Essay, Research Paper
One of the wonders of film is its ability to take one away from the normal everyday world and immerse the viewer in a world so foreign from their own that they stare with wonder on the scenes unfolding before them. One such genre of film of science fiction. In this genre, what the viewer sees is only limited by the imaginations of the writers and director whose job is to portray a world that defies your imagination. If the writers and director so choose, they can also deal with day to day issues of the real world in their film, yet change the settings around so that the viewer does not even realize that they are merely seeing a reflection of the world that they live in. One film that accomplishes this goal very well is Planet of the Apes.
Planet of the Apes deals with a great number of issues that come up in everyday society. If one looks closely at the story it is very easy to realize that Planet of the Apes is not at all about apes, but truly about mankind. It is a story about the human condition, and the way humans interact with their natural environment. It is a story about the dangers of religion, and even more powerfully a warning about the dangers of a politically active church.
Planet of the Apes is a political allegory. From the beginning to the end of the film the viewer is shown a picture of a world ruled by a heavy handed government, and led by apes who represent the church and state alike. The main character that is an example of this is Dr. Zaius, Chief Prosecutor and Defender of the Faith, who rules both nation and state with an equally closed mind. For most Americans, this is unheard of. One of the founding principles of the United States of America is a division of church and state. To us, having one individual controlling both seems not only preposterous, but dangerous. The American mind immediately concludes that a system such as this will lead to stagnation in science, and close-mindedness in religion.
In Planet of the Apes this stagnation does occur. When a young upstart scientist named Cornelius tries to attack the religiously based view of life in his society he is brought up on charges of heresy. Cornelius merely attempted to state that he had found evidence that apes had evolved from man. Defender of the faith Dr. Zaius then quickly ended the hearings and threatened Cornelius with charges of hearsay. This is a direct link to our own past. Charles Darwin challenged religions view on the origins of life in the 1800 s, and frighteningly similar things occurred to him.
This is what Planet of the Apes attempts to do, and accomplishes so thoroughly. It mirrors things that have happened in out own world, yet portrays them in a way that makes humanity s own short comings more palatable. Yet there are two ways of interpreting the lessons the film teaches. On one level, Planet of the Apes blatantly warns individuals not to repeat the past. While on another level, the director could be interpreted to be stating subtly that we did not learn from our past and are therefore doomed to repeat it. These are interpretations that wholly depend on the individual seeing the film.
Planet of the Apes also very plainly eludes to government conspiracies and the fear that the government tries to keep the people in-line through ignorance. This can be seen in the discussion between Dr. Zaius and Taylor. In this discussion Dr. Zaius plainly states that even though he had been feigning ignorance about the past intelligence of mankind, he knew it all along. He goes on to state that he had been keeping that knowledge from his fellow apes because apes needed an unquestionable religion to maintain a stable society and not destroy themselves.
To understand the significance of a discussion such as this, one must look at the film in the political context of the era it was made. Planet of the Apes was released in the United States in 1968, an era epitomized by the questioning of authority, a distaste for organized (western) religions, and a severe distrust of the government. Though these are all true generalizations of this time period, this message of the late sixties had not reached all of the population, especially older generations. Though targeted at youth, Planet of the Apes was made to make all people who had not bought into the sixties ideology think twice about the world they lived in, and the ideals the held dear.
When looked at through this filter, Planet of the Apes makes much more sense. The discussion between Taylor and Dr. Zaius is one meant to encourage individuals to question the government, and the information it gives them. It can also be seen that Planet of the Apes hopes to show people that religion is merely an apparatus meant to keep society in line so that people can be dominated by a power hungry government.
Yet convincing the skeptical was not its only purpose, Planet of the Apes was made to reinforce the beliefs of sixties radicals. In the end of the film Dr. Zira s nephew Julius appears. He is a young ape who is willing to follow his aunt possibly into exile for the beliefs they share. Julius is a young pseudo hippie, meant to mirror the youth of the sixties. The main character Taylor plainly tells Julius towards the end of the film to Keep them flying the flags of discontent. This is a line that could be straight out of any late sixties liberal political rhetoric.
Through these examples one can plainly see the political motivations behind Planet of the Apes. Though seemingly a movie about a bunch of damn dirty apes! it can truly be seen as a highly political film, meant to alter or reinforce the beliefs of the people who were viewing it. Though written for the sixties, thirty years later Planet of the Apes still carries a message, and one that is still valid in today s political climate. Though for most there is no longer blatant distrust of the government, Planet of the Apes reminds people to keep looking over their shoulders, because in the end as seen in Planet of the Apes individuals are the only true check the government has.