Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Animal Enhancement as a Tool of Liberation

By Kyle Munkittrick | August 3, 2011 9:59 am

Rise of the Planet of the Apes caught me off guard. I went into the film thinking it would be another anti-enhancement, “All scientists are Frankenstein’s trying to cheat nature” film. I have rarely been so happy to be wrong. Instead, the film treats the viewer to an entertaining exploration of animal rights, what it means to be human, and what’s at stake when it comes to enhancing our minds.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is told from the perspective of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimp who is exposed to an anti-Alzheimer’s drug, ALZ-112, in the womb. ALZ-112 causes Caesar’s already healthy brain to develop more rapidly than either a chimp or human counterpart. Due to a series of implausible but not unbelievable events, Caesar is raised by Will Rodman (James Franco), the scientist developing ALZ-112. Rodman is in part driven the desire to cure his father, Charles, (played masterfully by John Lithgow) who suffers from Alzheimer’s. As Caesar develops, his place in Will’s home becomes uncertain and his loyalty to humanity is called into question. After being mistreated, abandoned, and abused, Caesar uses his enhanced intelligence as a tool of self-defense and liberation for himself and his fellow apes.

That cognitive enhancement is a way of seeking liberty is a critical theme that gives Rise of the Apes a nuance and depth I was not anticipating. Though the apes are at times frightening, they are never monstrous or mindless. Though they are at time’s violent, they are never barbaric. Caesar and his comrades are oppressed and imprisoned – enhancement is a means to freedom. There is less Frankenstein and more Flowers for Algernon in the film than the trailer lets on. It’s an action film with a brain.

As Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not out yet, I’m reluctant to do a full analysis of the implications of the film’s plot. That will have to come after August 5th, when the movie releases.

I had a chance to interview Andy Serkis, James Franco, and director Rupert Wyatt. The interviews are posted after the jump, where you can see how James Franco was caught off guard by my questions about cognitive enhancement, Rupert Wyatt explores the way in which the apes mirror humanity, and Andy Serkis describes enhancement as a tool of liberation. It’s good stuff, enjoy.

These interviews are edited, but I will say I am mighty impressed by the thought and honesty all three put into there answers. If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the beginning of a new series, I for one am excited by the potential for complexity and exploration of humanity and enhancement in the coming films.


Comments (14)

  1. Nicholas

    The topics are beyond Franco’s expertise which makes the interview more entertaining than informative.

    Either way I am very excited to watch the movie.

  2. Intellgence plus knowledge is a credible threat to the State. Said movie has a definite message… and you missed it: Those who sup from the Tree of Knowlege will destroy Eden. No Ephemerol.

    Sputnik! On 02 September 1958 the National Defense Education Act mandated creation of the Gifted. So great was the cumulative horror that on 11 April 1965 the Elementary and Secondary Education Act terminated all public education competence, forever, ending the Evil IQ. 45 years later, tweedy academics and sordid social advocates have elevated three successive generations of children.

    1969 New York was decanting average 110 IQs, achieved without psycho-pharma or grief counseling. The Los Angeles Unified School District had 694,288 students with tested (California Academic Performance Index) average 83 IQ in the 2007-2008 school year. Eden will soon be ours, with full National Security. God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our precious bodily fluids.

  3. I was hoping this movie would take the themes in this direction. Thanks, Kyle, for the mini-review and opinions. I hope they’ll be more once the movie debuts.

    It’s been quite a summer for enhancement in film — I wonder if that speaks to something culturally..?

  4. E. K.

    The “mirror to humanity” idea is great. It really makes one take a look toward ourselves. It seems you could easily reverse the roles and see us, as humans, doing the exact same thing that the apes do.

    This plot, let’s assume is scientifically accurate, seems to say that intellectual beings are pushed toward freedom and to use any means necessary to achieve this. Could it be that freedom goes hand in hand with higher intelligence? Is that why we are so prone to violence and war? It makes you wonder if you did a cognitive enhancement to another “higher” being if they would do the same.

    Good questions and review, pow pow.

  5. Tyler

    Nice article, though I won’t be seeing this movie, since I know how it will end (add to that Tim Burton and Tim Roth destroyed this for me). I also want to know, test drugs and treatments on apes won’t make them intelligent right? I mean, my dad (a doctor) has said that if you do put some human DNA in an ape, it still won’t make them human, correct?

    I don’t want to see an ape revolution actually occur in my life.

    Can’t wait for you response.

  6. Chris

    The one thing I want to know is, where did all the apes come from? The trailers are showing thousands of apes overtaking a city, but I’m thinking most cities in the US don’t have even a hundred.

  7. FoxtrotCharlie

    If I’m not mistaken Humanity outnumbers the apes handily. I don’t think there are even 1 million apes total among all species. In that sense I think the premise of Planet of the Apes is a tad silly. They simply don’t have the numbers to overwhelm humans and take control.

  8. mm

    I don’t think it matters how it ends, you should still see it.

