Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Release Date: August 4, 2011
The best science fiction lives just on the edge of a society’s actions. From the vantage point of a spaceship orbiting a planet or the surface of an alien world, we get to examine our decisions and ask ourselves if we are happy with where they might take us. Rise of the Planet of the Apes remakes a classic in the light of today’s environmental concerns and openly wonders what the consequences might be if human beings continue to play God.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes finds its origins in the French science fiction novel La Planete Des Singes (The Monkey Planet) and the resulting Planet of the Apes franchise that spawned seven movies from 1968. In this latest reimagining we’re introduced to Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco), a young scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s that works at the cellular level. Rodman tests one of his serums on chimpanzees and discovers that it can greatly increase their neural development and brain function. A genetically modified female gives birth to Caesar (Andy Serkis), a juvenile with incredible intelligence who comes to live in Rodman’s home. When an attack on the scientist’s neighbour results in him being imprisoned in a facility for primates, Caesar begins to chafe under the brutality of his human masters and devises a way to release both himself and his fellow apes, with devastating consequences.
Whereas the first Planet of the Apes series reacts against the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, this reboot focuses on the dangers of genetic manipulation. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very sympathetic to the environmentalist agenda, showcasing the cruelty of animal testing and the lack of humility humans show as they plunder their genetic treasures. The scientists clearly want to do good; Rodman’s father suffers terribly from dementia and he’s desperate for a cure. But Rodman’s girlfriend, a vet played by Caroline Aranha, acts as the moral voice of the film, warning Will “Some things are not meant to be changed.” And experimenting on creatures who have been made to appear as human as possible only compounds his errors. These apes are clearly ‘just like us’ the film says, and it stamps its opinion on their mistreatment when Caesar utters his first word – an emphatic “No!”
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not the first science fiction story to suggest human beings lack the moral capacity to be good creators. Frankenstein investigated that theme long before. Rodman’s boss, Steven Jacobs, mocks him for his inability to see the crude dollar signs his investors use to judge his failures and successes:
“You understand everything about the human brain, except how it works.”
– and the prophet Jeremiah would have known what Jacobs was talking about. He warned his own readers not to underestimate the motives that contaminate fallen humanity:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
But it’s worth sounding a note of caution over the status this film gives the primate world. The Bible does not present apes as our distant cousins, standing on the same footing as human beings. God has made human beings the stewards of His creation, responsible for its use and care, and we would do well to consider how we’ll be judged for our behaviour towards the environment. But God doesn’t place human life on the same level as every other creature, be it ape or aardvark – an attitude we affirm every time we order a hamburger.
Still Rise of the Planet of the Apes remains a thrilling, at times chilling story and a worthy addition to the Apes canon, particularly for the example it sets Christians today. No, I’m not advocating the return of hair shirts. I’m certain the producers didn’t have it in mind when they were developing Caesar’s character but he provides an excellent example of what an agent for change should be like. Our intelligent chimp may be considered a chump but he chooses to address the evil around him without mirroring it. Rodman understands that “It only takes one!” like Caesar to alter the world, and in God’s hands the same might be said of any Christian.