I’m a big fan of the seventh art, so the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes premiere was mandatory for me.
Although my favorite version of the saga is the one with Charlton Heston, the new movies are excellent, and the most recent one in particular reminded me of Jack Donovan’s book The Way of Men. Thus this is less a review than a set of notes comparing aspects of the film with the ideas developed in The Way of Men.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about survival. Both males and females are important to survival. Males are responsable for hunting and protecting the perimeter of the tribe. Females are responsable for nuturing the young and gathering. It is an organic community led by an alpha male.
(I will ignore the “demonization” of bonobos since I am not a liberal nor a feminist, so this controversy is completely irrelevant to me. In this essay, both chimpanzees and bonobos will be treated just as chimps.)
The movie is set after the social and economic collapse of western civilization due to a virus which has killed most of humanity. Nature has reclaimed its place, its role, its throne, and, in San Francisco, humankind is now just a little colony of those who are immune to the virus.
But there is also an ape community. It is a diverse community — there are not only chimps, but also gorillas, bonobos, orangutans — ruled by male chimps using their strength and organizational skills.
Although their community is diverse, the diversity is handled in a politically incorrect fashion: they have a caste society. Gorillas are in charge of the borders. The orangutans, led by Maurice, are the Brahmin caste, in charge of teaching reading and writing to the community. And chimpanzees are the rulers, warriors, and hunters – the Kshatriya caste.
The first job of men has always been to keep the perimeter, to face danger, to hunt and fight. (The Way of Men, p. 94)
They hunt for meat, they kill for meat, they eat meat. They wear war-paint on their faces in order to scare their prey. They also share the rituals of hunting and fighting, with scars, spears, and blood.
When Blue Eyes (Caesar’s son) is wounded by a bear, Koba (or Caesar, I don’t remember which) tells him “Scars make you strong.”
. . . to put it in the words of Tyler Durden, “How much can you know about yourself, [if] you’ve never been in a fight?” Modern men are not merely lacking initiation into manhood . . . they are lacking meaningful trials of strength and courage. (p. 136)
Blue Eyes did not like his scar, but even though he was defeated by the bear, at that moment he was recognized as a member of the gang, a true hunter, bearer of a scar.
The community is peaceful, discharging brutality and aggression through hunting. The peace inside the community is secured by the strength and might of its Alpha Male – Caesar, the most intelligent chimp. Koba is violent and brutal, perhaps even more than Caesar, but Koba lacks the intelligence and perspective that mark Caesar. This quality makes Caesar stronger than any ape: he understands the form and function of the community, and he leaves aside his own interests to give the community what it needs.
When Blue Eyes and Ash (Rocket’s son) have an encounter with a human, Ash is wounded. So Caesar is pushed by the community to demonstrate their strength. The apes do not want war, but they will fight to defend their home.
In a survival band, it is tactically advantageous to maintain a reputation for being strong, courageous and masterful as a group. (p. 58)
Although humanity has been reduced to the absolute basics, human beings are still concerned with useless things, looking to rebuild their former world of comforts and urban vices. The apes, by contrast, have been strengthened by simplicity: they hunt and kill for meat, and they have achieved a peaceful life by fighting against nature.
Before you can have church and philosophy, you need to be able to survive. You need to triumph over nature and other men. (p. 48)
In its culture of us vs. them (p. 110), the community has created a perimeter and has established security. We see the triumph of “demonic males” over the “bonobo masturbation society,” i.e., the remnants of human civilization who are in conflict with their own animal natures. The apes, however, focus on living with nature, and by triumphing over nature, apes are triumphing over themselves with the help of nature.
Gangs of men with separate identities and interests of their own are always a threat to established interests. (p. 80)
Why did the ape community fail? Egotism, selfishness, putting individual interests over the interests of the community. Koba was motivated by hatred and resentment, putting his violence in the service of his own interests and passions instead of the gang, instead of the community. Finally, the community triumphs over its own faults. However, there is no peace in the future, but war. And what about humanity?
Humanity needs to go into a Dark Age for a few hundred years and think about what it’s done. (p. 142)
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