Planet Of The Apes Essay

My first job after college graduation was at a small Southern newspaper with a circulation about the size of a bus station waiting room. The most memorable thing about the job was a discussion I had about Planet of the Apes and its sequels with my boss. My argument was that the first film was an Academy Award-winning masterpiece while the other films expounded upon the challenging philosophical notions found in the 1968 film for a cul-de-sac of thought-provoking science fiction. My boss thought this was no end of hilarious and was the stuff of fanboys.

That is, of course, not exactly the case as film buffs will tell you. Planet of the Apes is more than just a Sci-Fi/ Fantasy set of b-movies, but a brilliant set of metaphors that formulate the thinking person's sci-fi series. Planet of the Apes and Philosophy, the new book from Open Court Books (edited by John Huss) is another step in the proof of this outstanding and exceptional series. This book (subtitled “Great Apes Think Alike”) is a series of 22 essays that cover a surprising range of topics delving into the philosophies and sciences found in each of the films.

Interestingly, the essays don't start with metaphors and the dichotomy of Platonism and Aristotelianism, but with hard science from real primate zoologists. The questions of whether animals (especially non-human primates) can think and feel even, and especially without languages, are explored and reasoned and exemplified. Questions of primate communication and even deception are chronicled in fascinating documentaries in the first essays, all are rooted in hard science, but related to the mythos of Planet of the Apes.

The book continues through the dogmas of science, exploring the seeming antithesis of Doctor Zais' nature as both Minister of Science and chief Defender of the Faith as compared to our own separation of religion and science. Further explorations delve into the human equality and the Planet of the Apes metaphors for slavery, revolution, activism and change as well as time travel philosophies (of multiple kinds) and politics, such as the failed Platonic city state we find in the original Planet of the Apes, which turns the caste system into a parody of itself.

Planet of the Apes and Philosophy is nothing if not thorough in its mission. If there is a science, philosophy, psychology, or even pseudoscience touched on in any of the Planet of the Apes films or television shows, or the original Pierre Boulle novel, you will find it here. However, this is not for the casual reader or science fiction fan looking for a simple tie-in to the established series. This may not be a heavy, dense read in all places, but the book is not without its prerequisite reading and understanding. There's a learning curve that is expected to be met as the writers are all professionals, not prone to talking down to their audience.

This is not Open Court's first foray into such territory, of course, in that a full 73 volumes of the “Pop Culture and Philosophy” series have been produced prior to this. The series has covered everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Johnny Cash to SpongeBob SquarePants to Jeopardy!. Nor is this Huss' first time as editor and contributing writer.

That said, Planet of the Apes and Philosophy can be repetitive in its essays and can be occasionally confusing. Because the book does cover every film including all five from the original series, the ill-fated Tim Burton re-imagining from 2001, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and even touches upon the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (due in 2014), there is a lot of (often contradictory) ground covered here. Many of the book's authors will address the original series and then shift to a discussion of “Caesar” without acknowledging that there are (now) two Caesars, one from Rise of the Planet of the Apes and one from the original series. This would be forgivable if the Caesar they almost invariably shifted to wasn't from Rise of the Planet of the Apes (without being declared so), instead of the obvious train-of-thought choice of the original series' Caesar.

Meanwhile, each author is careful to set up and explain their arguments in each essay, ensuring that the most obscure subjects are defined, even as the tome on the whole remains high minded. The good and bad of this is that each writer tends to define the exact same semi-obscure subject matter, making for an occasionally redundant read. In this way, Planet of the Apes and Philosophy is best as an informative, challenging and even entertaining reference as opposed to a cover-to-cover read.

Another problem, even as a reference is the fact that for all its thoroughness as a scientific and philosophical work, Planet of the Apes and Philosophy has a very incomplete and often inaccurate index that runs for seven pages. There are many references to, say, the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes, however none of these references can be found on pages 82 or 87, in spite of the fact that the index indicates that the references would only be found on these pages. Thus, an otherwise fine book loses its most attractive use.

