Today I bring you a post not about food but about film. Friday night I saw the film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and I must say it exceeded all of my wildest expectations. As a practically lifelong fan of the original 1968 film, both for it’s amazing story and it’s sociopolitical subtext, I wasn’t sure this ‘reboot’ could compare. When I saw the first trailer a few months ago, my initial judgement was that the film would be a glossy, CGI extravaganza, lacking any sort of plot, or intelligent thought, but I was wrong. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that this film matches the greatness of the original, at least in storytelling capacity, but it does without a doubt surpass the original in presenting it’s message of social justice.
The film is getting a lot of press right now for it’s attempt at tackling issues of animal welfare. An overwhelming majority of the reviews have been positive, and most of those good reviews have praised the film’s anti-animal testing, pro animal-welfare message. As well as it’s decision to use CGI apes rather then real ones. Which of course brings to light the issues of animal-cruelty within the entertainment industry. A problem that still exists today but doesn’t get the amount of attention that it should. The bad reviews on the other hand appear to be coming at the film from two different standpoints. On the right you have those who are annoyed by the films message, labeling it ‘animal-rights propaganda’ and even going so far as to argue why cruel animal-testing is still necessary. On the left you have those who consider themselves animal advocates or activists who are annoyed with the film for not doing enough to promote the pro-animal message.
I can certainly understand why some people may feel the film wasn’t good enough, because I agree that it would be nice for once to see a mainstream film with massive financial backing to dig deep into the issues and present a truly in your face message. However at the same time I don’t feel that being aggressive with people is very helpful to the cause. I find that coming on with a strong attitude turns more people off, and would only enrage viewers and alienate a wider audience. No one, after all, enjoys being preached too.
Considering this is a Hollywood film, and I don’t expect much if anything out of Hollywood I’m surprised the film makers were able to get in as many of the animal welfare issues as they did, to the degree that they did. I don’t think the message of the film is in anyway subtle, and I especially admire the two pronged approach the film takes in tackling issues of animal-welfare and cruelty. This is after all the only film in the series (Including the Tim Burton remake) that portrays the apes as heros rather then villains. On top of that this is arguably the only film (or at least one of very few) that tells a story entirely from a non-human animal point of view, that attempts to explore not only the physical side of animal cruelty but the psychological and emotional sides as well. Considering the constraints the film needs to work with I thought the film makers did a reasonably good job here. You of course get all the images and sound bites you might expect from a film that takes a stance against animal-cruelty. You see despondent apes in cages. You see apes experimented on, and mistreated. You see apes living meaningless lives filled with nothing but pain and suffering. You see them killed, tortured, and brutalized. You see them living in squalor, and you hear the humans all around commenting on it and yet turning a blind eye. These are the things you expect to see, but the film also showcases other issues that I feel are less explored when discussing the cruelty test-animals are subjected to each and every day.
For instance the film opens on a scene in the jungles of what is presumably Africa, with a group of men tracking a group of apes. When thinking about test-animals I think it’s rare for us to have the awareness to realize that in order to acquire these animals they need to be taken from the wild. To rip these animals from their homes in the wild, away from everything they know, away from their mothers to whom they’ve bonded, their families, and their extensive social networks is both devastating and traumatic. Not only for those animals captured, but also for those who are left behind. In many cases during these ‘capture’ missions animals are hurt, brutalized, and even killed, particularly if they show signs of posing any kind of threat to their human captors. It’s clear these animals do not want to be taken, that’s why they run in fear, that’s why they hide, that’s why they scream when they’re locked away, and why they cry out so mournfully as they leave their jungle homes. They have no desire to become our tools, our test subjects, or our entertainment. This is a well thought out scene that proves a point and in my opinion is the perfect beginning to the film.
