Culture

The Glory of the Revolutionary Fantasy: Rise of the Planet of the Apes Is a Must-See

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

The Declaration

If human beings accidentally made it so that apes were smarter than we, then would those words apply to them too? If chimps could talk and write and do everything we can, then why wouldn’t they?

If you did not see Rise of the Planet of the Apes when it opened last weekend make a point to see it in theatres now.

The reboot of the classic sci-fi series stars a very likeable James Franco as Will Rodman, a star geneticist at a pharmaceutical corporation. Will is driven to develop his experimental new drug to cure his father Charles (a phenomenal John Lithgow) who has deteriorated under the weight of Alzheimer’s. Much of these early sequences and plot threads are highly reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s underrated 2006 masterpiece The Fountain which stared Hugh Jackman as a cancer researcher rushing to cure his dying wife. The Fountain also prominently featured monkeys undergoing miraculous changes as a result of miracle drugs.

Unexpected events cause Will’s experimental drug research to be cancelled, leaving him with only a leftover baby chimp with an uncertain future. Will takes him home, names him Caesar, and then begins to discover what he’s done. Caesar (brought to life with amazing CGI from a performance by Andy Serkis) is super-intelligent.

Caesar grows into a bright, helpful chimp who brings the family together. The bond between him, Will, and Charles creates an emotional core with much greater depth than the standard summer blockbuster.

Thus the emotional intensity is ratcheted up when Caesar is taken away from the family and placed in a chimp retreat. Once there he encounters a totalitarian system with guards who regularly brutalize the apes for their own amusement. It’s then — when his liberty is taken from him — that Caesar’s revolutionary impulses kick in; he plots his escape, his acquisition of drugs to increase his fellow apes’ intelligence, and finally an exhilarating jail break.

The film is refreshingly free of contemporary political sentiment. Surely anti-corporate pieties would be on display? This greedy corporation doesn’t care about safety and just wants profits, right? The film sidesteps such cheap shots and makes the corporate “bad guy” type (played by David Oyelowo who was so good in The Last King of Scotland) at least sympathetic. And in spite of PETA’s enthusiasm, the film also doesn’t go nuts bananas with a radical animal rights message or demonization of humanity. In the world of Rise of the Planet of the Apes most humans treat animals properly and only a few are abusive.

Apart from its strong performances, engaging plot, exciting action sequences, and innovative special effects the film really succeeds because of its emotionally-engaging themes. As an audience we invest ourselves in Caesar and live vicariously through him. The outsider sensibility of Caesar is one we’ve all felt in our lives. He’s the only one of his kind and does not know where he’ll fit in a world where he’s the only genius ape. In the gulag of the monkey sanctuary he finds his purpose: the liberation of his ape brethren from both their mental and physical cages.

Caesar’s revolution is one in the mold of the founders, not Mao, Castro, and Che. Caesar’s goal is not to institute a dictatorship of the proletariat primates. Massacring all humans is not his priority — after all, most humans he’s known have been kind to him. Rather, he just wants his fellow apes to be free of the cattle prods and fire hoses of an oppressive big government.

Hmm… This sounds familiar.