Note: This blog assumes you have seen the film "War for the Planet of the Apes." But you don't necessarily have to have seen the film in order to appreciate the points presented. However, a viewing of the film will probably add much more weight and credibility to what is discussed here.
PT I - PROPAGANDA OR ENTERTAINMENT?
Ever since the release of the original 1933 King Kong film, we've seen this classic archetype updated fairly regularly in mainstream entertainment. Part of this archetypal image has usually involved the violation of an innocent blonde white woman. We must acknowledge that this is a very stereotypical "white American nightmare," and that it stems from a negative assumption that "foreigners/non whites are bad." But there is another side to this where we may side emotionally WITH the brute. Being that society generally accepts Darwin's evolution theory, we must acknowledge that one reason the Kong metaphor is so effective to this day is because we believe that on some level WE are related to the beast - regardless of our ethnic identity and regardless of any apparent "racial assumptions" regarding the image. We can all play "the beast" and we can all play "the innocent victim" at various times. When the brute violates our innocence (symbolized traditionally by a blonde white woman), we are forced to look at our own dark desires to dominate or violate something or someone which is pure or innocent. Some may find the violation of the woman by the brute terrifying, while others, both male and female, may secretly be excited by this imagery. Whether this stems from a desire to be "dominated by a savage" or a genuine sadistic desire to dominate another - we cannot avoid the fact that many of us, perhaps not even consciously, identify with some of the darker sides of all this. We find similar themes in the Tarzan story, but some of the roles are switched. Tarzan lives among apes, but later turns out to be of white, royal blood among humans. Inversely, we find that the character of Ceasar, the leader of the apes in the latest "Planet of the Apes" film, is raised by humans, but later rises to the status of "king among apes."
As we can see, the Kong/primitive man metaphor provides an extremely broad platform from which to make political, racial, social, biological, militant, and scientific statements. It's no wonder this archetype is still appearing regularly in mainstream media. Be it through films, video games, advertisements, or propaganda.
If the media can portray the "enemy" as a foreign, non human, violent beast of lesser intelligence - and appeal to the latent "inner xenophobe" in all of us, we are more likely to follow along when Uncle Sam says "destroy that brute!" What is interesting about this latest "Planet of the Apes" film though, is that Matt Reeves (director) claims the main theme of the plot is "empathy," presumably FOR the apes. This follows the secondary use of the "ape brute" archetype, which is the one that tries to understand why the beast is being violent. This also connects to our own tendency to identify with the brute on some level. Perhaps the beast was wronged and is only acting the way anyone under such circumstances would? Perhaps the beast was attacked first, and is only exacting revenge? It is my belief that this switching of perspectives between the "white American fear of a savage foreigner" and the "identification with the victimized foreigner" is a game these types of films play on our minds in order to promote social tension in society and in the world, not to give us a nice "lesson in morality" as the director of this particular film and the actors might suggest in interviews. The identification with a fear of the "brute" encourages negative feelings of xenophobia/superiority while the identification with the "victimized foreigner" asks us to play the role of victim, or the role of vigilante. But in reality, both sides lose. Did the Germans win WWII? Did racism end in America after the civil war or the civil rights movements of the 1960s? Who really "wins" these wars? In this blog we will attempt to identify the true enemy of the people by taking a closer look at his handiwork.
Billboards are typically advertisements created to sell us something. Propaganda billboards are really no different, other than typically selling an IDEA, rather than a product or a TV show. But are advertisements not also asking us to accept an IDEA in order to convince us to take action and buy a product? Let's forget what we know about this film for a moment and assume we are just laying eyes upon the above billboard for the first time. What ideas is it trying to sell in order to convince us to go see the film?
The first thing we may notice is the word "war" in large, bold red capital letters. Capital letters indicate something is being shouted. You are being sold a WAR. If the word WAR is being shouted, the next logical question would be, "what war are we talking about?" Well we know this is the "War for the Planet of the Apes," but let's let the picture tell its own story for a moment. The word "war" sits in the middle of a snow storm. The word is in RED, indicating emergency, fire, and blood. Red enhances the meaning and urgency of the word WAR, but also makes it stand out like blood on the snowy backdrop. A bloody war or possibly a war over blood? A war over the mixing of blood.
Blood on snow is a very violent and eye catching image. Snow is cold and white, so we have a cold war occurring during a white storm. The phrase "Cold War" historically describes the tense relationship between Russia and The United States just after WWII ended. These themes would seem relevant enough for the times, as Russian/US tension has been a hot topic again in the media since Trump was elected (although this tension is now being shifted again towards North Korea). Interestingly, the Russian civil war of the early 1900s was fought mainly between the "Red Army" and the "White Army." These colors have meaning. In more general terms, a cold war is "a state of political hostility between countries characterized by threats, propaganda, and other measures short of open warfare, in particular." A "white storm" reminds one of the white storm troopers of the Nazi SS. Or, if you like, the Storm Troopers of the Star Wars films - which drew directly from Nazi imagery/themes. Ultimately, this war is occurring symbolically in the midst of a violent white territory.