Of course the film makers don’t stop there. They try to get us thinking about a lot of issues we might not normally consider. They show us very specific scenes in order to get us asking those important questions. For example, what does happens to lab animals once they are no longer needed for the particular experiment or trial they were captured for? In many cases it would be appropriate to think those animals would be exterminated. Having served their purpose killing them is more cost effective then keeping them. However the film chooses to also show us another path that is frequently taken. In a particularly moving scene later in the film we are introduced to an ape who looks as though he’s been through hell and back. Not only does his body show signs of the atrocities committed against him but his spirit is obviously broken, giving him the air of a death row inmate. He is self-aware, knowing and understanding his fate, and accepting it for what other choice does he have? The reality that many animals are used repeatedly in different tests, trials and experiments, shipped all over the country to whatever company requires them might not occur to people, but it should. After all it is cheaper and more cost effective to buy a lab animal off of a company that no longer needs it, rather then fund your own animal ‘snatch and grab’ operation in the jungles of Africa. Quick and cheap is what corporations are always after and so one animal may go through several different excruciating experiments during the course of it’s life. Being forced to endure a barrage of tests in any field from the medical, to the cosmetic, to being the testing surface for household cleaners, and any other number of chemicals. These are just a few of the physical cruelties dealt with In the film, but the exploration doesn’t stop there.
The film makers go on to probe the minds of the apes. Attempting to show us the psychological abuse they are forced to live with, as well as their emotional suffering. It is clear from the expressions on their faces that the apes do not want to be test subjects. They do not want to live out their lives in cages and inadequate man-made zoo like habitats. Through their eyes, the subtle movements of their facial muscles, and their vocal ability they express pain when they are harmed and mistreated. They express pain when injected. They exude grief and mourning when one of their own is killed. They encompass loneliness when they are thrown into their cages. In their solitary cells locked away from one another they are oceans of woe, despondence, devastation, depravation, rejection, and bitter compliance. They are broken of will and hopeless, they hate their lives and yet have grown complacent with them because they haven’t yet realized that they can fight for change. You can see as plain as day the anguish they feel, their powerlessness fills every scene. Then in other scenes they are also shown to feel happiness, love, respect, forgiveness and most importantly compassion. It’s that example of compassion that I was most drawn to, and I applaud the film makers for it. Despite whatever else may be happening in this film, it is at it’s base an action film, depicting a revolution. The apes of course are the heroes of this film, and so humans must indeed die during their uprising, but what I love is that the film makers refrained from falling into the easy cliche of portraying the opposing side (The apes) as blood-thirsty revolutionaries. Never do the apes go on a mad, insanity driven killing spree. Rather their actions are calculated and precise, their mission is to free and enlighten others of their kind. Some humans are killed at the hands of apes, of course, but it’s only those humans guilty of animal-cruelty, or hell-bent on murdering the apes, who perish. Cesar who is the revolution’s leader, you will see, does not allow the killing of just any human. Those who are deemed ‘innocent’ are struck down, or pushed aside but they are not killed. In at least three scenes Cesar stops an ape from murdering an ‘innocent’ human. Sending a message to all of his comrades that innocents should be shown compassion. While the humans in the film proceed unwavering in their attempt to kill the apes for no better reason then it’s what they were told to do. In this situation through their actions it’s the apes who show that they have a deeper sense of compassion, and are more capable of rational thought then their human counterparts. Which in my opinion, with all the trouble facing the world today, isn’t that far off the mark.
Another great idea brought forth by the film is the simple but clear message that humans can often be cruel by being kind. We can become so tightly wrapped in our own lives that it can be hard to look at things objectively. More often then not we are incapable of seeing anything from any perspective other then our own, and we’re endlessly guilty of allowing our own sense of morality, shape how we see everyone and everything else. Too frequently we are guilty of being unaware, which is how we can be cruel to other beings without realizing it, or while thinking that we are in fact being kind. The best example of this in the film is James Franco’s character. He undoubtably loves Cesar, he has given him a good home and takes exceptionally good care of him. He believes it’s his duty to protect Cesar and keep him safe. He even respects Cesar as a unique and intelligent being, and doesn’t think of him as a pet in his mind, and yet his instincts have him inevitably treating him as one in certain situations. The deep love and affection he feels for Cesar has blinded him to the fact that he is in actuality Cesar’s oppressor. No matter how much he may love him, he is incapable of giving to Cesar everything he needs. He is indeed his keeper, his ‘owner’ they are not equals no matter how much love and respect may flow between them, and that’s oppression, but he doesn’t understand that. He’s unaware of how Cesar perceives the situation, and in moments where he might become enlightened he chooses selfishly not to understand. Which is something I think as humans we do far to often.
