For fans of the original, 1968 “Planet of the Apes” – like me – the newest film in the Apes saga is one of the must-see movies of summer, not only because it frequently alludes to the Charlton Heston classic, but because its origins-style story answers so many lingering questions about how the chimps got in charge.
For those who aren’t bananas for the original “Apes” film, however, this most recent installment is probably not worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” just doesn’t try hard enough to be great. Uninspired writing and dialogue, a mediocre performance from lead actor James Franco and relatively meaningless supporting characters sap the film’s entertainment value and impact. Too much of the movie seemed to just be striving for the special-effects finale, which means too little artistry was devoted to making a quality film.
The notable exception to my criticism is John Lithgow, whose brilliant and touching portrayal of a piano instructor struck with Alzheimer’s is a real gem in this simian jungle.
But whether you’ve gone ape for the “Planet” or not, discerning audiences can find in this newest incarnation of the story a classic example of how philosophy, theology, psychology, morality – the components of any person’s “worldview” – cannot help but seep through in the creative arts, whether the filmmakers are trying to “say” anything or not.
No, “Planet” is not some philosophical masterpiece or psychological thriller, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t drip with psychological and philosophical assumptions and messages. Learn to see the worldview in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and you’ll start seeing the impact of worldview everywhere.
The movie centers on a brilliant young scientist (Franco) trying to perfect a breakthrough gene therapy that can help the brain heal itself, and thus, hopefully, bring a cure to his father’s Alzheimer’s.
When administered on lab chimps, however, the drug shows another effect: radically increased intelligence.
Shortly thereafter, people start dying from the virus-borne “miracle drug,” while a chimp born with the new, alterned genes, a primate named “Caesar,” quickly rises to the top of the simian brain trust.
The direction of the plot is not hard to spot – in fact it’s clearly advertised: the fall of the human empire and the rise of the “planet of the apes.”
And are there sweeping, philosophical statements about evolution and/or survival of the fittest? Surprisingly, no. I’m not sure the concept is mentioned even once, believe it or not.
Well, must audiences gag on overbearing moralization about the evils humanity wreak upon the planet or the dangers of gene therapy? Again, not really.
Τhe movie’s primary intent is just to entertain, not preach the usual PC claptrap.
But that doesn’t mean that the moviemakers’ worldview doesn’t come seeping through. I would contend that worldview is evident in any piece of art, whether the artist is trying to “say” anything or not.
In this piece of art, for example, the first chimp given the gene therapy turns suddenly, radically violent. When the movie is about apes taking over the planet and supplanting humans – essentially a genocide of so many billion souls – violent apes are clearly evil apes, right?
Βut what drove this ape to wanton destruction? Where does this evil come from?
Now, the Bible makes it very clear that evil is a result of the fall, that all people (or apes, if you will allow the movie’s premise that the chimps become the dominant species) are fallen and that evil is a part of our nature: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” (Psalm 51:5), “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 53:3), and, “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).
Τhe writers of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” however, don’t hold to a biblical worldview.
For the chimps don’t manifest evil simply because they were given the power of intelligence, thus exposing their fallen nature (which is the reason we have the phrase, “Power corrupts; abosolute power corrupts absolutely”). They don’t even manifest evil because of their new genes.
No, the first chimp turns violent because she’s protecting her baby. Later apes go bad because their handlers were cruel and abusive. In fact, the evil that takes over the whole world doesn’t rise from within, but was pressed upon the ascendant primates from without.
This concept of the noble savage, this idea that humans are essentially good and only corrupted by the institutions around them, is a form of psychology (from the word “psyche,” from the Greek “spirit of life,” taken by psychologists to refer to human nature) inherent to a secular, humanistic worldview. This worldview argues that people are increasingly “good” and making progress (from whence we get the political term “progressive”) as they shuffle off the “evil” institutions around them, like wealth disparity, lack of education and religion.
When watching any movie, or studying nearly any piece of art, the questions of who is God and what is the nature of humanity provide the seeds from which all other thoughts grow, including storylines, even storylines about chimpanzees.
The moviemakers can’t help it: Their worldview is showing, and their worldview is influenced by secular humanism.
Of course, secular humanism is a very “feel good,” a very well-intentioned worldview, since it claims all beings are innately “good.” Unfortunetly, it’s also a complete fantasy.
A person with a biblical worldview would have recognized that empowering the minds of the apes without redeeming their fallen nature would only be empowering the enemy. And the enemy … stands poised to eliminate the human race.
- “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” contains about a dozen obsenities and half a dozen profanities.
- The film contains almost no sexuality, limited to only a few kisses and a couple (fully clothed, unknown if they are married) waking up in bed together.
- The movie does contain a heavy amount of violence and some gore, including a severed finger, a charred body, gun shot wounds, blood splatters and so forth. While no slasher film, when the apes begin their hostile takeover, a long battle with their former captors and the SFPD can be intense or even frightening for some viewers.
- The only religious or occult reference I recall is a television in the background playing an old Charlton Heston movie in which the actor is reading a brief passage from the Bible about God and “the waters.”