Let’s talk about: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Just a fair warning: There’s gonna be spoilers like a muthafucka up in this post, so if you haven’t seen the movie and care about that sort of thing, you might want to skip this post for now.

The first thought I had after picking my jaw up off the floor as the credits rolled was, “This is a blueprint for a revolution.”

The second thing I thought was, “How the hell did this shit get greenlit?”

At the risk of undermining the Super Duper Secret Plot of People of Color to Take Shit Over, I’m gonna tell you exactly what was going on in this movie.

First of all, the Apes were an allegory for Black folks. It’s basically slavery and Jim Crow crammed into a 2-hour movie. Look:

  • Kidnapped from Africa? Check.
  • Kept as a pet by well-off White folks? Check.
  • Treated like an animal even though he’s ten times smarter than everybody put together? Check.
  • Locked up for nothing? Check.
  • Got the water hose treatment when Draco Malfoy got pissed? Check.
  • And tasered too? Check.
  • The police responding with overwhelming and unnecessary force when all the Apes wanted was to be free? Do you need to ask?

It’s pretty clear that this movie is about Black people. Shit, we could start an entire blog devoted to analyzing this movie and figuring out how to do the revolution right. But let’s not go there (namely because I don’t want the FBI after my ass).

Speaking of Black people, let’s talk about Jacobs, who fits into the trope my friend Danny Bowes calls the (Black) Evil White Guy in a Suit and which I call the Money-grubbing Corporate Asshole. See, Hollywood? You can have Black folks be all kinds of people – even *gasp* Bad Guys – without it being racist as fuck.

Next to Caesar, Jacobs was probably the smartest motherfucker in the movie. Know why? Because he’s Black. Just kidding. It’s because unlike most cinema villains, he does not underestimate his adversary. When surrounded by Apes with spears and shit, he does the Black thing and runs his ass off. Not to his car, but to a helicopter that just happens to have a sniper on board. Just like Lo Pan, he does not fuck around with the mustache-twirling and gloating. Nope, none of that. When Apes become a problem, he just starts taking Apes out. From a helicopter. With a machine gun. And a pistol. The only reason why he got his is because there is no way conceivable to the human mind that a gorilla could be so fucking awesome that he could take out a helicopter by himself. So Jacobs can be forgiven for being caught off-guard with that one.

Besides race, there are two more things that stuck out for me in this film’s representations of people: disability and gender.

At the beginning of the movie, Charles Rodman (John Lithgow), the father of Will Rodman (James Franco), has a severe case of Alzheimer’s that is only getting worse. This is what gives Will the drive to find a cure at all costs, even the extinction of humanity. You heard that right. The stronger, more aggressive strain of the Smart Juice that makes chimps super-smart but turns human insides into liquid goo – all his fault.

As I stated earlier, I have problems with the way Hollywood usually depicts chronic or terminal illnesses. While Rise of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t quite escape the tendency to use illness as a plot point, the way Charles is written and performed shows the seriousness of a disease like Alzheimer’s while at the same time giving Charles simple human dignity that often goes out the window as soon as it becomes convenient to do so. This movie doesn’t cheapen the experience of Alzheimer’s by milking it for melodrama.

What it also does that I rarely see happen on screen is respect the agency of people who live with chronic conditions. When Charles turns down Will’s offer of a “better” treatment, the film doesn’t present this as a “I don’t want to be a burden to you” sort of thing but more of Charles’ recognition that he was already on borrowed time and that the life he led was a full, complete one despite the difficulties toward the end.

Despite the more progressive representations of race and disability, Rise of the Planet of the Apes does drop the ball on gender. As Esa S. says over here:

I just watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes (what a mouthful) over the weekend, and found myself foaming at the mouth from how Freida Pinto was portrayed in the movie–or rather, not portrayed. At all. What I would love to see on this site is someone rip into Freida’s non-role after seeing the movie.

