I went to watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes last night and came out of the theater thinking like an ape and walking like a man. The movie is awesome. The characters are strangely believable; and I mean the human side of the apes. If monkey-see-monkey-do, then the apes in the movie have aped us well and vice versa.
Of course the plot was predictable. But the clashes, the violence and the war were all secondary to how realistic the animal-human portrayals were. Although the movie is about ape versus man, that is, animals versus humans, at most times, you can't really tell them apart. The humanness of the apes and the ape-likeness of the humans were spookily uncanny. If anything, we are indeed social animals and our primate cousins are veritably social homo sapiens (man the wise). I think the movie delivered that message perfectly. If not for the tweed clothes and baggy pants, I guess the two species, which shared almost identical genetic makeup, were clearly interchangeable.
And the movie cast that you will throw your simian vote for with endearing affection is none other than the leader of the pack named Caesar. He reminds me of Mel Gibson's Brave heart or Marlon Brandon's Godfather. Caesar is hands down a leader of substance. You could almost see a human soul looking out of his Solomon-like, piercing eyes. He is also as cool as Will Smith in I am Legend. The only difference is that our very own fresh prince had lesser overall hair coverage. But other than that, both of them had their own demons to fight. Will had to contend with infected zombies who can’t stand light and Caesar had to broker the peace between men and apes who can’t stand each other.
The plot is simple enough. It's about that age-old Darwinian struggle to the Herbert Spencer’s coinage of survival of the fittest. And here’s the spoiler alert. No species is perfect, especially the human race. This fight to live and thrive is an instinct as old as our existence. And in comes Caesar’s most trusted lieutenant by the name of Koba to thicken the stewing plot for us. Like Judas who sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, Koba betrayed Caesar for the most hackneyed of all social reasons: xenophobia. You see, he was apparently an experimental lab-monkey tortured by humans before Caesar saved him. This fueled his hatred for humanity even further.
This is quite a relief in the movie for me since the way it had developed, you’d think that humans (as usual) were going to act like savage animals and the savage animals were going to act like, well, humans. You can’t really blame me for this since we are always the first species to poke, stir and kick the hornets’ nest. And with the start of explosive clash between the two species (or one if you are a purebred evolutionist), it is all downhill from there; which incidentally, for the human viewers, is the most exciting part of the movie (or all uphill in adrenaline rush thereon). You just have to watch for yourself how the uprising happened and the bittersweet narrative at the end to truly marvel at the cinematographic depth and action.
But there is another side to the movie that gave me cause for meditation as I left the theater. Instead of the theme of the survival of the fittest, it is what I’d call the revival of the finest.
It is easy here to see the ugly side of both men and apes. The rottenness in us has all been foretold ad infinitum with religious fidelity and exactitude. There is no need to rehash our unbroken history of war and violence. In fact, Mark Twain had put it so deftly in his characteristic biting wit here, “Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, war. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out…and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel…And in the intervals between campaign he washes the blood off his hands and works for “the universal brotherhood of man”…with his mouth.” Mm…(sigh)
But unfailingly, the other side of us deserves some showcasing here; if not more. In the movie, the cooperation between a volunteer group of men (starred Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Lucky Johnson) and Caesar as the leader of the simian colony was deeply inspiring. You see the trust gradually building up between them and you see the beauty of empathy, understanding, joy, hope, sharing, sacrifice, impartiality, and friendship glowing valiantly from start to end. The scene of the baby chimp toying with the human group at the lake is priceless. If the scriptwriters and director wanted us to feel the humanness of what we once called the savage beast, then they have succeeded most brilliantly.
In fact, I felt a human connection with Caesar (and his tribe, especially Maurice the orangey orangutan) and even harbored quiet admiration for him. Apart from his amazing linguistic repertoire, he spoke rather fluent staccato-like English, Caesar surprisingly epitomizes the best in us. He could have made a very persuasive and credible human leader if not for his ape-like features.
Of course, in the end, it is just a smart movie with a superb storyline packed with 2 hours plus of heart-gripping emotions and heart-stopping action. But there is just something about the movie that leaves an indelible mark on the viewers. And no, it is not the mark of the human beast of course. It is a mark that leaves you thinking about the beauty of all God’s creation. This revival of the finest is all about our capacity to rise above nature, "red in tooth and claw", and in rising above it, we are then able to overcome the animal in us…or in this case, the savage human in us. Cheerz.