Planet of the Apes
A 1968 film about a crew of astronauts that crash land on a planet inhabited by intelligent, talking apes.
A planet is a celestial body that orbits around a star.
Noun: A large primate that lacks a tail
Verb: An imitation of a behavior in an absurd or unthinking way.
The title Planet of the Apes signifies that Apes have become the dominate species of the Planet in the film.
In 1936, Czech writer, Karel Capek, wrote “R.U.R,” a book about a robot uprising. He returned to that concept in “War with the Newts.” In the book, humans discover a species of giant, intelligent newts. The humans are at first fascinated by them, but they soon exploit them. After several years of forced labor and social rejection from the humans, the newts rise up to destroy humanity.
At the end of the film, it is revealed that Apes took over earth and enslaved humanity, causing humans to eventually lose the ability to talk. Lacking the ability to communicate, the apes either assumed humans were stupid, or most likely forced them into an environment to deprive them of their humanity. In the movie, humans are hunted for sport by Gorillas on horseback. When Taylor (Charlton Heston) comes in contact with the primitive humans, he is instantly shot in the throat, and his fellow astronauts are killed. He is taken by the Apes and put in a cage, where the roles are reversed; the apes are the zookeepers. An ape Zookeeper named Zira notices that Taylor is much more intelligent than the other humans, and she wants to conduct more experiments on him, at which point he escapes and reveals that he can talk. Taylor soon discovers that the planet was taken over by apes after humans destroyed the planet with nuclear bombs, exclaiming “You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!” However, the film is unclear whether this was humans or apes that destroyed almost all human life.
Man’s inhumanity to man (or humankinds’ inhumanity towards their fellow human being):
The apes are us, and while they treat the humans horribly, other apes are treated with the utmost respect. It is a utopian society, only humans have become a nuisance.
Planet of the Apes is allegorical to the racial struggles in the 60s. During this time, many white folk had a rather irrational fear that if the African American community was given too much freedom, they would rise up and enslave the white race. Ape, or monkey, has also been used by racist white folk to describe an African American as less than human. The movie essentially provides some notion of what racists might view that world to be. However, as awful as some members are, particularly the gorillas, they have one rule that stands above all others: Ape Shall Not Kill Ape. This law was most likely influenced by the brotherhood that African American men had during times of extreme racial prejudice and strife. These racial parallels were very carefully avoided with both reboot/prequel films Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Whereas in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the racial parallels are incredibly obvious: the apes are bought in markets and sold off to the highest bidder, there eventually is an uprising similar to that of Nat Turner’s rebellion against Plantations.
It is important to note that in Planet of the Apes, there is a species of order among the apes in the film, Orangutans are the politicians and lawmakers, Gorillas are the warriors, and Chimpanzees are the lesser citizens. While the racial parallels aren’t explicit, science fiction films has often been used to illustrate social issues that may be taboo, or at least frowned upon by studios. For example, Invasion of the Body Snatchers alluded to blacklisting and the “red scare,” when society was afraid of communism. Racial parallels can also be made, Orangutans are yellow, thus representing Asians, and the Gorillas, being shallow minded, quick to anger brutes, are most likely representative of the racist stereotypes of black folk. These parallels may have been subtle to audiences then, but they are rather obvious now.
Planet of the Apes was loosely based on the 1963 Pierre Boulle novel “La Planete des Singes,” translated into English as both “Monkey Planet” and “Planet of the Apes.” Contrary to the film, the Apes live in a very advanced society, and humans have been reduced to a primitive state. The film was intended to be futuristic, but due to budget constraints, mostly from the sheer amount of makeup they had to do, they shifted the production design to look much more primitive. Rod Serling, host and writer for The Twilight Zone TV series adapted the screenplay and decided to add a shocking twist at the end: It was earth all along.
The ship that crash landed onto earth in the future is named the Icarus, a common allusion to man’s carless technological ambition. Icarus is a tragic character in Greek Mythology that created wings out of wax, then flew too close to the sun and was incinerated.
Taylor in the beginning takes off on mission hoping to find an alien race more civilized than humans, and in a way, he discovers exactly that. Yet, they still have many human flaws, as if to say that all life given some intelligence becomes selfish and biased against anybody who doesn’t look like them.
***small addition*** One might also consider the biblical tree of knowledge Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from. Once they did, they gained knowledge at the expense of being cast from paradise.
Planet of the Apes was directed by Franklin Schaffner, who won the Oscar for Best Director for the 1971 film, Patton. Looking over Schaffner’s career, many of the films he has directed were either political thrillers (The Boys from Brazil, The Best Man) or fantasy films (Lionheart, Sphinx). He even did a prison film called Papillion. Planet of the Apes could be described as a blend of all the genres and themes he did both before and after its release.
Planet of the Apes is a racial allegory, ripe for the time. The civil rights movement was underway, and both extremes had many hate filled men. However, we also had men like Martin Luther King and women like Rosa Parks, who were trying to spread a message of love, peace, and coexistence.