Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has been a commercial success ($73 million the opening weekend) as well as a critical success (91% critics approval at Rotten Tomatoes and 79% at Metacritic). I will leave it to others to highlight the acting, directing, special effects, and overall plot. I am going to focus on why this story resonates with us. 

Think of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as a modern allegory similar to District 9.  D9 used aliens and humans to tell a story about apartheid; Dawn uses apes and humans to tell a story about how fear and hate lead to war (think of the troubles in Northern Ireland, or how  the Arab/Israeli conflict is escalating again as I write this). The story is clearly fiction, but the situations are all too real.*

Everyone had a logical reason for his or her actions. Koba spent his life being tortured by humans. When Caesar tells him he wants to wait for the “human work” to finish (in this case, fixing the dam), Koba points at scars on his body and growls, “Human work.”  Humanity has certainly earned his wrath and distrust.

From the human perspective, the simian flu brought humanity to the edge of extinction. Their fear of the apes is justified as well. One man noted he couldn't look at an ape without getting physically ill. His hatred was illogical, of course. Humans created the virus that the apes spread. But fear and hatred blind people to the truth; the mind will justify what the heart desires.

Caesar had nothing but bad choices: help the humans and they might turn on him when they have what they want, or don't help them and they will wage war with superior weapons. Death crouches behind either door. His choices don’t get any better with the other apes. If Koba leads the apes, chaos is sure to follow not only with humans but within the ape community. In order to stop him, Caesar has to break the one unbreakable rule: Apes don’t kill apes. Kill Koba and he keeps peace within the ape community but loses his integrity. Let Koba live, and Caesar keeps his integrity but loses his life – and probably condemns his family and friends to death at Koba’s hand.

In places like Northern Ireland and the Middle East, we see this allegory unfold in the real world. People on both sides have stories to tell that explain their fear and hatred. Peace seems like the obvious answer, but if the other side sees overtures of peace as a weakness that lets them wage war, those who seek peace bring destruction on themselves and everyone they love.

Simply knowing and/or seeking to understand the other side are not sufficient solutions. For some it creates empathy; for others it confirms prejudices. History teaches us that Caesar may be right about individual people, but Koba is right about humanity in general.

This is hardly a new dilemma in our currently popular stories. Magneto and Xavier clash in the X-Men universe over whether or not to fight humanity or make peace. Rick and Shane in TheWalking Dead constantly argued about whether or not to believe the best about people or plan for the worst. In both these stories, good individuals get buried in the avalanche of humanity’s fear and hatred. Caesar and Koba simply offer a variation on the theme.

Without genuine compassion, integrity and self-sacrifice on both sides, there is no good reason to believe that peace has a chance, because no one can be trusted. Only perfect love drives out fear. It may be dawn on the planet, but it’s still night in the hearts and souls of men – and apes.
*This review owes a lot to Karl, whose insights are often better than mine. He has weighed in on other entertainment as well (click on the links to  Wolverine,  The Walking Dead, and entertainment in general)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This is a confident sequel from Reeves and company; gripping, moving and recommended.

    Top rated Bear Viewing tours