The next thing which stands out is the armed Chimp-Man riding a horse. The horse is moving AWAY from the word WAR. Therefore, he has just left a war which was bloody (red). By his expression and arms, he would seem to be heading towards another. He's heading toward you (the viewer), so this indicates not so subtly that YOU will be involved in this war when you watch the film. Riding with him is a blonde white girl with a blue hoodie. She peeks out from behind him, as if attempting to hide. This indicates that she may not necessarily have been taken from this bloody war by force, but perhaps she has gone willfully - and she knows it is wrong and does not want to be seen as a "betrayer of her race." This subtly hints at interracial taboos, especially the one involving white women with dark skinned men. This happens to be the taboo which probably most agitates the neo-Nazi type, indicating that the film is already flirting with deep seated racial issues. But this insinuation is brilliantly avoided by making the Chimp man's face almost the same color as the white girl. So the interracial taboo is both suggested, but also carefully avoided in the technical sense. The image is there but you are stripped of your ability to correctly state, "the Chimp Man is black." But in the literal sense, he IS "mostly black" in color. The horse is also "black in color." Black figure, white girl, white blood war - it's all here - it's just being articulated in a very cunning manner.
These images cause you to feel compelled to see the film. Why? Because people like watching a good war. A good fight (Just look at what people pay to watch one.) But what fight can truly be called a "War" without strong racial/political tension?
People forget that these are storytelling tools which can indeed be used for good or for evil. George Lucas himself has spoken on this topic in interviews regarding the concepts behind creating Star Wars films. Yet we ignorantly take them for "eccentric pontifications" which are only appreciated by Nerds and/or academics. When in fact, these are powerful, real tools used to influence the minds of the public.
"When you watch this film, you will have an emotional identification with an ape. You will see yourself in the faces of these apes...The weirdness of our movie, the thing that people come to that's so different is that they submit to an experience where for a couple hours they become apes." - Matt Reeves, as interviewed by AOL/FILM4
"Your stepping into a character who feels outside. Hes's a human being in an ape skin. Then eventually has to communicate with his own kind, he's thrown into an ape sanctuary...he sees his own color really for the first time. He sees his own skin for the first time and tries to become a member of the ape community." - Andy Serkis, BuildSeries NYC
In the above quote, director Matt Reeves doesn't just suggest we identify with the apes, he says we will BECOME APES. So now we know which classic ape perspective is being pushed onto the viewer in the billboard. The one which "sympathizes" with the brute/foreigner. If WE are playing the role of simian, it means our enemy must bare the likeness of the white blonde haired girl. Do you see the reversal of roles happening here? All of us, the viewers, are being turned into "the foreign brute," and our hypothetical "enemy" is the white human race. Therefore, if you are a white person watching the film, you are being asked to take on your "white guilt" uniform. If you are a non white, you are being asked to take on the "victim of the white race" uniform. In both cases, you are being encouraged to focus on racial agitation as it applies to you. In both cases, you are being encouraged to take on the role of "victim." The loser in the war. Oh, you WILL have an emotional connection with an ape in this film. You may even cry. But there is no "higher moral agenda" here. Quite the opposite. There is also a 3rd identification some viewers will take, and that is the identification with the "white enemy." This perspective sides with the "Neo Nazi" type individuals, who would be most outraged to see their "pure blonde blue eyed girl" violated. So although this is a new interpretation of the "Kong archetype," it's really not much different than the black and white version, it's just being presented in a more advanced, subtle, and cunning manner.
If these types of films are propaganda, which is ultimately produced by forces who would have us "at war" in order for a 3rd party to win, just who is this 3rd party? It seems their signature is included within the billboard:
If we look a bit closer, we can make out a square and compass subtly emphasized by the "A" in the background, which forms the upper triangle. The lower triangle is formed on one side by the ape man's rifle, and the other side by the girl's head. (this is similar to the square and compass contained within the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" poster I cover in an earlier blog about the film and its occult symbolism/themes) This is the symbol for Freemasonry. The "Illuminati" is a powerful sect of Freemasonry, and seem to be in control of the US Media. Why else would they embed their signature right into prominent billboards such as this? We also find the "A" in the word "WAR" forms a truncated pyramid. This is the same shape depicted on the back of a US $1 bill, and is a Freemasonic symbol as well. The missing top of the pyramid is where "the all seeing eye of illumination" sits. This invisible eye of illumination sits in the sky, above the billboard and above the symbolic "cold war" depicted (pretty clever isn't it?) This would seem to illustrate how the "elite illuminated ones" view themselves. Above the wars, creating the propaganda, directing and manipulating both sides through deception in order to control the populace. In other words, if you take a side in this "war," you are only a primitive animal jumping through hoops in this mad circus.
