'Rise' of the Post-9/11 Fictions

by Will Clingan

4 August 2011

Speculations abound about the forthcoming release of Rise of The Planet of the Apes on August 5. Clingan postulates a narrative connection between Rise and Post 9/11 American-Arab relations.

Going Ape

cover art

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, Tom Felton, David Hewlett, Chelah Horsdal, Brian Cox, John Lithgow

US theatrical: 5 Aug 2011

The timing of the prequel to 2001’s remake of Planet of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which will be released on August 5, as a full force Hollywood initiative with household-name stars has many varying incentives — specifically for a film industry that is losing ground fast on its 3-D market. Concerns about Hollywood aside, there’s something odd about watching the trailer for ‘Rise’ in 2011 America. No, it’s not James Franco being scientist-serious in a lead role. It’s also not the fact that all of a sudden there’s a mass of apes stampeding through San Francisco. It’s also not the continuing trend and phenomena of reboots/prequels/remakes, etc. The oddity of watching the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes is how it may very well be a symbolic, unconscious portrait of post-9/11 American stress and paranoia.

When people witnessed Charleton Heston gaze upon the Statue of Liberty in 1968’s Planet of the Apes, the vast majority of American’s view on evolution was manipulated in a tragic, surreal twist as apes had become positioned into creatures much like humans in intelligence. The 2001 Tim Burton remake Planet of the Apes used various science-fiction motifs to conclude with Mark (Marky Mark) Wahlberg arriving to a statue of Abraham Lincoln re-imagined as an ape—personally not touching that with a twenty foot pole. Presently, like many movies of the current age, the prime target of Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ observation is technology and science and what the excess of these two initiatives can/may produce in the 21st Century. In the prequel’s trailer James Franco’s character is seen saying he has “the cure” for Alzheimer’s disease. He then tests it on an ape. This ape gains human like intelligence from the drug. (Don’t do drugs, kids.) Alas, this ape double-handedly (watch the second trailer) frees his fellow apes from their literal and metaphorical cages in effect reassuring movie goers that there is continuity within the series.

The film Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks like it’s nothing new if you’ve been to any mainstream American cinema in the last ten years to eat popcorn and drink massive quantities of soda. But, there’s something distinctive about the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If you’ve watched Planet of the Apes and know your American history from the 1960s, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s a racist undertone in the film—even though Charlton Heston was a supporter of Civil Rights. Heston, later in life known more for his gun rights advocacy, seems to embody within the original film the angry, racist white man of the 1960’s America that is fearful that African-American’s push for equal rights (believed and theorized by many at the time) to be the “demise of America.” Also that Heston’s female counterpart in the movie, played by Linda Harrison, can’t even speak is substantial.

Like the original Planet of the Apes, the prequel probably couldn’t have worse timing for anyone who’s not just going to sit in a movie theatre on Friday/Saturday night and aren’t present-day Americans who look at the news from time to time. So, what does this trailer for the film represent? If the film’s anything like the trailer (what a curveball it’d be if it weren’t), it’s a post-9/11 fiction about American’s paranoia and anxiety about the Arab world and the repercussions the Arab world has within American society. Though production began on the film in 2010, the premonition that the film is capturing previous paranoia in American culture and society is even more substantial now that actual revolutions and revolutionary spirit is taking place the year of the film’s release.  If both the first and second released trailers are examined with this view at rudimentary levels of power struggles within it, the evidence is fairly damning. The tagline of “Evolution Becomes Revolution” and when (probably the greatest villain player of the last ten years) Brian Cox’s character says to James Franco’s character, “They’re not people, ya know.”

The drug and literal tools in the trailer used by the apes for means of freedom and empowerment can even be seen as the much desired cogs that go into a machine to allow mass democracies and freedom in the Arab world—probably the last place Americans want to see revolutions happening since 9/11 occurred and their strained feelings toward the Arab world. That this revolution seems to begin in San Francisco also captures many American’s feelings toward their fellow citizens in California, best signified by San Francisco. (Also that one creepy voyeur in the couple’s bedroom. Is voyeurism apart of evolution and higher intelligence?)  Of course the great anxiety (in some cases, paranoia, prejudice and bigotry) of 2011 American reality is directed at what is going to happen in the Arab nations if revolutions do take place in the countries where massive protests have and are still taking place, even at the expense of human life.

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is any notion about America’s collective unconscious feeling about it, it may very well be the end of the world if the desired revolutions in the Arab world take place. (The best present day example may be exemplified by some misguided American people crying on TV that they “want [their] country back” when President Obama was elected.)

Whether Rise of the Planet of the Apes will be a success or not will depend entirely upon circumstance. That the movie is being released at a time when revolutions are taking place across the Arab and Islamic world is a circumstance that will not work well with a populous that has any knowledge of the Arab world’s revolutions. The relatable tones are too heavy and unavoidable for a film with an August release date — the time period when people are going to the cinema for entertainment most, not looming metaphor and awkward guilt trips about how they may actually feel about the Arab world, and even their fellow Americans, since 9/11. Yet, the trailer has (and the film may succeed at it, for better or worse) unintentionally captured the stress many Americans feel toward the Arab revolutions, bigoted or not. But, if the movie does mediocre or worse, it may be a better sign within the majority of the American collective.

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