Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

One Million Years B.C. Notes

The first few minutes of this film may be useful for the stimulation of thinking and writing in Composition, Mythology,Bible as Literature, Anthropology, and Environmental classes,or any other context in which arrogant anthropocentrism/speciesism is in need of skeptical examination. Here is what occurs in the first several minutes:

“This is a story of long ago, when the world was just beginning,” announces a grim authoritative voice, reminding us of traditional “In the beginning”lore and suggesting divine origins, intent, and sanction of whatis to come. Footage of gaseous formations, explosions, and lava flow accompany the credits.

Accompanied by stark, slow, flute noodlings,the pompous narrative voice, god-like in its disembodiment and in vital-sounding fragments which insist that we view our ancestors with perspective and distinction and not as we do the other animals on earth, constructs the natural world as one of immediate antagonism:

A young world. A world early in the morning of time. A hard unfriendly world. Creatures who sit and wait. Creatures who must kill to live. [We see a vulture,precariously wired to a stick with wings unnaturally outspread and a jungle snake in this arid desert.] And man, superior to the creatures only in his cunning. [“Iyeeah!” cries a caveman (read: “woo”), having proven his ‘cunning’ by leading a wild boar/warthog into a pit by acting as food-bait.] There are not many men yet–just a few tribes scattered across the wilderness, never venturing far, unaware that other tribes exist even. Too busy with their own lives to be curious, too frightened by the unknown to wander. Their laws are simple: the strong take everything. This is Akhoba, leader of the rock tribe,and these are his sons, Sakama and Tumak. There is no love lost between them. And that is our story.”

And that is the end of the English language in this film.

Questions for essay writing or discussion:

What dynamics are established here concerning a theory of the natural world?

How is this system a very Western cultural assumption or set of assumptions?

How does it pretend indirectly to support Darwinist thinking, and how does it contort Darwin’s actual ideas to fit a pre-established Western attitude?

How does the film pervert Darwinian science?

I have students read Chief Seattle’s “Environmental Statement” in which the Native American, baffled and dismayed by the “white man’s” (or the “Western”) attitude towards the world around him, explains that for the Indian the land, the animals, and humans are all related. Seattle does not understand the Western view of Nature as an enemy to be conquered. Then we watch the beginning of One Million Years B.C.(1966).

Here’s the tenor of what some students write:”From the beginning of time, struggles for superiority have taken their toll on all aspects and ways of life”; “The attitudes projected in this clip show how the strong and smart survive. Even in the beginning of man, there were still forms of communication and a highly intelligent way of living. . . . Thinking that even that long ago there was need for clothing and someone smart enough to use whatever was available to cover their bodies is amazing”; “These men had to go out and find food to feed their families or tribes. We have to do that also” [and Mutual of Omaha can help (?)]; “The film clip said something about ‘the strongest will survive.’ This is something that has been a part of life throughout history. Animal and man have always been against each other. The cruel world has always been one man or a group against another.”

The problem with these kinds of responses is that they seem to share uncritically (without question)the attitude Seattle laments and base its validity on dynamics in a cheesy dinosaur movie! What we have here is a second-rate20th-century reading of ancient humans, a fictionbased on the wacko Western attitude that the world is automatically and at all times a nasty enemy: “hard” and “unfriendly”(why? because the filmmakers unnaturally placed animals with bad reputations in the scene?). What we’re really seeing is a contortion of the “survival of the fittest”principle (which is NOT the same as “kill or be killed”),and the Western cultural assumption that the whole of world events is based on bitter struggle. The pompous narrative voice (god-like in its disembodiment) reminds us of traditional “In the beginning”lore and suggests divine origins and sanction to the dire-sounding sentence fragments which insist that the natural world is one of immediate antagonism and that we view our ancestors with special distinction because they figured out ways to make pigs fall in holes!

Here was a pretty good response: “Men of ancient times are often depicted as wild beasts that roamed the countryside in search of animals and shelter. Chief Seattle wanted people to realize that the white man of today is more of a savage to the land than ancient men of the past. He feels his tribe and others taught their young to appreciate the land they live on. We do not show appreciation for our environment, but past civilizations felt very differently.”

In studying and writing about monsters, it is worth first considering the goofball attitudes of humans which intervene between us and creatures and which prevent any understanding of what Chief Seattle would call the connection between us and the creatures, or even of neutral matters: the land, empty villages,noises at night. Note how the attitude blinds characters to the truth and often backfires on them! And just because a film insists on one interpretation of its own story (we praise thee, glorious fittest species man!; t’was beauty killed the beast!; woo, we got a pig in a hole!), I advise students not to be so gullible as to nod religiously in acceptance and accord with the sanctimonious makers of these cheesy pictures.

Other background might include readings from or about social Darwinism. In the beginning of this film we are confronted with a typical contortion of the “survival of the fittest” principle (“the strong take everything”),actually a brand of social Darwinism, just deceptively read back into the “natural” world. This tendency is present in nearly all dinosaur films.

The forcing of humans and dinosaurs together in this and other films suggests the attempt to root meat-eating in necessity. All conflict here seems to originate in dispute over women; but actually most of the conflict stems from the pursuit of meat and the attendant macho posturings over spear-rights. (Perhaps women are so desirable because most of male life is spent away from them pursuing meat.)

The animals are never just “there”; they are invariably seeking to eat humans. The more generalized antagonistic relationship between humans and the natural world is assumed to lie beneath all subsequent layers of civilization. (But what about Native American cultures?) The biblical echoes of the film’s introduction seek to validate this nasty Western vision in resonant myth. This kind of pop anthropology is seldom examined as spurious, and that this film passes its vision offas somehow canonical is discouraging.

One Million Years B.C. Summary