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August 22, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Art imitating life

Hassan Ibrahim

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One thing I like about the summer months, other than the long days and sunshine, is the inevitable buffet of summer movies. Although most of the movies during the summer often aren't the most "artistic", they usually are fun and exciting and worth seeing on the big screen. However, sometimes one of these movies surprises me and actually makes me think.

One such movie that I recently had the chance to see was Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  From a viewers/consumers perspective it is a modern take on the “classic” Planet of the Apes movies of the 60’s and 70’s starring Charlton Heston.  From a studio’s perspective it is a movie franchise that keeps on giving.

Although I can say I enjoyed the movie, and thought it made for some great entertainment, what surprised me was how I reflected on the film a few days later.

In order to share what I thought was interesting about the movie I think a basic plot overview is required.

James Franco (127 Hours, Milk) plays Will Rodman, a geneticist searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.  As he gets closer to a possible cure he realizes that the drug he has been testing on chimps has not only repaired damaged brain cells but increased the chimp’s intelligence as well.

After an accident cuts the funding for his department, Rodman secretly “adopts” a baby chimp who grows up displaying above average intelligence for even a human child.  Eventually, through a violent incident the young chimp is taken away from Rodman and put in a sort of exotic animal shelter, where he is abused along with a dozen or so other apes.

Aptly named Caesar, the ape eventually starts to question who he is and why he must be treated like an animal, when clearly he is at least an equal to the people who mistreat him.  He eventually leads the other apes in an escape and a fight to freedom.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the theater who became sympathetic to the apes and how they were being treated, and consequently found their actions justified when they led a revolution of sorts to break free from their prisons.

And this is why I find this plot so interesting.  It almost seems to loosely mirror some of the struggles we are seeing in many different parts of the world including Egypt, Yemen and Palestine.  Struggles that pit the oppressed versus the oppressors.

One of the tag lines of the movie is even “Evolution becomes Revolution”.  The people in these countries almost needed to evolve to the point that their courage and possibly desperation outweighed their fear.

Of course a big difference to the movie is there doesn’t seem to be the same consensus in the audience watching the oppressed in the real world. Not everyone feels that they are justified in fighting for their freedom and rights or at the very least support for the oppressed is not always forthcoming. Many times it seems to be a debate on who is right and who is wrong.

Why such a discrepancy to the movie?

The simple answer is to say that the movie simplifies the complicated situations of the Egyptians or the Palestinians.  My answer is that unfortunately we need a fictitious world and story to show us that sometimes the answers are quite simple.

Take the Palestinians for example.  Their plight is often marginalized by much of the world.  Many countries refuse to recognize Palestine as a state including the United States who seemingly always turns a blind eye to Israel’s obvious transgressions and violations of international law. 

I find an amusing mental image to be an American pro-Israeli politician watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes and justifying in their mind why the apes deserve the treatment they are getting and cringe in their seats when the apes fight for their freedom.

Another unfortunate answer is of course the audience sitting in the nicely air- conditioned theater has no biased media telling them that the “Apes are crazy” or that the “Apes are just violent beasts with no morals”.  What the theater ends up being is a great social experiment where everyone can watch what is happening, and without outside bias telling them what to think, decide for themselves who is right and who is wrong.

My intention of course is not to take away from the enjoyment that the movie has to offer. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great summer movie that was made for the theater. 

My intention is simply to ask that if you do get a chance to see the movie that you ask yourself if the outcome you are hoping for in the movie should mirror your hope for the outcome for the oppressed around the world.

I feel that it should.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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