Rise of the Planet of the Apes is probably among the top movies of the last two years and it is undoubtedly better than all of the nominees for Best Picture for 2011,along with The Muppets. It was certainly better than The Artist. The film provides the backstory to the “classic” sci-fi film The Planet of the Apes which Rise also far outshines. It is essentially a story of animal evolution propelled by human technology, resulting in armed revolution by animals against humans.
The story begins with a research scientist who conducts studies on chimpanzees pertaining to an alzheimer's treatment that may not only restore the subject’s brain functioning but even increase intelligence. This scientist has an ailing father whose suffering drives his son’s urgency to achieve success in his research. One of the first successful test subjects, a chimp called Bright Eyes by the research team, goes on a rampage in defense of her infant son, and is killed right at the moment when the scientist is presenting his research to a corporate board meeting. The scientist then takes care of the infant chimpanzee, whom he names Caesar, and subsequently realizes that this young ape had inherited the superior intelligence of his mother.
The scientist administers the chimp-tested treatments to his father, whose condition improves. The father, Cesaer’s adoptive grandfather, shows the most emotion and concern for Caesar, and his quality of life, out of all of the film’s human characters. The elder man and the young ape experience their life changes at the same time, and at the moment when the grandfather relapses into alzheimers, Caesar is put into an ape refuge, a moment that comes after Caesar had defended his elder from a bullying neighbor. The moment of the grandfather’s death is also the moment where Caesar becomes that refuge’s alpha male. This kind of pattern is interesting as it also charts the rise of the ape - as, of course, Caesar inevitably becomes a leader of an ape uprising, first against their refuge handlers, and then against law enforcement - against the decline of man, who, by film’s end, die out as a virus that the apes are resistant to spreads across the world along international flightpaths.
Earlier in this post I referred to The Artist, and I think it is important to note that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just one example of a movie that effectively carries the silent film, in part, into the present era. Rather than being some corny pastiche of 1920s era Hollywood, Rise shows the animals behave in often intensely expressive ways without verbally communicating. The emotions and meanings expressed by the apes are clearly conveyed by facial and bodily gestures, and the actions of the apes are clear as well. Whole tracts of the film are gripping in their portrayal of animal suffering without any words being exchanged or even human characters present to speak on their behalf.
The uprising of the ape’s is a great scene. First, it includes aspects of revolutionary activity which are often neglected in other representations. For example, the apes have a symbol for their movement, the design of the windowframe from the attic of the scientist’s house where Caesar grew up. There’s a whole motif of looking through windows and glass in this film that may provide the base material for a film studies student’s course paper someday! Furthermore, the apes in revolt almost immediately find a revolutionary hero-martyr in the gorilla of the refuge who hurled himself at a helicopter machine-gunner - bringing down the aircraft even though it killed him. Meanwhile, Caesar is the quintessential revolutionary leader (with strands from Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces), who fearlessly fights his enemies with whatever means are at hand while unfolding brilliant strategies to defeat the San Francisco Police Department with limited manpower and weaponry. It seemed as though the apes won their fight against well armed and armoured men with few casualties and little effort. Finally, Caesar also feels intensely for his people, as shown when he cradles the body of the fallen gorilla after the battle had ended.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is probably the great film of animal liberation, imagining a fantasy of the animals liberating themselves at the same time that humanity falls, never to oppress or exploit apes again.