Will’s girlfriend – What was her name? See what I mean? – doesn’t have a real place in the story despite the fact that she’s the fucking chimp expert. Oh, and the fact that she’s been a part of the lives of Caesar, Will, and Charles since that first vet visit. While I’m sorta glad that we weren’t treated to a zoological version of The Sensible Mom, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of fucking sense that this woman had so little screen time. I guess the only thing we need to know about her is that she’s fucking Will and bandages Caesar up when he gets cut or scraped.

What makes her lack of presence even more irritating is that she had a vital point of view that would have been worth exploring. She was against what Will was doing (that whole thing about keeping a smart chimpanzee as a pet/foster son and fucking around with his DNA), but instead of engaging with her point, the movie just brushes her off. Typical woman, getting hysterical over nothing. The men have got everything under control. Seriously, what’s she worried about? That was sarcasm, by the way.

But there is one pretty good thing about this character that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. When the shit got real on the Golden Gate Bridge, this woman did not do that Stand By Your Man bullshit. None of that trying to convince his dumb ass to let her come along. Will was like, “I’m going to find Caesar.” Girlfriend was like, “Yeah, you do that.” And LEFT. Hooray for a woman who’s not needlessly endangering or sacrificing herself for a man.

Despite this problem (and it is a problem), I won’t lie. I’m gonna buy this as soon as it’s out on DVD.

What about you? What are some of your thoughts and questions about Rise of the Planet of the Apes?

10 thoughts on “Let’s talk about: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

  1. Haven’t watched the movie yet so here are my non thoughts on this:

    – Thanks for linking to ‘Danny Bowes’ blog it’s awesome to meet another lover of Bollywood movies.

    – I need to find an icon Coyote Starrk, that would be app. for here.

    – Frieda Pinto? No ‘stand by your man’ bullshit even for one scene, I might have to watch this movie just for that. Oh and James Franco too? I only like him because he was only main character to have attempted to ‘act’ in the Spider-man movies, so his presence has me only mildly interested in this flick.

  2. I left that movie thinking “Why did they even include the girlfriend character? And did anyone actually ever say her name?!” What a waste of a lovely actress.

    I had trouble with the movie because I have experience in primate care. So I found myself thinking things like “Anyone who sticks their arm into a chimpanzee cage deserves whatever they get.” But I tend to be pedantic like that.

    I was super impressed by Andy Serkus and the other ape actors. Their portrayal of chimp behavior and body language was spot on.

    All in all, I doubt I’ll buy it but I’ll watch it when it’s on.

    • I had trouble with the movie because I have experience in primate care. So I found myself thinking things like “Anyone who sticks their arm into a chimpanzee cage deserves whatever they get.” But I tend to be pedantic like that.

      I tend to be of the same mind when it comes to wild animals, period. As a matter of fact, I enjoy shows like “When Animals Attack” because the vast majority of the time, these “random” attacks would not have happened if people simply respected the animals’ space.

      • Thank you! Typically if they’re known as wild animals, that should be your first clue not to fuck with them.

  3. Ok another movie to avoid. But I do respect the fact that they was trying to move away from the Tim Burton film and go the ‘Realistic” view. Other than that it was just an example on how Hollywood is running out of ideas.

  4. I was surprised that this movie was so subversive too. I just feel like it was too short. I wish they had devoted more time to showing what the primates do when they realize the humans are dying out and that they run the planet.

    They better make a sequel.

  5. I was happy to see Frieda Pinto in a blockbuster, but I was disappointed that she didn’t really have much of a part :(

    Maybe the DVD will have scenes that got edited out? In “Kingdom of Heaven” Eva Green’s whole story line got cut out.

  6. Thanks for posting your perspective on this. I saw the trailer and was hesitant. On the one hand, big powerful metaphor. On the other hand, making apes a metaphor for black people has… history. I’m white and I wasn’t sure if that would sour it for black viewers. Any specific thoughts on that?

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