In this Monday Movie Review, we look at Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – the second installment in the cinematic reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise. We then look at how we as Christians can learn more about how we ought to be by digging deeper into the theme of territory.
(And if you’re interested, here’s the link to our podcast episode in which we discuss the original Planet of the Apes film.)
Note to Parents: This film has been rated PG-13 for a little of that “adult” language (that filmmakers think is so cool nowadays) and a lot of that explicit violence. Check it out by yourself before you bring your kids into it, I’m just saying.
Just when I thought X-Men: Days of Future Past was at the top of my summer movie list, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes along and knocks it out of its number-one slot and makes itself comfortable. Then again, we at FCC have only been hyping ourselves up over this film since we first brought the Planet of the Apes franchise to the podcast some months ago.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes really has everything I like in a film, starting with a solidly concise plot. The film opens up with short vignettes that show how “human” the apes really are. It then centers around simian-revolutionary-turned-familial-leader Caesar, who is the only ape, who has seen and believes in the good in humans. We also see the seed of rebellion planted within the ape Koba, who has only seen the bad side of humans. The story hinges on the contrast between these two philosophies and not on anything the humans do; the human interaction instead bows out to the clash between Caesar and Koba. But no spoilers.
About the acting, all props go to Andy Serkis. We at Finding Christ In Cinema are huge fans of this man’s talent. We’ve loved him in the Lord of the Rings trilogy / The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as Gollum and as Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin among many others roles. And he doesn’t hold back as Caesar. The audience can see his transformation from determination as he tries to rectify the dissension within his own territory to the heartbreak as he…well, again, no spoilers.
But let’s look at that theme of territory and see if we can’t harvest some spiritual fruit from its implementation in this film.
God’s Love Is Territorial
Let me preface this section by saying that I don’t fully and objectively understand God’s love for me; after all, He is the Alpha and Omega, and I’m only stuck in the middle. What I can understand – and what is sufficient for me to understand – is that God does indeed love me. And one of the ways I can explain the joy in being subject and bowing to that love is to call it territorial – which is also how I would best explain how Caesar “rules” over the apes.
As the adjective form of the root word territory, it’s synonymous with all-encompassing, all-consuming, thoroughly surrounding, overwhelming inwardly and outwardly. It idealistically opposes the term hierarchical in that it connotes equality and evenness while hierarchical connotes pride and ambition.
This actually plays into the Shakespeare allusion of the whole matter. Caesar the Ape bears a lot of resemblance to Julius Caesar in the play of the same name. He never ambitiously sought the crown to rule over Rome, but the people trusted in him, believed in him, and wanted him to be their leader. But then Marcus Brutus shows up with his own ambitious agenda and…well, no spoilers.
This is how Caesar the Ape rules the other apes. It’s not that he killed his way up to the top and forced them to follow and obey him for fear of being made an example of; instead, he’s earned their respect and their hearts.
It reminds me of what David writes in the Psalms:
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.
As alluded to earlier, the central conflict of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reveals itself between the belief that humans are inherently good and can ultimately live peacefully with the Apes and the belief that humans are inherently evil and will ultimately destroy the Apes. The latter philosophy seeks to ambitiously kill the humans so that the apes will be dominant. The former, however, wants to coexist – that is, share the same territory – with the humans.
That’s how God loves us. He wants to live within us because we’ve chosen to trust His lead and willfully submit to him.