Therefore, this "cold war" is being staged in front of us in the form of "entertainment" for purposes of social propaganda, which director Matt Reeves alludes to when he suggests we "submit to an experience." When taken in the context of "entertainment," we go along with this quote without fear. But if Reeves was wearing a scientists uniform and said "you will now become an ape" as he straps you in like Alex from "A Clockwork Orange," you'd see this all as a sinister experiment being performed upon your consciousness. Perhaps Stanley Kubrick was trying to tell us something more obvious than it seems by depicting such a horrific scene, as pictured above from the film. Perhaps the real "cold war" here is the one where we are to be conditioned into submissive ignorant apes, without even being aware of it (that is, without direct confrontation, and where propaganda is the weapon of choice).
SECTION II - APE-POCALYPSE NOW
"And the lofty frontal bone of Mr. Kurtz! They say the hair goes on growing sometimes, but this—ah—specimen, was impressively bald. The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball—an ivory ball" - Heart of Darkness
"It’s pretty obvious that War for the Planet of the Apes borrows thematic elements from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now — that “Ape-ocalypse Now” graffiti in the middle of the movie is a none-too-subtle hint" - Hollywood Reporter 7.14.17
Many have already noted the similarities between the 2017 film "War for the Planet of the Apes" and the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film "Apocalypse Now." This association is confirmed by the film in several very obvious ways, which we will get into later in the blog. But one thing I have found distinctly missing from many of the reviews of this film where this comparison is being made, is the fact that "Apocalypse Now" was itself based upon "Heart of Darkness," which was an 1899 novella by Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad. In the cases where "Heart of Darkness" is referenced, the typical reviewer is careful not to dwell too much on that writing, opting instead to focus on comparisons to Apocalypse Now, which is supposed to be set in Vietnam - where the "savage foreigner" role is played by the Viet-KONG and their GUERRILLA soldiers.
"...whether you want to say it’s from Apocalypse Now or the real source, [Joseph Conrad’s] Heart of Darkness — was an interesting guide. My initial talks with [director] Matt Reeves were about, ‘Let’s not let this guy be too black and white, just pure evil. Let’s really show his conflicts and what he went through.’" - Woody Harrelson, as quoted by Hollywood Reporter
In the above quote, Harrelson acknowledges his character's connection to the character of Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now" [played by Marlon Brando, pictured above] and even mentions "the real source, Heart of Darkness." If Harrelson used Heart of Darkness as a "guide," then he knows full well this story was originally set in the African Congo and depicted Native Africans as "savages" to be used as slaves from the view of white European Imperialists striving to dominate the country's natural resources and their people. Are you starting to see where this is going?
One particular element which plays a large role in the backdrop of "Heart of Darkness" is the white imperialists relentless drive to gather ivory, obtained typically by killing an elephant for its tusks. In the above quote, Kurtz' head is compared to the bone whiteness of ivory - a profound symbol subtly indicating that the horrors committed by the white imperialists to dominate the ivory trade (at the expense of native Conglese) is the true "heart of darkness" referenced in the title. Let's compare this ivory/head symbolism in the original novella to Harrelson' depiction of Kurtz above, where he is shaving his head and holding a white cloth just before addressing his renegade soldiers...
The symbol of a WHITE SKIN HEAD is being shoved into our faces, seemingly for no reason. As he walks out to address his devoted, seemingly brainwashed soldiers, he doesn't bother to wipe the shaving cream from his head or finish up. This white shaving cream on his head brings attention to the whiteness of his skin symbolically. This would seem to be a "wink" to the Kurtz/ivory metaphor quoted above. White. Skin. Ivory. Shave cream. While such crude racial references, including the very liberal use of the "N" word, might not seem so shocking in a 100+ year old text such as "Heart of Darkness," one would think a modern film would put a more "PC" slant on things for the "post civil rights movement" America. Instead, this film simply shoves all of the crude racial allegories into our face and dares us to call it out. Allow me to do just that: this film is taking what is, to me, the most accusatory stance AGAINST white imperialism in the original novella, and corrupts the meaning of the metaphor by its crude delivery. In other words, "the ivory metaphor? Ha, that's nothing more meaningful than shaving cream on a white man's head!" I believe the film is mocking Conrad's brilliant ivory metaphor. But that is not to say "Heart of Darkness" was without its own controversy.
