Planet of the Apes

The image of an angry ape riding a horse while firing a gun would be quite a frightening site. Matt Reeves, however, uses this image to his advantage in his newest movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to add action into his well-crafted film. In this movie and the many previous versions of it, scenes depicting either ape or human violence help establish Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as a satire on human nature.

With its phenomenal ability to captivate our attention for decades, Planet of the Apes has seen many remakes in the fifty years since it first came out in 1968. Although fairly similar in nature, the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes featured a slightly different plot line than the recent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that was released just a month ago into theaters. Schaffner’s 1968 version features a world where apes have existed for centuries as the only intelligent race. When Colonel Taylor, a human traveling in search of a new planet finds himself in an ape world, he is immediately caged away to be studied by scientists. Throughout the movie, Taylor is trying to prove his intellect to the apes, cope with the fact that apes are the new dominant race, and trying to get back to Earth. Meanwhile, Matt Reeves’ 2014 version, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, takes place in a time not too far from our own. In the movie, a horrible disease has spread among humans, killing 1 in every 500 humans. The remaining humans are immune, but struggle to survive the post-apocalyptic scenario, and are in great need of an energy source since they continue to quickly deplete their resources. While the humans were fighting off the disease, an intelligent breed of apes (introduced in the movie’s prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes), have created a society in the woods and live happily in the natural world. A conflict between the humans and the apes occurs when the humans find that the dam they are seeking for electricity is actually located in ape territory. Throughout the movie the leader of the monkeys, Caesar, and one of the human leaders, Malcolm, create a lasting bond, but cannot keep their two civilizations from attacking one another.

The two different versions of the movies both depict apes as an advanced race, but while Schaffner’s movie depicts men as savages, Reeves’ movie depicts them as reasoning, impulsive, and diplomatic. In Schaffner’s 1968 version, humans have already devolved into savage creatures that no longer have language or intellect. We see their lack of intellect in the example of Taylor’s attempts at communicating with Nova, a human that he meets while being locked in the cage. Nova shows little sign of understanding Taylor’s language, and even attempts to destroy his writing to the apes. Because, like Nova, other humans on the planet have also devolved, the apes regard them as a lower species, either hunting them or using them for experiments. However, Reeves’ take on the film is a predecessor to a planet existing entirely of apes, and so humans are not yet devolved, but are greatly reduced in number and are living off of their survival instincts. In this version, apes and humans are depicted as equals, though each believing that the other species is worse. Both apes and humans are depicted to be diplomatic, as Caesar rides into the human town announcing that “apes do not want war,” but will fight if it is necessary to their survival. Malcolm also tries to keep the peace between apes and humans, but fails in the end due to the fact that the nature of both species is the same: both are afraid of those that are not like them, and both are all too impulsive in attacking the other.

A New York Times article mentions that “most of the interest of the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ and its sequels lies in their skewed, satiric take on human nature.” And in fact, it seems that most of the satire arises from the ways in which it depicts ape society, using it as a way to mock our current human society. The satire is one of the aspects of the movie that makes it interesting to us. The article writes that “[t]he apes are disconcertingly like us, and it’s fun both to imagine them as better than we are and to watch their civilization developing some very familiar discontents.” The older 1968 version of Planet of the Apes does, in fact, mock the way in which our own society has struggled and continues to struggle. For example, the orangutan rulers, at the top of hierarchy, continue to struggle with separating church and state. Dr. Zaius, being both one of the leaders and a scientist, wishes to obliterate all knowledge that Taylor is an intelligent human being, and the fact that humans lived as a dominant species prior to apes taking power. The movie uses ape satire to reveal our society’s own ridiculousness of using science in a misdirected purpose to conceal knowledge. As the New York Times article mentions, the society depicted in Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes also struggles with “race and class issues and a rather rigid social hierarchy,” clearly being a satire on our own society.

Although varying in their plots and satirical nature, both versions of the movie use apes and the monkey culture to satirize our own society. The recent version of the film seems to be not as strong of a satire on society, but still emphasizes how man has become all too dependent on society for life, and seems to be incapable of existence without it. In the movie, the small group of people that remain after the disease are in great need of electricity. Meanwhile, the apes that have taken to the woods are thriving. One of the human characters in the movie, Werner, mentions “You know the scary thing about them? They don’t need power, lights, heat, nothing. That’s their advantage. That’s what makes them stronger.” Though less directly satirical, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does seem to be making the statement that humans have grown too dependent on the comfortable life society has provided for them, and therefore have lost all their natural survival instincts.

Therefore, although both movies use satire to depict modern society, the satires seem to be saying different things about human society. The older version argues very directly against the flaws in our society including misuses of leadership and science. The newer version, however, makes a less direct point about how humans have grown too far from nature, to the point where they would not be able to survive in nature if they needed to. Both movies, however, satirize the violence of humans either by illustrating humans directly as savages (as in the first version of the movie), or by depicting a scene of angry apes carrying guns and riding horses to satirize the image of humans at war. Whatever satire it is making, it is clear that Planet of the Apes is a social satire on the human world.

 

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