A few days ago I wrote about what Rise of the Planet of the Apes did to my perception of our “pets” and their supposed lack of self awareness. This was my secondary reaction to the film, spurred in part as well by a NPR show about it a week or so ago..
My first, very immediate reaction, however, had nothing to do with the self-awareness of animals and everything to do with the movie’s depiction of prison. Alright, it’s not a real prison in the Green Mile/Shawshank Redemption/Oz sense, it’s a primate holding facility for one-time ‘domesticated’ apes forsaken by their ‘owners’ for any number of reasons.
That may sound like the setup for a joke, or a satire and/or send-up ala Chicken Run – but it is most certainly not. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes has some of the most accurate depictions of prison I have ever seen. It’s not giving anything away to reveal that the film’s ape protagonist, Caesar, protects his Alzheimer-ridden ‘grandfather’ and is tossed into the Primate Center. Caesar’s, and our, introduction to the Primate Center and its grungy facilities – including a depressingly bland yard; swill for food; flickering, banal TV; psychotic guard; cynical, uncaring bureaucrat; cowering decent guy out of his depth as a guard of anything; barren infirmary; and unwelcoming visitor’s room, was so on the money, so . . . . real, I felt it to my very core.
I had complete, total, utter empathy for Caesar when he realized (self-aware primate that he is, he noticed quickly, and he noticed completely) that he was as alone as anyone or anything on ninety percent of this planet can or ever will be. And I cringed and squirmed in my chair when he realized that that his aloneness was not going to be much improved with the company of his fellow ape inmates.
From there through confrontations in the ‘yard’, pettiness and outright cruelty by the staff, and many other subtle de-primatizing touches, the movie made the prison real. Ape, man, ET . . . doesn’t matter who or what is in the prison, the movie nailed it – to the point where I had nightmares.
That it happens to animals that are – and can only be – guilty of being animals made it that much harder to watch . . . .