Now putting aside the actual storyline of the film there is one other significant way in which the film tackles issues of animal-welfare, and it’s why in the beginning I referred to the film as having a ‘two pronged approach’ This is perhaps a much subtler way of addressing animal-welfare issues, then the films plot, however I consider it to be far more significant. The very making of the film itself is a stance against animal-cruelty as not a single ape was used in the film. All apes were generated using high-quality CGI. Now the CGI was my biggest worry with this film as I thought the apes would look horrendous and cheesy, thus taking away from the films overall message. Though as it turns out my worry was all for naught, as the CGI in this film was beyond incredible. It didn’t exactly lend to the film the kind of texture you get with the monkey-costumes, but it is visually impressive. More importantly you get a far greater range of facial expressions, implied emotional intelligence, and motion then you would using humans in monkey costumes. Not only do the apes look like apes but they move and act like apes. Which is important because it shows just how good our technology has become. CGI has improved immensely over the past ten years, and it will only continue to improve. The fact that we are now at a point where we can create entire realistic worlds, as well as develop CGI animals that not only look like the animal they are meant to be but move accurately as well should be enough to stop the industry from ever using another real animal in filming again. It has become completely unnecessary. In this day and age with our advanced technology there is no reason for us to continue to rip animals from the wild and force them into lives of servitude simply for our own enjoyment. It’s cruel and heartless. The animals used in the entertainment industry whether it be for film, a circus act etc... are horribly treated. They’re beaten, mistreated, mishandled, misunderstood. They are living lives very similar to the caged apes in this film. Lives of hopelessness and loneliness. Animals die during filming, due to careless accidents, and mistreatment as we saw with the Giraffe that died during the filming of the movie "Zookeeper" Reports are now surfacing claiming the elephant used in "Water for Elephants" was repeatedly beaten into performance, as are the other elephants owned by that company. Animals are living, breathing beautiful creatures. As capable as we of forming friendships, and bonds with one another. They are not our play things, they are not ours to do with as we will, they are not ours to hold dominion over, and they are certainly not deserving of the horrendous situations we place them into each and every day. It is unfathomably cruel to continue using and exploiting these beings when there is absolutely no reason why we need to, and that’s the point this film has made. By refusing to use a real live ape, using CGI ones instead this film has proved that at this point we are continuing to use animals out of sheer ignorance and selfishness. This film shows us just how speciesist we are, and how we are greatly lacking in compassion, having far less then those ‘animals’ we consider to be less than....
Now I realize that a lot of people will go into this film and come out of it with little to none of the message absorbed. People are very good at compartmentalizing life. They can see something horrible like scenes of animal testing and then not connect that reality to the fact that they contribute to animal-cruelty by buying shampoo that is tested on animals. My hope however is that if you have seen this film your eyes have been opened, at least a little bit. I hope this film makes you think, and if you haven’t seen the film then I hope this article helps you to realize and understand that everything we do has a consequence. You may not support animal-cruelty in your mind or your heart, but you may be unknowingly supporting it with what matters most- your money. Please do what you can to refrain from buying products that are tested on animals. Everything from makeup, to personal care products like shampoo and toothpaste and deodorant, to household cleaners and bug sprays are tested on animals before they go to market, and many companies participate in this horrible practice. Many of the companies you most frequently buy are guilty of this, but the good news is that there are more and more companies everyday who are committed to finding other, cruelty-free methods. Please search out and support those companies because when it comes right down to it, your dollars speak louder then words. If a company sees a profit in searching out another testing method then they will, you just need to speak up, take a stand, and refuse to continue contributing to animal-cruelty through your consumerism.
PS: For those interested I’ll post a list of companies that are known to test on animals, and companies who have committed themselves to producing cruelty-free products. That way you can better navigate your way to a cruelty-free life.