"Heart of Darkness is criticized in postcolonial studies, particularly by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. In his 1975 public lecture "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness", Achebe described Conrad's novella as "an offensive and deplorable book" that de-humanised Africans. Achebe argued that Conrad, "blinkered...with xenophobia", incorrectly depicted Africa as the antithesis of Europe and civilization, ignoring the artistic accomplishments of the Fang people who lived in the Congo River basin at the time of the book’s publication. Since the book promoted and continues to promote a prejudiced image of Africa that "depersonalizes a portion of the human race," he concluded that it should not be considered a great work of art"
While the above is an opinion which is not shared by all scholars who have attempted to interpret the novella, it shows that opinions such as this were not exactly "fringe." Therefore, anyone who studies the book and it's critical response to any degree would be well aware of the uncomfortable racial controversies which were stirred by the story. Given that, I doubt Harrelson would intentionally throw in a racial remark when interviewed about this film. One would think he would tread lightly anywhere a potentially racial remark might be misinterpreted in our hyper reactionary society. Nonetheless, let's review objectively what he said just after referencing "Heart of Darkness" as a guide:
"Let’s not let this guy [Harrelson's character] be too black and white, just pure evil."
There's two ways to interpret Harrelson's quote here. In the first sense, we think he is saying he doesn't want his character to be "pure evil," he'd like him to be more interesting than that. But the odd thing about all of this is that the Kurtz character his is modeled after is ALREADY a fairly complex character! Sure, Kurtz is shown to be evil and crazy in both "Heart of Darkness" and "Apocalypse Now," but he is also shown to be complex, contradictory, admired, and even loved for his behavior. Take a look at Marlon Brando's depiction of Kurtz in the above photo. If that isn't supposed to express someone deeply conflicted, I don't know what is. A person who is conflicted is not "black and white." So again, it makes no sense for Harrelson to insinuate that the Colonel Kurtz character needs to be re-written so as NOT to be so black and white or "pure evil."
Maybe we need to take a closer look at the above quote. To be a "black and white" character does not automatically assume that character is "evil." It means the character settles on one extreme or the other. So what Harrelson is saying if we take his quote LITERALLY, is that the MIXING of the colors black and white is "pure evil." I'm not suggesting Harrelson is a eugenicist, but I am suggesting that he is reading from a pre-written script. And I am suggesting that the same ones who wrote that script were probably involved in the writing of the film script itself. This is proven time and time again through the incessant double and triple meanings everywhere regarding this film. And when I say "everywhere," I mean within the film, in the ads, during promotional interviews, and even bleeding out into other films which we will take a look at later in the blog.
"You could easily look at the colonel as a "bad guy," but I kinda look at him as a guy who's called upon to do something great and important in this uncertain world." - Woody Harrelson, Movie-Times.net
Which "uncertain world" does he mean? Is he talking about the fictional world depicted in the film, or the actual world we live in? Notice how ambiguous these statements are. In the first sense, this is consistent with Harrelson's sorta questionable comment above about not wanting his character to be too "black and white." But I really don't think that translated in the film. We discover "The Colonel" shot his own child because he was infected with the "simian flu." Was this supposed to make us relate to the character's point of view more? All it really did was make him appear MORE black and white and more accurately described as "pure evil." Exactly what Harrelson claims they were trying to avoid! When Ceasar and his friends first stumble upon the concentration camp, the first thing they see is crucified and mutilated apes. I think this sorta set the tone for how we view "the Colonel," and he doesn't really get any LESS evil through his behavior and monologues. He's basically a psychotic man justifying his actions through some Machiavellian inspired blood thirst with a "higher goal" in mind. So what in the hell is Harrelson talking about when he says he sees his character as someone called upon to do something great? This would sound a lot less weird if Harrelson said he felt that the character SAW HIMSELF this way. But no, he's saying HE sees him this way in THIS uncertain world. (whatever world that is)
I think it is Harrelson's disarming delivery which allows quotes like this to go unexamined. We assume such a gentle, soft spoken man couldn't possibly mean what he actually said. But if he didn't mean what he said in the above quote, just what DID he mean? Supposing Andrew Dice Clay was cast as "The Colonel" and said the exact same thing in this interview. We'd have a whole lot more microscopes being focused on these words. But we just love the "Cheers bartender" so much, he couldn't possibly mean what he says when he says something kinda sinister. It goes in one ear and out the other. But somewhere in the back of your mind, the words stick.
