When Humanity goes Ape
By: James Foley
When Humanity goes Ape
Has humanity’s view of its self changed much in the last 50 years?
Do we see ourselves more positively or negatively?
Do we believe humanity has evolved in our ability to live together and rule the planet?
These are questions I have ponderd from watching the Planet of The Apes films. They present a very dystopian view of humanity. When the series first started humans were being savagely oppressed by apes. The recent versions have the tables turned with the humans now seen as the vilans.
Does this reversion of the protrayl of mankind reflect a loss of belief in ourselves. Would the deserved destruction of the human race as shown in the 2017, War for the Planet of the Apes have been acceptable when the film series first started in 1968?
While the sequels to the 1968 film do show a similar reversal it is not as black and white that the humans deserved to be subdude by the apes. Also these sequels are not really well known now, so I believe it is right to focus the comparison on the 1968 film only.
In 1968 Taylor, (Charlton Heston), crash landed in his space ship on a strange planet ruled by apes. There were mute humans there hunted and used as forced labour. Taylor is befriended by some compassionate apes who try to argue for him to be treated with respect. When this fails Taylor escapes only to realise, (spoiler alert), he was on earth all along.
In the original Planet of the Apes, Taylor is a hero. He tries through word and action to save his friend who survived the crash with him. He also tries to save the other native humans. He is abused physically and mentally by the apes. He bravely fights them with human arguement to be allowed to live freely. He eventually takes on a physical fight to save himself and the native woman he has come to love.
There is no doubt that Taylor is an example of the greatness of the human spirit.
In this origonal trailer you are left with no doubt that ape is bad and human is good.
The ending for now
From 2011 to 2017 three more ape films were made. They centered around an ape called Ceaser. As part of a medical experiment Ceaser’s mother was given medication that enhanced her cognitive abilities.
Ceaser was cared for by a human family while his intelegince improved at a phenomenal rate. Despite this intelegience he was still an ape. This caused problems and eventually he was taken captive.
Meanwhile the same medication that improves Ceaser and the other apes causes many humans to die. Those who don’t die become sick loosing speech and higher thinking abilities.
Ceaser’s relationships with humans eventually turned sour as his trust in them was destroyed. This decline is a central theme of the series.
In the reverse of the first film it is now the humans who are protrayed as evil, manipulative, fearful and mad. It is the humans who seek to destroy the intelegent apes and in the process destroy themselves. To survive some humans believe they must destroy their own innate humanity.
Ceaser is presented as a loving protective leader of all those he cares for, even initally some humans. Ceaser’s fall into vengence against the man who killed his wife and child is presented as tragic but not wrong. Ceaser the leader of The Planet of the Apes is our 21st centuary hero.
This trailer for the last film gives a glimpse of why the apes had to fight the humans.
Humanity falls; Apes rise
It is my belief that the premise of the first film was how humanity would prevail against the evil race of ape. The new films now want us to cheer on the apes as we see the brutality of man.
Both film were very successful and have a strong fan base. How is it possible that in just under 50 years the general public were perfectly ok with such a reversal in the presentation of humanity?
What changes have happened in our culture since 1968 to make all humanity the pefect villan?
I do not have the answer. I would be interested to know if you did?
Are we more cynical about ourselves? Have we seen more evil in humanity since 1968 than kindness and heroisim? Are we more aware of an inate sinful nature that we were once blind to ? Do we simply dislike ourselves more as we issolate more from each other behind our devices?
If we have become comfortable with being protrayed as evil what does that say about us? Are we as caring to ourselves and to others as we were when Charlton Heston was our hero? Do we treat ourselves and others with disdain believing we are the greatest threat to our own survival?
I present my belief that the new story would never have been made 50 years ago. A film presenting all humanity as evil would have been a box office flop in 1968 as we wanted to be the heros then.
If you disagree with my interpetation of Planet Of the Apes please do say so in the comments below. Differing opinions on films have existed since cinema began over 100 years ago.
Below is the scene from the last film which I think best shows the conflict that causes the decline of humanity within man.
The Colonel leads a small group of rebel soldiers who hunt apes, kill their own men when they become sick with the ape infection and attack other humans who stand against them.
The Colonel describes how he killed his own son when his son became infected. He said it purified him as he became more assured of his purpose that some people would have to be destroyed for humanity in general to be saved. He even has a cross on his shelf to indicate a kind of religious aproval of his behaviour.
The Colonel challanges Ceaser in this seceen to understand what real mercy is. To him it is true mercy to kill the infected people. He asks Ceaser would he have sacraficed his own son so as to save his people.
Later the Colonel challenges Ceaser is it more important for Ceaser to revenge the slaughter of his family by killing him or to lead his apes to freedom. Caeser could not have it both ways. The Colonel indicates that if Ceaser killed him, he and his fellow apes would be destroyed by his soldeirs.
The decline of the character of the apes is also shown in the series as they begin to behave out of fear and revenge like the humans.
A human hero shows kindness
There is one human hero in the last film. Caeser has in the previous two films has found that the good humans always seem to loose. In the last film there is one who saves him when he is near death. This person even ends the film to seemingly live happy ever after with the apes in there new home land.
The beauty is that the last heroic person standing is a very young girl who is infected. In many ways she is the type of person the Colnel wishes to wipe out. The irony is he takes his own life when he becomes infected as she is. She felt free to accept herself where as he didn’t. The result; he died and she lived.
So there is some hope for humanity even in this very dystopian view.