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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: A Brave New Blend of Paradise Lost, Oroonoko, Gulliver’s Travels filtered through Huxley and Boulle

Nine days ago, I wrote the following post…..
…in eager anticipation of seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I promised to return with any additional comments I might have for those in the audience who would be interested in the complex literary subtext that undergirds the modern Apes movie franchise, from the first series from over four decades ago, to the current one.

Well, I’ve just seen the film, and I give it a very positive and enthusiastic review, one I rarely extend to action movies. This film is indeed that rare beast, an action movie that will quietly blow your mind with its startlingly real special effects, and yet also appeal to the discerning mind.

I don’t want to spoil the film for you right now, and so will save a more detailed review for a month or two from now, when most of those who are interested in the film have had a chance to see it in the multiplex (and do see it with the  special glasses, it definitely does enhance the experience). But rest assured, there is no gratuitous relishing of violence, and the film is character and story driven from start (which already demonstrates the subtle hand of a filmmaker with a sharp sense of irony) to finish (with a closing shot that will haunt you).

For now, for those with an interest in literary subtext which enriches and enhances a new story, you might want to brush up on one or more of the following lineage of sources going back 350 years:  beginning with John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, then Aphra Behn’s anti-slavery novel Oroonoko, then Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and then, leaping ahead to the 20th century, Aldous Huxley’s little known Ape and Essence, and the immediate source of the first film series, Pierre Boulle Monkey Planet.

If you do retrace that literary trail, you will see how each of these sources built upon the previous ones in a layer cake of ever increasing complexity, and you will better savor, understand, and be moved by the way the themes of ancient mistrust  born of ancient abuse and  enslavement, fraternal rivalry, and the striving for reconciliation and peace in spite of seemingly unbridgeable differences, are seamlessly interwoven in this new film.

It is in many ways Biblical in the very best sense of the word. And it is also the antithesis  of escapism. We have only to turn on the news to see the same tragic tale being played out in a tragically endless loop in real life, from the awful renewal of carnage between Israel and the Palestinians, to the seemingly endless conflict of Sunnis and Shiites, to the Far Right brand of 21st century racism that has already spawned movie posters showing Obama as Caesar the leader of the apes.

As Pogo might have said about this film---we have met the villain, and he is us.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode  on Twitter

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