SECTION III - THE WHIPPING SCENE
"Another scene that touched me...was when Ceasar gets whipped...and he's giving me that Denzel "Glory" but he gives it a little bit of reaction. Filming that part, like, how was that day on set because whipping in America is a big thing." -GlobalGrindTV interview question to the cast and director
If you've read this far, you might think I am trying to force my own interpretation on this film as being some sort of racial allegory. But take a look at the picture above. The interviewer for GlobalGrindTV (available on youtube as I am typing this) is wearing a shirt that clearly makes reference to racism, obviously against it. Right away Harrelson disarmingly compliments the shirt and the two establish immediately that "hey brother, we're ABOVE that stuff." But the question still remains, why would he choose to wear this shirt during the interview regarding the new "Planet of the Apes" film if he wasn't ready to confront the racial messages contained within it? He instead ENCOURAGES the racial messages. He singles out the most obvious scene in the film which references American black slave era horrors, and directly compares the lead ape character (Caesar) being whipped to Denzel Washington's character being whipped in the film "Glory." Let me repeat that. This man compares Caesar the chimp being whipped by another ape to Denzel Washington playing a black American slave being whipped in the film "Glory," then compliments the execution of the allegory! Now I ask you, is this interviewer forcing HIS interpretation on this film as a racial allegory? No, because the allegory IS there. He's just calling it out in a very gentle manner. I'm not.
Although the interviewer mentions "Glory," the scene depicted in "Apes" mirrors even more closely a horrible scene from "12 Years a Slave," in which the main character "Solomon" is forced to whip another slave. One would think presenting such a scene with apes would be in incredibly bad taste, or at least runs the risk of being severely misinterpreted. But there it is, right on the big screen
The interviewer then states: "Whipping in America is a big thing." And why is it a "big thing?" Its not like people get whipped everyday in America, so what is he talking about here? Clearly, the interviewer is referencing THE PAST where black slaves were whipped. But he doesn't come out and say that, he's being very indirect about it. And yet he delivers this line so nonchalantly as if it's no big deal at all. I've got a good questions for these guys: "why would you use apes to re-enact what is obviously a scene right out of American black slave era cruelty?" This interviewer is basically softening the question to the point where it's almost hard to even figure out what the hell he's getting at. But in the process, draws a direct correlation, without seeming to be offended. In fact, he says he was "touched" by the scene. That's a compliment, by the way.
This interviewer's job is to encourage passive acceptance of the racial references within the film. By wearing this "FCK. RACISM" shirt, he is silently claiming to represent the black perspective which is quick to point out negative racial imagery. But then he proceeds to PRAISE the negative racial imagery. The message he is sending to those paying attention is basically, "relax, I'm like YOU and I'm not offended. So why should you be?" This interviewer is what the film calls a "Donkey." Donkey is an obvious allegory for an "Uncle Tom." For those who don't know what that is, An Uncle Tom is, according to www.merriam-webster.com, "a black who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals)"
"There are turncoat apes basically, they've gone to work for the humans and they are treated appallingly, they're like slaves in actual fact. They're really badly taken care of and their called "donkeys." They carry weapons and they haul stuff around and they cook food for the humans, they are literally like slaves" - Andy Serkes, BuildSeries NYC
In the above film still, we see a "Donkey" leading Ceasar to his whipping, which he personally delivers. In the above quote, Serkis makes the connection between the apes and SLAVES. He uses the word "slave" twice in this short statement - and exaggerates the gesture by saying they are slaves "IN ACTUAL FACT." Remember, these are apes he is talking about. Animals. He's giving them an attribute only HUMANS can have. Horses work for humans. Do we call them slaves? A "turncoat" is "a person who deserts one party or cause in order to join an opposing one." Or in this context, an APE who is overeager to win the approval of the Colonel, who happens to be a white blue eyed skinhead cult leader who wants to exterminate all apes.
I've pointed out this "white" symbolism a few times earlier in this blog, and we are starting to see why it is there. If it isn't represented specifically in the ethnicity of the actors themselves (The Colonel or Nova's Nordic features), it is represented by the colors and themes emphasized by the film in other ways (the white snow storm covered backdrop, the white clad soldiers who come to destroy the fortress, the white avalanche which wipes out the humans near the end.)
Serkis: "That set was a horrible horrible set to shoot on it was...it reminded you of so many horrific events in history. You know, concentration camps and...it was a really nasty place, it had a horrible vibe...and that scene...you know it just, it just um...kind of felt, you know I felt beholden to play him as someone who was gonna stand up for his people, who was gonna stand up for his kind. And it was physically kind of exhausting and quite painful" [laughs]
Serkis is speaking here as though he actually experienced some "historical atrocity" during the filming, which he is referencing by using the word "history" specifically. In the film during the scene where the apes are brought to the colonel, there is a distinct scrawl of the word "history" scribbled on the colonel's wall in his quarters (the kitchen if memory serves correct). He then goes on various monologues, referencing history while the apes stand there in chains. Clearly, the film, and Serkis as he answers the questions, is telling us, THESE ARE HISTORIC EVENTS BEING RE-ENACTED. It's not well done in the story telling sense, but it is brilliant in the sense of "propaganda" delivery.