  9. “I also want to know, test drugs and treatments on apes won’t make them intelligent right? I mean, my dad (a doctor) has said that if you do put some human DNA in an ape, it still won’t make them human, correct?”

    Yes, that’s correct. Introducing human DNA into an ape will not make said ape human-like. For that you’d need to severely alter its development and basically steer it from a clutch of cells into an infant through constant intervention. As for intelligence, well, apes are already quite intelligent but they didn’t evolve the same kind of intelligence as us so any cognitive enhancement in apes is more likely to make them better at organizing family packs, finding food, and wooing mates. But the odds of them learning how to conduct warfare against humans is infinitesimal to none.

    And even then, apes armed with what we’d call Stone Age weaponry are unlikely to pose much of a threat to humans armed with drones, tanks, bombers, missiles, and nuclear warheads outside of a movie universe. There are 7 billion of us and many of us are quite technologically sophisticated, so while we would certainly loose to chimps and gorillas in hand to hand combat, we have the weapons to subdue them.

  10. Tyler

    Thanks Greg Fish. Puts my mind at ease.

  11. What “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is Really About

    The excellent new film purports to be a “re-imagining” of the origins of the Planet of the Apes saga. Set in the modern day San Francisco Bay area, the film is a vast improvement over the muddled mess that was the Tim Burton effort of a decade ago. The acting is fine and CGI apes look great. To placate fans of the POTA series, they pay homage to the original in a variety of fun ways; “Bright Eyes” is what Taylor (Charlton Heston) is called by Cornelius and Zira in the first film, the guard is seen watching Heston as Moses – who sets his people free, in The Ten Commandments (an unlikely film choice for a low IQ guard at a primate facility), but it is the films plot and subversive message that is appealing.

    The appeal of the POTA series has always been the subtext.

    The original series dealt with the issues of the late 60’s: cold war fears of nuclear holocaust, the black civil rights, and protest movement doves (the chimps) versus war-mongering hawks (the gorillas).

    These themes played themselves out across all five of the original films. The first two (Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes) are set in our distant future while Escape From the Planet of the Apes was the only movie with a contemporary (1974) setting, and Conquest was set in the (then) near future of 1991(a fact that is inexplicably obscured in later DVD releases of the film. If anyone out there knows why, I am interested.)

    Conquest is the most revolutionary of the series with a full blown radicalism and pretty blatant references to the Black Power movement of the day. Caesar even appeals to a Black man ( it is unclear if the character is living in America ) with the plea “You of all people should understand.”

    The racial elements are well documented in Eric Greene’s magisterial 1996 book Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture

    The series tones down all the race war implications in the final installment, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, by having Caesar join forces with humans against war-mongering, troglodyte mutants and eventually a gorilla general memorably named Urko.

    Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes on new subject areas, aging baby Boomers/ dementia specifically, and the touchy subject of IQ and destiny.

    Freedom is predicated on intelligence. Being smart, it seems, is a necessary antecedent to freedom.

    The stupid are slaves because they are stupid, and not the reverse. The Aristotelian logic of some being “slaves by nature” seems to be the argument.

    This is not to say that those who are less intelligent will not have cultures of their own. They will and they do.The scenes of Caesar’s incarceration resemble nothing less than that of a prison yard, complete with overly macho posturing and gang-banger attitudes and behaviors.

    Caesar’s politeness and intelligence are seen as threatening behavior by the low-IQ simians.

    Only when the smart chimp uses his superior reasoning to divide and exploit the monkey house multiculturalism does he gain freedom from being a victim.

    Some reviewers misinterpret the film to be more liberal happy talk against animal testing. This is simply absurd. The film seems to be an extended paean to the benefits of testing potential Alzheimer cures on apes for the benefit human superiors.

    The film continues the science fiction tradition of masking uncomfortable “us versus them” issues in an era of political correctness that marks such discussion as verboten “crime think.”

    EVERY movie,book,play is about something

    EVERYTHING has a message

    Waiting For Godot is pointless because existentialists believe LIFE is pointless.

    Even Seinfeld- a “show about nothing” was about Larry David struggling to make RULES for a world that rejected the RULES of the 1960’s

    hence episodes about double dipping,re gifting etc…

    THIS is about something- IQ and it’s implications for freedom and government.


  12. Karan

    Great movie!Although a bit Sad at times, due to the neglect that was show towards the animals. Capturing them from there natural habitat to do tests for our own good, so we humans can profit from cures and vaccines at the cost of another animals life. The movie was very good, but i feel people put to much emphasis on trying to make the movie seem possible in the real world.

    People forget that it is just a movie, a means of entertainment, and in sense, awareness of the things that happen in our world. One day the time will come when we the human race will not be at the top of the food chain….then we will understand what it feels to be oppressed and tested on.

  13. Great article! Good content, I like it 🙂

  14. Its really a very entertaining movie I can say……however reviews were not very impressive about the movie but fortunately I didn’t believe on reviews and watched the movie. everyone should watch this.


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