines the mind of anthropologist Ethan Powell (Hopkins) who has been missing for a few years, living in the jungle with gorillas. He had been convicted of killing and injuring several supposed Wilderness Park Rangers in Africa, and is sent to prison. A bright young psychiatrist (Gooding) tries to find out why he killed them, but becomes entangled in a quest to learn the true history and nature of humankind. Eventually it is revealed that the man did it to protect his gorilla family when the rangers arrived and started shooting them. He gets a hearing to reveal the truth, but an attack by a vicious guard causes Powell to stop talking again. At the end of the film, Powell escapes from prison, using a pen to dig out the lock on a window and heads back to Africa. The film received mostly poor or mixed reviews.
Hannibal Lecter, meet Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
Sad but true, that’s all it takes to boil down Instinct, a curious blend of thriller and feel-good prison movie that manages to somehow be neither.
The story of Ethan Powell (Hopkins), a highly intelligent doctor (sound familiar yet?) and primatologist who opts to live with the gorillas in Rwanda for a couple of years, and goes a bit primal on us. Several years later, Doc Powell is extradited after murdered a few Rwandans. Oh, and he won’t speak any more. So they bring in hotshot psychiatrist resident Theo Caulder (Gooding) to deconstruct Powell and bring him back into the fold.
Here’s where we throw in a little Cuckoo’s Nest (in fact, several of the inmates of Powell’s prison seem lifted from Cuckoo’s Nest entirely!). I half-expected to see Chief along the way.
Despite the movie’s pretense, there’s little mystery along the way. We know all along who gets killed and why. If you can’t figure it out, you need to go see Star Wars again. But aside from some lightly humorous moments, Instinct is largely predictable and tiresome, and it isn’t likely to click with many audiences. And let me just add that Maura Tierney (Powell’s daughter) has always rubbed me the wrong way.
Instinct is not a bad movie. It’s just not a terribly well-made one. Regardless, I’m sure I won’t be the only one (accidentally) calling it ‘Instink’.
Hopkins brings out the monkey inside.