Why is Sekis exaggerating so much about the "real torture" he felt filming these scenes? He is indeed a talented actor, no doubt. In fact he is STILL acting in this interview! Look at what he is saying here. He is an English man, wearing a chimp uniform, representing a slave, who is going to "stand up for his kind." Who is Serkis speaking about when he says "his kind?" Does he mean apes, Englishmen, or black slaves? He says this shortly after the interviewer compares his character to Denzel Washington's in a film about black American slaves. So isn't he the least bit concerned that some may wonder what he means when he says "his kind?" This "reserved Englishman" act of his serves the same function as Harrelson's "I'm just the Bartender from Cheers" act. Disarming delivery of what aughta be regarded as controversial responses. But we overlook the actual words in favor of their innocent delivery.
Reeves: "The thing that was amazing to watch was Andy. I mean, he is, he's not being whipped but he is...you can feel him being whipped...Andy wanted to be whipped and whipped, he was like, he goes "keep going because" He goes "I feel like I need to be - I need to go through this." It was powerful because of the way Andy was expressing himself. You could feel his pain, you could feel the brutality. You were like, "this is horrifying."
I'm guessing this is supposed to be some sort of compliment on Andy Serkis' commitment to "throwing himself into the role." But it comes off like some demented process of a white man trying to re-live the horrors black slaves suffered at the hands of white men. Only Andy's wearing an chimp suit while doing it. If the apes are an allegory for black slaves, doesn't that mean Serkis is acting out an allegory for "white guilt?" It's interesting that "Serkis" sounds like the word "circus." It seems to me Andy is playing a circus animal and Matt Reeves is playing the role of animal tamer. He wants us to identify with Serkis' character, meaning he wants us ALL to "join the circus as animals, while he cracks the whip on us and we plead for more." We will look more into Andy Serkis later in the blog.
SECTION IV: THE SIMIAN FLU VIRUS
When Caesar is captured by the Colonel in his ape slave stronghold, we discover through his conversations with the ape, that he is on a "holy war" to purge the planet of apes. The reason he needs to purge the earth of apes is that they carry a virus which, when humans are infected by it, causes them to lose speech abilities (among other things). Caesar and his small group encounter dead Alpha Omega (the Colonel's army) earlier in the film, which appeared to have been murdered by their own fellow Alpha Omega soldiers. So now we discover why the Colonel and his troops are holed up in their stronghold: He has been killing humans he believes to be infected by the "simian flu virus." We find he even killed his own son. So the Army is after him, and therefore he needs the apes to build a wall in order to defend the stronghold when they arrive.
I have not followed this trilogy, but as I understand it, this simian flu is the result of humans injecting apes with a drug which causes them to "become smart" and adapt more human characteristics. So the virus would seem to be the negative result of humans messing around with the laws of nature, backfiring into a virus which causes humans to devolve into apes mentally. If all of the racial allegory in the film is to be applied here, we begin to have some very controversial messages to contend with, to put it lightly.
Above are some examples of how simple hand gestures can express a deep sense of personal, political, racial, religious, or even spiritual pride. Even when presented as an allegory, as with the cross armed "Pink" gesture from "The Wall" film, we get a sense of something very serious and dangerous. Given that obvious fact, it is very hard to ignore how blatantly these recent "Planet of the Apes" films flirt with extremely controversial gestures. As you can plainly see above, the apes in the recent series have a hand gesture very similar to the "Black Panther's." This is a gesture which signifies "ape strength" or "ape pride." In this film, most of the apes seem to be evolving into more intelligent apes than the ones we know in reality. However, only a few of them seem to be able to talk. But they all seem to know sign language. Therefore, the connection between the "ape strength" gesture and the "Black Panther" gesture is LANGUAGE. The sign language of the apes would seem to be an allegory for "black language." Known in America as "Ebonics."
When the apes/chimps such as Caesar develop the ability to speak, this is an allegory for adapting the speaking style of "white society." When "whites/humans" are contaminated by the "simian flu," this is an allegory for white society being mixed with black culture, resulting in whites starting to speak in Ebonics (this allegory also fits with any foreign influence.) This is symbolized by them losing the ability to speak, such as in the case of the blond haired blue eyed Nova. She then learns the language of the apes (sign language). The analogy being - she has started hanging out with blacks and has adapted their manner of speaking in Ebonics. This is referred to as "devolving into an ape" in the film.
