Caesar, voiced by Andy Serkis, appears in the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (CNS photo/Fox)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: (4 reels out of 5)
In its Genesis-like account of a
new sentient race, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes served as the Creation
story in which non-human members of the family Hominidae (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos) gained rationality.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is their fall from grace, in which a
conflict breaks their calm society and causes some to commit great acts of
evil. Sin is the price of moral freedom, and it is a heavy one. The film is
effective in this portrayal if a bit uneven and long; yet, the special effects,
acting, and attention to detailespecially primate sign languageare spectacular.
Dawn begins a decade after Rise; the simian flu has wiped out most
of humanity, and the first rational ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis), now governs a
community just outside San Francisco and has not seen a human for a long time.
The apes live a peaceful existence hunting deer, building elaborate tree
houses, and developing a rudimentary child education system. Suddenly, they
come into contact with a group of human survivors searching for a hydroelectric
dam in the hills who have been rewiring the electrical lines in the city in
hopes of bringing the power grid back up. Caesar is hesitant but thinks helping
the humans will bring a truce, preventing a bloody war. His advisor Koba (Toby
Kebbell) believes all humans are evil and assistance will only make it easier
for them to destroy the apes. The humans are just as restless. The colony’s
leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), wants an immediate strike while scientist
Malcolm (Jason Clarke) believes it’s immoral to kill the apes.
The central issue is empathy, the
ability to feel and understand another person. While Caesar did lead the ape
uprising, he was raised by a kind primatologist and now rears two sons of his
own. Koba, on the other hand, was a lab monkey, the subject of countless
experiments. “We will help the human work,” Caesar says. Koba grunts and points
to the various scars on his body: “Human work.” On the other side, Malcolm and
his wife work with Caesar, playing with his newborn son and healing his sick
wife. Dreyfus, however, can only think of the family he has lost. “We were
attacked!” he screams. “They are animals!” He cannot, or will not, see that the
apes, too, have family and were abused, tortured, and oppressed by humans.
In the beginning, the apes live
in quasi-innocence. They do get angry, bored, and frustrated, but they work
seamlessly together and never raise a hand to hurt one another. This changes as
many apes begin to question Caesar’s leadership and factions spring up in the
society. Suddenly, Koba commits a Cain-like offense, and all Hell breaks loose.
Caesar realizes he now lives in a very different, yet oddly familiar, world
that will require him to think outside his own species. “Caesar loves humans
more than apes!” Koba accuses. “Koba does not care for apes,” Caesar asserts. “Koba
cares for Koba.” This is an important revelationthat a human can act inhuman,
and an ape can act “inape.” Freedom allows a person to act against his nature, sometimes in terrifying ways.
In this review, I have treated
the apes as they are portrayed in the filmas persons. They have souls. In
reality, apes, dolphins, and elephants, while very intelligent, do not possess immortal
souls. It is not moral to treat them as humans; they do not have rights.
However, as they are part of God’s creation, it is immoral to treat them in a
disrespectful and wasteful manner, and abusing them is a grave sin. Dawn
is a work of science fiction and cannot be used to argue for or against certain
aspects of animal welfare. This does not exclude the possible existence of non-human
persons. Indeed, the angels precede man. There is nothing in the deposit of
faith that would limit God’s ability to create other material creatures that
are rational beings.
expected for a big-budget action flick, Dawn
ends with a final climatic
battle, but, regardless of the winner, this will not end the war. Life for apes
and humans will only become more and more difficult. At the same time, there
are a precious fewmen and apeswho find solace in what they share: the
capacity for good. A rational being does not choose intelligence, but it can
choose holiness or depravity. Koba believes that militancy is the answer, but
such a society will always need an enemy. When it runs out of external forces,
it will consume itself. Caesar and Malcolm understand that empathy is not
simply righteous; it is the only way to survive.