Planet of the Apes When Planet of the Apes opened in theaters, few people knew what to expect. To most, the idea of a movie with the premise of a planet full of intelligent apes went against everything they had been taught. The initial attraction was the superb cast, spearheaded by Charlton Heston who portrays Taylor, an astronaut who crashes onto the planet. Heston was joined by many popular actors and actress such as, Roddy McDowell as Cornelius, Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius and Kim Hunter as Zira. Though the cast may have been the initial draw, the content is what has made the movie Planet of the Apes a classic that will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
The movie Planet of the Apes deals with a great number of issues that come up in everyday societal life. If one looks closely at the story, it is very easy to realize that Planet of the Apes is not at all about apes, but truly about mankind. It is a story about the human condition, and the way humans interact with their natural environment. It is a story about the dangers of religion, and even more powerfully a warning about the dangers of a politically active church. Planet of the Apes is a political allegory. From the beginning to the end of the film, the viewer is shown a picture of a world ruled by a heavy handed government, and led by apes that represent the church and state alike.
The main character that is an example of this is Dr. Zaius, "Chief Prosecutor and Defender of the Faith," who rules both nation and state with an equally closed mind. For most Americans, this is unheard of. One of the founding principles of the United States of America is a division of church and state. To us, having one individual controlling both seems not only preposterous, but also dangerous.
The American mind immediately concludes that a system such as this will lead to stagnation in science, and close-mindedness in religion. In Planet of the Apes this stagnation does occur. When a young upstart scientist named Cornelius tries to attack the religiously based view of life in his society he is brought up on charges of heresy. Cornelius merely attempted to state that he had found evidence that apes had evolved from man. Defender of the faith Dr. Zaius then quickly ended the hearings and threatened Cornelius with charges of hearsay.
This is a direct link to our own past. Charles Darwin challenged religions view on the origins of life in the 1800's, and frighteningly similar things occurred to him. This is what Planet of the Apes attempts to do, and accomplishes so thoroughly. It mirrors things that have happened in our own world, yet portrays them in a way that makes humanity's own shortcomings more palatable. Yet, there are two ways of interpreting the lessons the film teaches.
On one level, Planet of the Apes blatantly warns individuals not to repeat the past. While on another level, the director could be interpreted to be stating subtly that we did not learn from our past and are therefore doomed to repeat it. These interpretations wholly depend on the individual seeing the film. Planet of the Apes also very plainly alludes to government conspiracies and the fear that the government tries to keep the people in-line through ignorance. This can be seen in the discussion between Dr. Zaius and Taylor.
In this discussion, Dr. Zaius plainly states that even though he had been feigning ignorance about the past intelligence of mankind, he knew it all along. He goes on to state that he had been keeping that knowledge from his fellow apes because apes needed an unquestionable religion to maintain a stable society and not destroy them. To understand the significance of a discussion such as this, one must look at the film in the political context of the era it was made. Planet of the Apes was released in the United States in 1968, an era epitomized by the questioning of authority, a distaste for organized religions, and a severe distrust of the government. Though these are all true generalizations of this time, this message of the late sixties had not reached all of the population, especially older generations.
Though targeted at youth, Planet of the Apes was made to make all people who had not bought into the sixties ideology think twice about the world they lived in, and the ideals the held dear. When looked at through this filter, Planet of the Apes makes much more sense. The discussion between Taylor and Dr. Zaius is one meant to encourage individuals to question the government, and the information it gives them.
It can also be seen that Planet of the Apes hopes to show people that religion is merely an apparatus meant to keep society in line so that people can be dominated by a power hungry government. Yet convincing the skeptical was not its only purpose, Planet of the Apes was made to reinforce the beliefs of sixties radicals. In the end of the film Zira's nephew Julius appears. He is a young ape who is willing to follow his aunt possibly into exile for the beliefs they share. Julius is a young pseudo hippie, meant to mirror the youth of the sixties. The main character Taylor plainly tells Julius towards the end of the film to "Keep them flying...
the flags of discontent." This is a line that could be straight out of any late sixties liberal political rhetoric. Through these examples, one can plainly see the political motivations behind Planet of the Apes. Though seemingly a movie about a bunch of "damn dirty apes!" it can truly be seen as a highly political film, meant to alter or reinforce the beliefs of the people who were viewing it. Though written for the sixties, thirty years later Planet of the Apes still carries a message, and one that is still valid in today's political climate.
However, for most there is no longer blatant distrust of the government, Planet of the Apes reminds people to keep looking over their shoulders, because in the end individuals are the only things the government can control.