If you find this all extremely offensive, remember that it's right there on the big screen and millions of people are staring right past it. It is appalling what this film is showing us, but what is even more appalling is that these racial allegories have gone mostly un-examined in all major media coverage of this film, as if it isn't there. In the few cases where these allegories ARE addressed, we find a campaign to MIS-REPRESENT those attempting to point out these allegories for what they are, as shown in the above section regarding "the whipping scene." Clearly, we have a common enemy, and it's not your neighbor or the foreigner down the street, and it may ultimately not even be the enemy you think you have across the pond. You don't win chess by taking on all the pawns, you win by cornering the King - who hides behind his army. And right now the "mad king" is throwing so many of his pawns at us, we've forgotten the way the game is won!
We might think one film franchise is enough to deliver the message, but if we take a step back and look at what Andy Serkis is doing next, we find that as I write this he is working on a film called "Black Panther."
V: ANDY SERKIS AND THE BLACK PANTHER
If we take a step back and focus on the "Heart of Darkness" novella again for a moment, we find the character of "Colonel Kurtz" to be based on an actual person. It is widely believed that Kurtz was based upon a ruthless Belgian Imperialist named Léon Rom (pictured in the black and white photo above) born in Belgium 1859, and spent much time in the Congo during the height of European Imperialism there. "Rom became most famous for the alleged brutality of his administration in the Stanley Falls area (African Congo). According to contemporary reports from white missionaries, Rom had used the severed heads of 21 Congolese to decorate the flower beds of his house at Stanley Falls. He is also said to have kept a gallows permanently in place at his station." These atrocities committed by Rom are echoed in "Apocalypse Now" and "War for the Planet of the Apes," in the form of mutilated bodies which decorate the Colonel's outpost.
Chained Congolese slaves on a Belgian Rubber Plantation [from http://ultimatehistoryproject.com/belgian-congo.html]. This is a sample of the sort of racial violence being directly referenced in this latest "Planet of the Apes" film when they depict the apes as "slaves in chains" in certain scenes. Similar scenes are depicted in the original "Heart of Darkness" novella, so there is no avoiding the association.
Léon Rom must have been a very important person, because he appears again in the Tarzan story, as depicted by Christoph Waltz (pictured above next to the real photo of Rom). In the film, he is sent by King Leopold II of the Belgians to secure the fabled diamonds of Opar. This is an allegory for Belgium's scramble to plunder the natural resources of Africa, as Opar is a fictional "Atlantis" made up in the Tarzan story which is located in the Congo. The obtainment of the diamonds there is necessary to pull the country out of bankruptcy - mirroring the historical accounts of Belgium's struggle to compete with the British Imperialists also present in the Congo at the time. The story involves the enslavement of the Congolese population by the Belgians, and of course an "Ape man" in the form of Tarzan. We find almost all of the themes associated with Léon Rom in the fictional character of Ulysses Klaue, whom Andy Serkis is currently cast as in the "Black Panther" film.
Black Panther was the first non caricature black superhero in mainstream American comics. Although creator Stan Lee denies the connection, the character is clearly a metaphor for the "Black Panther" militant group, which just happened to be formed in 1966 - the exact same year the Black Panther superhero appeared! In the upcoming film, Serkis reprises the role of Ulysses Klaue, a Belgian man who kills Black Panther's father. "Ulysses Klaue is the son of Nazi war criminal Colonel Fritz (Kurtz?) Klaue of the Blitzkrieg Squad led by Baron Strucker. He was sent to Wakanda to learn their secrets by Adolf Hitler. Wakanda is a fictional location in Africa where Black Panther is from. In order to continue his design of a sound transducer which converts sound waves into physical mass, Klaw steals the metal vibranium to power his device. This is a metal substance known to exist only in certain meteoric deposits in the small African nation of Wakanda. By stealing this rare mineral, Klaw comes into conflict with the Wakandan ruler/superhero T'Chaka whom Klaw murders in cold blood. T'Chaka's adolescent son T'Challa, who watched his father fall to the invaders, then attacks Klaw to avenge his father. Klaw manages to escape at the cost of his right hand.
This gets a bit difficult to wrap ones brain around, because there are so many layers of allegory at this point, but I will try and sum this up. Serkis goes from playing Caesar, who's mortal enemy is a character based upon Léon Rom. Caesar and the other apes have a hand gesture very similar to the Black Panther hand gesture. Serkis then goes on immediately to play a character in another film which is heavily reminiscent of Léon Rom. Down to being a Belgian plundering the Congo for natural resources, killing the father of "Black Panther" in the process.
