Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

[Spoiler Warning]

Within popular bourgeois media, the social contradictions of real life are overlooked yet alluded to through allegory. This is the case with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011). In the CGI special effects-laden movie, a chimpanzee named Caesar is born with enhanced intellectual capacity. Caesar eventually comprehends his and other captive primates’ existence as starkly oppressed by humans and leads a revolt for freedom.

The story of Caesar and the primates in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ reflects oppression that is their own, yet combines aspects of real-life oppression. Caesar is not like other primates. His mother, captured in the wild and given an experimental gene therapy to cure Alzheimer’s Disease and other severe brain disorders, had enhanced neurological abilities which passes down to him at birth. His mother, along with the other primates given the experimental drug, were all killed, and the new-born Caesar escapes into the care of Will Rodman, (James Franco) a scientist at the lab. Caesar spends the next years with Will, learning sign language and many human skills in a relatively carefree, bourgeois environment. As his intelligence increases, however, Caesar increasingly becomes aware of his lower status in society and amongst his caretakers. His positive view of humanity abruptly halts when a court order forces Caesar into a ‘primate sanctuary.’ There, he and his fellow captives, are abused and psychologically tormented by their captors, something which Caesar amongst them is uniquely respondent to. Eventually, Caesar embraces loyalty to the other captive primates, cultivates seniority among them and treats them with the same brain enhancing drug. A rebellion begins. The cognizant, organized primates free others from zoos and from the research lab where the same experimental drug is again being tested on a new batch of chimps. From there, they escape across the Golden Gate Bridge, along the way attacking and running through the police which have set up an ambush to massacre them.

At surface, the movie raises questions about our treatment of animals and asks what would happen if they could respond to it in a more organized, intelligent and potentially violent way. Underneath, the human-primate relationship in ‘Rise’ allegorically represents human oppression. Correspondingly, the primate response has an analogy to the violent, organized revolt of oppressed people.

Rather than speak to any single form of oppression, the oppression shown against primates in ‘Rise’ draws from a number of areas. In today’s world, people, particularly from the Third World, are experimented on for the medical benefit of those, usually from the First World, who get access to treatments. People, disproportionately non-Whites, are locked away in Amerikan prisons at record numbers under abusive conditions much like those faced by Caesar and the other primates. Even Will, Caesar’s closest human companion, continually treats him in a paternalistic manner throughout the movie.

An interesting thing regarding the film’s depiction of the relation between humans and primates is how the entirety of human society rests on and participates in, to one degree or another, the oppression of primates. Will shows clear affinity for Caesar while disregarding the well-being of other primates at the sanctuary. Caesar is mistaken as dangerous and treated with suspicion by Will’s human neighbors. The profit-driven boss at the laboratory shows ill-regard for the subject chimps and at one point orders their handler to find the “most cost-effective way” to kill them all. The chimps are being tested on to cure Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders, which is accepted by a bourgeois First World audience as a universal human benefit. At the sanctuary, a ‘lower class’ human is the primates’ greatest tormentor and exercises brutal power over them. One short scene depicts Caesar running towards a carnival. Being somewhat discontinuous, a deleted scene likely followed and depicted humans enjoying and profiting from entertainment by captive primates.

Thus, in no short way, the depiction of human-primate relations in Rise of the Planet of the Apes represents the social contradictions of the globe. Social contradictions are the engine which drives basic consciousness and propels society through history at the expense of conflict. Today the principal contradictions is between the the Third World proletariat and the exploiter First World.

In the film, it is only after Caesar exposes the other primates at the sanctuary to the brain enhancing drug that they are capable of making their escape. This too has its analogy in real life: the awakening of class consciousness and embracing of revolutionary theory among the masses from the Third World. Class consciousness is one’s basic awareness of place within society and revolutionary theory is the culmination of previous social practice, looking at issues with the intent of liberation.

One of the functions of bourgeois media is that it obscures class consciousness and opposes revolutionary theory. However, not only bourgeois media, but the whole of bourgeois society, participates in this process of muting the prerequisites of liberation for the oppressed and exploited.

In particular, First World ‘leftists’ typically share the view that First Worlders are themselves exploited or oppressed, implying that the social peace and cross-class unity of the First World is normal. Some amongst the First World ‘left,’ always passing themselves off as friends of the Third World masses, reject the right to violent resistance. Others lead the Third World masses to believe they have a common interest with the popular, exploiter classes of the First World – a recipe for eventual global ruin. Still others in the First World so-called ‘left’ would prefer to see the masses of oppressed people weak and divided, always offering ‘friendly’ criticism and ‘help’ for Third World struggles while rarely identifying imperialism as the primary enemy.

Bourgeois media in combination with ‘left’ First Worldism is largely responsible for reducing class consciousness and revolutionary critique among the world’s exploited and oppressed masses. Today, the world needs allegorical Caesars: oppressed and exploited people who are radically class conscious and devoted to the cause of liberation. The world’s oppressed and exploited need those among them to counter bourgeois culture and First Worldism, and to spread class consciousness and revolutionary theory. Only then will the masses of the Third World be capable of participating in their escape from modern class society, i.e. revolution against their oppressors and exploiters and ending imperialism.

Whereas much bourgeois media obscures contradictions in society, films such as ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ has its place in the First World. It allows the bourgeois audience to live out its justified fears of proletarian insurrection through fantasy while alluding to the experience of the oppressed subject. The exploited and oppressed masses, centered in the Third World, need real liberation and its prerequisites, not fantasy.

-Nick Brown