I really should preface with a statement: I hate monkeys.
It’s not that I’m an apeist — or, prejudice against apes in the same way some morally ignorant hillbillies are discriminate towards African Americans — but I think in high school, I was fed up with my biology teacher telling me I was an evolved descendant from gorillas and orangutans. “Monkeys are stupid and stinky and have big red rumps! Why would you want to be related (albeit, distantly) to such gross creatures?” I must have been a joy to be around in those days. Maybe I was an apeist after all.
[Yes, apeist bears similarity to the word “rapist”, I get it. Haha, very funny. Let’s grow up a couple years and move on from the joke and let me have my fun with the pun.]
At any rate, these are the reasons I showed no interest in 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. I was close-minded, and decided there was nothing that these hairy primates could teach me about life, even if James Franco was leading the charge. I usually abhor watching a franchise film without having seen the entirety of the movies that came before it, but here I made an exception.
I think I’m free to say this, and based on what I’ve seen so far this summer, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the most thought provoking, emotionally charged, summer blockbuster of 2014 that isn’t really a typical action-packed box office smash. Ooph, big sentence, so let’s break it down.
To me, “Dawn” isn’t an action movie at all. This might feel a bit of a stretch, but in the same way “Saving Private Ryan” isn’t an action film, neither is this. Yes, Toby Kebbell voices the self-righteous Koba and rides a steed, through flames, while dual-wielding semi-automatic pistols. There are typical elements of the genre here, but director Matt Reeves has clearly worked both story and cinematography together in order to bring a sense of humanity to these primates. They might communicate differently than we do, but the painful emotions they experience should ring home to us as well. The joy of childbirth, the searing pain of loss, and the rending and burning of change are only a few feelings some audience members might share with our on-screen companions.
For us, sitting comfortably in our theatre seats, unknowledgeable and distant that thousands are dying overseas in Gaza Strip bombings, our only cares are probably the grocery list for the weekend, or whether or not the Cubs can make the playoffs this year; although, that’s likely never a reality. No, I don’t write this to guilt you, because honestly, these are many times my concerns as well. We are all guilty of this because our country is sheltered and ethnocentrically defended from the many horrors of this world.
When the apes first begin their “provoked” assault on the human stronghold, things happen in slow motion. If you believed this was to make things “look cool” and to show off awesome visual effects, I would ask you to think differently. The apes take bullets to the chest and are dragged off the warpath by their brothers and family members. Some apes charge into battle, blood thirsty, ready to kill… But for what? The humans are mostly seen as brainless killers who will shoot apes without a second’s notice. Ah, but neither of us are very different now, are we?
Examine closely the narrative and how battle between the two species is provoked, and it becomes clear that war was easily avoidable. All it took for many to die was misunderstanding and lack of communication. This isn’t to say that war is a simple thing to solve, but more to recognize how pointless it all is, despite all the propaganda, and how easily these apes entered into battle without even thinking about the reasons behind their actions.
“Dawn” is a very timely film, and without me getting too political, might become even more timely in the coming years as discussions with North Korea and bloodshed in the Middle East grows more and more by the week.
I haven’t spent much time talking about Malcolm’s (Jason Clarke) efforts to bring peaceful negotiation between the species, or Andy Serkis’ wonderful reprisal of ape leader Caesar, but I think the themes in “Dawn” are just too important to ignore. Do I expect this movie to bring national change to our views on international politics? Of course not, how could I be so naive?
Reeves spend the final moments of “Dawn” with Malcolm begging Caesar to evacuate his apes from San Francisco and to safety, before the military arrives for more slaughter. Caesar refuses, telling Malcolm that war has already begun, and things will not change. It’s a message that brings truth. We might even feel like Malcolm, as he slinks backwards into the shadows, disappearing, realizing war isn’t an easy problem to solve. Caesar looks back, and Malcolm is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps war is the only way? Who knows?
The final shot is a slow push in to meet Caesar’s eyes, and while it’s clear he is an ape in the wide shot, by the time the camera has reached an extreme close up, we aren’t so sure anymore. He looks almost human. I’ll leave that takeaway up to you.
Oh, how high school Chris was so wrong.