All I can really say at this point is that there is a very sinister and very intelligent mind at work here. We'd be wise not to continue ignoring it as though it is harmless. It's not harmless because millions of people are watching these films and being influenced by them - most of whom probably have no clue what affect the film is having upon their mind. Meanwhile, they leave that theater with all of these allegories sitting in the back of their mind, unconfronted consciously. But they will manifest unconsciously through interactions with the world, in the form of all of the negative racial "hot buttons" which were planted by the propaganda films and other mainstream media. You can see the results of this propaganda daily by simply observing your Facebook feed and how people mostly just respond to media influence.
SECTION VI: THE WALL
Another allegory worth mentioning is this wall, which the enslaved apes are being forced to build in the Colonel's concentration camp/fortress. In the above billboard, we see Ceasar and his army emerging through the wall, which doesn't necessarily happen in the film. For most of the time, Ceasar is trapped inside where we find him refusing to work to build the wall, which then leads to the controversial "whipping scene" we mentioned earlier. The symbol of dehumanized slaves building a wall for a Hitler-esque leader bent on exterminating foreign influence is not a very subtle reference to the Trump wall, which he intends to build across the US/Mexican border. This "wall" of Trump's, whether it is intended to be or not, is a literal symbol of division. This is why it is being used so much in the media, because it plays directly into the "divide and conquer" strategy. We covered this "wall" symbolism in a previous blog where "The Great Wall" starring Matt Damon was discussed. We find another prominent wall in the HBO series "Game of Thrones," where "The Wall" keeps out the "White Walkers" from destroying the human race.
In the film, this wall is being built by the ape slave labor, in order to protect the white skinhead leader, in the form of the Colonel. The Colonel is being attacked by a WHITE ARMY who is aware that he is killing other humans he suspects of contracting the simian flu. When I say "white army," I don't necessarily mean that they are "white skinned," but if you look at the picture above - I would say that army could accurately be described as white. These are the soldiers that are hunting the Colonel, so yes they are a WHITE ARMY. One might then ask how we are to interpret this allegory of a "white army" attacking the "white skinhead leader," who is only trying to preserve the human race from being infected by the dark savages? Well if you notice, the apes are in the middle of this "cold, white on white war" over the mixing of species/races. If we remember that WE are supposed to identify with the apes here, you can lose your mind getting lost in this sea of negative racial allegory. It just gets kind of ridiculous at this point. How many different ways does this film wanna spell out "racism" and "xenophobia?" Infinitely, apparently. And just when we think they are finally done, it is a great white avalanche caused by the explosion of the fortress which smothers everyone, ending the war.
SECTION VII: POSTHUMANISM
"That is the beauty of the technology it does allow you, it's totally liberating, it allows you to play anything on this planet You can anthropomorphize ANYTHING now. We have the capability of doing it." - Andy Serkis, BuildSeries NYC
"I was a fan of the series from a child. I wanted to be an ape so badly. And...when I saw "Rise," I was particularly drawn to it because I'd never had that level of emotional identification with a CG character. " Matt Reeves, Film4
In this final section, I'd like to briefly cover another major agenda this film flirts with, and that is the concept of Posthumanism. This is a very lengthy topic which I hope to go more into in a future blog, but in the meantime I would suggest googling the term and doing a bit of basic research on this fascinating, potentially horrific concept. But if we simply look at the word, it means AFTER HUMAN. The term "post mortem" obviously means the state of an individual after they are dead. So how can "post human" be a good thing? It indicates that we are not human, but also does not indicate we are dead. It can only mean that we transform into something else. A robot? A monster? I don't know about you, but I'm not very eager to transform my body into a non-human lifeform.
In the above quote, Serkis talks about how "liberating" the process of being "anthropomorphized" can be. "Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities." So what Andy means is that all of that machinery connected to his body which allows him to "become" Gollum, or King Kong, Supreme Leader Snoke, or Ceasar the Chimp - is "totally liberating." Andy is promoting here, the idea that "becoming something non human" through technology is a great and wonderful , even liberating thing.
Director Matt Reeves goes a step further and reveals how badly he always wanted to be an ape! He then goes on to express his own "emotional identification" with a CG character.
Both Reeves and Serkis are passionately expressing their own desires to transfer their identities to non-human forms through technology. That may seem like a very sinister way to translate the above quotations, but it is also accurate. And as we saw in an earlier quote, Reeves' intention for the viewing audience is to turn them into apes. He's sharing his own childhood fantasy of "becoming an ape" and urging us to follow. In other words, he is advertising a form of posthumanism and strongly urging us to become something "non human" through technology. This film, or more-so its promotional campaign, is an advertisement for posthumanism.