Planet of the Apes and Philosophy does raise (and attempts to answer) some challenging questions on a wide range of topics, most notably speciesm and what makes a creature sentient as opposed to worthy of being enslaved, controlled or consumed. The cover, featuring Charlton Heston's Taylor in his farewell kiss with Kim Hunter's Zira, says it all. The cover may... well, ape that of a harlequin romance novel, but whimsy aside, it's indicative of the strange and deep questions to be found in Hess' book.

Planet of the Apes and Philosophy: Great Apes Think Alike

Publisher: Open Court
ISBN: 0812698223
Author: John Huss
Price: $17.95
Format: Paperback
Length: 312 pages
Publication date: 2013-05
Author website
  • 1

    One of the most famous quotes from Planet of the Apes is Taylor’s crying out while in captivity, “It’s a madhouse…a madhouse!” Explain how this outburst could be considered ironic.

    A madhouse is a pejorative form for an institution to treat the mentally ill. It is commonly used in the vernacular to describe any place where things are taking place beyond reason or, in other instances, where events are at odds with one’s accepted perspective of reality and truth. Taylor’s outburst is stimulated by his being treated like an animal by creatures he is used to seeing as mere beasts existing on a plane beneath his own. The irony here is almost too obvious: Taylor also thinks all humans are beneath him. His oft-stated perspective is one that has the cumulative effective of revealing him to be an utter misanthrope. Therefore, it is irony of an almost paradoxical state that Taylor would consider being treated like an animal by creatures he considers to be little more than beasts the equivalent of living in a madhouse. Under the conditions of personality that Taylor exhibits throughout the film, his entire existence is a parallel to the conditions of his imprisonment by the apes. The whole universe is a madhouse for Taylor.

  • 2

    A common criticism of the film is that Nova represents the ideal submissive woman for a man like Taylor. Prove this critique wrong.

    The criticism is based on the fact that she is mute and therefore represents the ideal woman for a man like Taylor because she can’t talk back and, by definition, question his authority. Taylor’s comments about the dead female astronaut Stewart being essentially a baby making machine for the male astronauts in her role as the “new Eve” had she survived further establishes that Taylor is not merely misanthropic, but deeply misogynistic as well. Furthermore, comments made to Nova from “imagine me needing someone” to “look at that…I taught you to smile” only further cements that Taylor has got some major league issues with women in general and probably would desire Nova to be a submissive hunk of women flesh. Her erasure of Taylor’s writing in the sand is an outright act of rebellion against his authority, however, so while Taylor may get back on that horse and ride away from Lady Liberty thinking he’s found the perfect submissive wife, the evidence hardily suggests that yet again Mr. Taylor is going to be disappointed when his perspective of reality does not quite mesh with the actual manifestation of reality.

  • 3

    Describe how film seem confirm Darwinian evolutionary theories on “natural selection” while at the same time denying the non-Darwinian term “survival of the fittest.”

    That the apes have evolved as a matter of natural selection should go unrefuted. Following global nuclear annihilation, the forces of nature were essentially reset to even odds as there were bound to be more apes than men simply by virtue of mankind being the target of nuclear warheads. That apes—which are revealed in subsequent sequels but which is not touched upon in this film directly as being domesticated into daily human society—would find their species placed in an ideal circumstance for natural selection to take its natural evolutionary course seems a potentially like circumstance would fit in logically within theories outlined by Darwin. The concept of survival of fittest—not originally a Darwinian term, but rather a social construct appended to natural evolutionary mechanics—on the other hand is revealed to be just that: a social construct not capable of standing up to forces of nature.

    By all standards of logical convention, the humans that Taylor meets on the planet of the apes would not have de-evolved if survival of the fittest applied, since natural selection would result not in their undergoing a regressive state, but merely being killed off, given the time frame involved. Extending the narrative into the future by hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of years would prove his to be true. Were survival of the fittest a natural state of affairs rather than a social abstraction of natural law, the humans would not have de-evolved into a more primitive state, but evolved into a state at the very least equal to that their eventual ape masters. On the other hand, natural selection can logically explain why ape evolution would lead to a social construct in which the smarter humans—like, for instance, Taylor—have been killed over time to create what is essentially a genetic pool of troglodytes.

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