Wednesday, Tarzan’s T. was screened in the inciting and friendly Cork Film Festival. The venue was the former Christchurch, today the Triskel Cultural Centre. The audience sits in benches, the organ is still there, but instead of the altar – there’s a screen. I found it a very appropriate place for our film, since religion and its relation to science is one of its important themes. The setting brought to mind the exalted words of Doctor Voronoff, the one who was performing monkey testicles transplants to rich old humans in the 1920’s. He always insisted his transplants were not only meant to restore sexual vigor, but to prolong life due to the production of hormones that came along with the operation. If you read Voronoff’s Conquest of Life (1928, Brentano, London), you understand the doctor viewed his medical endeavor in a mystical light:
Religion itself brings us only trifling consolation. It can only exhort us to fortitude before the inevitable, and, in order to attenuate the horror of death and to satisfy our innate craving to live, to live forever, it promises us that we shall be reborn in another world to life eternal. In its infinite commiseration for poor humanity which nothing is able to console for the loss of life on earth, religion has even deemed it necessary to assert that “the life beyond the veil” will be infinitely better. This, however, satisfies nobody. Believers and unbelievers alike call on God or on Science to prolong their existence on earth, and spare them the pitiful infirmities of old age.”
And Voronoff was not the only one. I also remembered the discussions I had with Vladimir Spiridonovich, the scientific director of the Primate Institute in Sukhum and the husband of Zinaida Vsevolodovna (check this post on her). We talked about scientists becoming mystical in their old days, since their work leads them to more questions than answers (take Einstein, for instance). In the film, Vladimir Spiridonovich suggests that – in order to adapt to modern times – “religion should find a scientific base.” But he didn’t say that science was supposed to build a religious foundation.
To close this, I have to add that the Cork Festival gave me the occasion to watch two other films in a row, that strangely echoed these reflections. In Mrs. Fang, Wang Bing watches a woman in her eyes as she agonizes, speechless, for months. Death is there, too close to avoid and offering no clues. Then I watched Jane, the National Geographic doc on Jane Goodall – the acclaimed primatologist and activist for the salvation of chimps and other non-human primates. Her vision on the animal world and the way we belong to it is extremely enlightening, without being mystical. I will come back to my conversations with Vladimir Spiridonovich later.