I’m sure I will receive tons of boos and hatred for what I am about to reveal. Until last night, I had never seen Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner 1968). The idea of apes ruling a planet, in which humans were the inferior beings, never interested me. After watching it, I’m glad that I waited. I was able to appreciate the film and the message it conveyed. Though this movie was made 45 years ago, not much has changed in society and the message still rings true.
I don’t believe I need to put a spoiler warning on something so aged, but if you haven’t seen it, I will be discussing points in detail.
Last Man Standing
By the end of the film, Taylor is the only human with his natural intelligence. It is because of his intelligence that he is persecuted. Repeatedly throughout the film, Taylor is called a mutant because he can think, he can speak. He opposes everything that the simians have been taught as true. Their society dictates the dichotomy between apes and humans. Any sort of common ground between the two species is heresy. They attempt to tie their religion with science. As a result, it is the religion, not science, that wins out. The apes would much prefer to live the life they know rather than embrace the truth that science dictates. Even worse, when walking, talking proof of contradiction is presented before the simians, instead of trying to reconcile the apparent reality, they attempt to bury and exile the truth. For the simian society, the truth has no rightful place.
I’m sure that anyone who has studied film or even read a few analytical articles about alternate cultures knows about the other. The other is fear to the majority. The other poses a threat to their society as they know it. It stands to upend or corrupt their society. Taylor is the other among the simians and the humans. The simians already see the humans as the other. They are said to be inferior in intellect and incapable of proper culture. The most damning distinction the simians express is their insistence that humans smell. This denigration allows the simians to separate themselves from the humans. But when Taylor strolls in, it forces them to adjust their assumptions. He is just as intelligent as they are. He speaks their language. He understands. Thus he is the other. The other is so terrifying because even though a distinction is attempted it can’t be fully established. The simians can see themselves in Taylor. It is that mirror in the seemingly unfamiliar that terrifies.
Reflection on Current Society
The questions Planet of the Apes presents to its viewers are clear. The first is whether the animals we see before us are truly nothing more than beasts incapable of thought like us. Now, it is likely that most creatures on Earth are exactly as they seem. Many possess an intelligence and sensibility that benefit them as a species, just as we do. But when we stretch the idea of the dichotomy between those who are animals and those who are better to possible other life in the universe, it is easy to see how we as humans can be the animals.
I find the other question raised a bit more interesting. Does society benefit from tying religion with science? Or is there an alternative balance that can be struck? The film is overt with this question as it deals with Zira and Cornelius seeking the truth. They work for science. Whereas, the tribunal is staunchly religion. They have their beliefs of some scroll from well before their time. The tribunal is willing to condemn Taylor because he is an abomination to them. He goes against their beliefs. Rather than accept it like Zira does, the tribunal condemns him. In sweeps Dr. Zaius, who is responsible for both science and religion. And when push comes to shove, he admits that science reveals humans were intelligent and they once ruled the planet. Yet, once Taylor is free, he charges Zira and Cornelius for heresy because he deems their religion more important and revealing the truth to the people could corrupt the society as they know it. Again, fear of the other.
Planet of the Apes was enjoyable. It was an interesting look at society. It was a piece of its time. Undoubtedly, a not so subtle piece that raises questions of race in a period of time when racial tensions were high. Taylor as those of the African Diaspora, while the simians represent caucasians. I am not going to get into my thoughts on this topic as I could probably write an entire thesis on the it. All of these various aspects make the film interesting to think about 45 years later. Maybe those who set out to make the film didn’t intend for such analysis, but once something is created it is free range.
Any thoughts on what struck you must about Planet of the Apes?