Sunday, August 07, 2011
Cast: Andy Serkis, James Franco, Frieda Pinto, Brian Cox, Tom Felton
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Runtime: 105 min.
Verdict: A thunderous awesome blockbuster. Easily the best ape film ever.
Genre: Sci-fi, Action, Horror
Caesar looks at the outside world from the circular window of his little house his human father Will (Mr. Franco) has built for him. Caesar is a chimpanzee, and a smart one at that. Genetically so, albeit accidentally. And he loves looking out through that window, so much so that when he is jailed later in the film he draws a little circle on his prison wall. Everybody needs that sunlight, right, be it Charlie Bronson or Caesar. That window is a fundamental right of the consciousness. Mr. Wyatt’s objective is to highlight its presence in Caesar, the super-chimp that is exhibiting a basic human need. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which on general principles I shall refer to as Rise of the Apes, is basically celebrating humanity. Which is pretty fine by me. The right to say no. Free will. Stuff like that. The anthropomorphism we so readily attach to most other species, and to speak of anthropomorphism in reference to Rise of the Apes would be an act of stating the obvious even Ravi Shastri would think twice before committing.
And then, Rear Window comes to mind. Caesar is standing on top of a tree in the Muir Woods, and looks down below at his father and his girlfriend sharing your standard definition of sweet love. But then, is that look merely a glance? He looks below, and the film edits to them, and Caesar keeps his eyes on them only for the most fleeting of moments. But he does. It seems as if such behavior, you know not the act of looking but the temptation of it, is quietly seeping into Mr. Wyatt world and without his knowledge. Or maybe not, because this is where James Stewart confronted Kim Novak and the ocean is where they kissed. Ms. Pinto is far from being a Caucasian blonde, and in keeping with our times, is a beauty from “another culture”. King Kong, falling for Ms. Naomi Watts, was positively retro. Caesar seems to be neither. We used to look at dogs making out in front of our school compound. Caesar seems to be too classy to indulge in such cheap stuff. It is evolution you see, evolution of the apes, and the bourgeoisie is the first to make its presence felt. And he looks away, at the Golden Gate Bridge. You realize at that moment that Rise of the Apes is not dealing with consciousness as David Cronenberg would, or as Alfred Hitchcock would theorize (I haven’t seen Splice, but then considering the subject matter I’m not so sure it would contribute much to the discussion).
Which sort of disappointed me a little. It was a single image, of an ape staring harmlessly, in the middle of the night, at a couple sleeping peacefully, warmly together, that struck me so strongly and provided me the sole source of inspiration to wait eagerly for a Planet of the Apes film. A series that indulges in your standard-issue text-subtext reversal-of-fortune kind of rhetoric, and one that I don’t necessarily consider up my alley, just as I don’t the X-Men universe. But here, an ape we don’t know looking at a couple, who could be anybody, the movie not merely rises above its franchise, but provides for an incredibly provoking image. Everyone, from Travis Bickle, to L.B. Jeffries, to John Doe, thundered into my mind. To show love, to have revenge, to show anger is probably a very shallow level of consciousness. The true rise in intelligence, I guess, is when the id, the raw instinct, the core of the consciousness tries to pursue our temptations. You know, those temptations that draw Jeffries to be drawn into that world outside his window, or for John Doe to seek the charms of a married life. The temptations that exist below the charms of the bourgeoisie. I imagined a film where the id was being evolved and unleashed. The image though, within the film, is of Caesar and the central couple, and it serves only to convey the plot point that Caesar is within the premises to do his stuff. But then, the idea seeps in somehow, only to be looked away from by way of an edit. It is back to the rhetoric of intelligence and problem solving and, well, what I sought was not humanity, but something about the temptations of being human.
I had left this review midway to catch a show of The Tree of Life with Srikanth Srinivasan, and by God my little experience there stands as an argument to Terence Malick’s view of the universe that everything in the universe is anything but pre-ordained. I see Rise of the Apes, and the very next day I watch Malick’s beauty (a film about a kid making sense of the world), and I immediately know that this is what I wanted the story of Caesar’s and his brethren to be. I could live with that though. The movie prefers to follow the identity crisis Caesar has, and there is a wonderful Frankenstein sort of moment, when he jumps to save his grandfather, played by Mr. John Lithgow, who has had previous experience in having intelligent ape-like creatures stay at home in Harry and the Hendersons. Caesar discovers the violence in him, but also discovers that the very neighborhood he loved from the window seems to be frightened by his very appearance. You could, if you choose to, consider the allusions to Israel’s birth, and their arguments, and coming from Hollywood, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised.
The movie reminded me of Un Prophet, and felt more compelling. It doesn’t matter if it is not much of an examination, because that doesn’t stop it from being an awesome blockbuster. And an intelligent and funny one, with numerous visual references to evolution, right from images, to movement, to the whole structure. Consider this classic pictorial representation of Darwin’s evolution, variations of which we all have come across at various points in our lives.
The apes here are always, or almost always, moving from left to right of the frame, and even their eventual destination is traversed from left to right. They use spears once. The most obvious one, and a hilarious one at that, has them literally running through walls and shattering glasses, running home the fact these apes are not walking through Darwin’s path, as the folks above are, but sprinting. It is a terrific sight, full of adrenaline, so much so that the King Kong of the group is mightily in the revolutionary zone. The last 30 minutes or so, where the apes, much like their evolved brethren in Egypt and Libya want to retrieve their home, is pure motion and momentum. Visually and emotionally. There is a reason why revolutionaries seldom walk, and most often end up running. Rise of the Apes contains so many references, or nods – from the ending where the virus spreads much like the revolutionary bug spread all across middle-east and here in India to the Godfather-style hand kissing – it often feels like an evolution where both cinema and real-life are equally worthwhile contributors, you know much like most revolutions where art and life combine.
I spoke of Un Prophet. A film that speaks of an African Muslim’s rise in a prison controlled by someone named Cesar. That was a film full of genre archetypes that via a feature length tried to convince us that it was a real story dealing with specifics. Not so much here, which for quite a while becomes a similarly Jungian gangster film, but deals with it far more efficiently and swiftly for my taste, providing for far greater blockbuster moments. In a remarkable scene which builds up visually, which in these days is quite a thing, cookies are distributed across the prison. You’ll see. It is the sort of awesome moment we rarely experience at the movies these days. And what has already reached an iconic status within me is a moment where Caesar throws gas cans in the prison. Some of the compositions are just incredible here. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you, because Rise of the Apes works to surprise. And so I would leave you to discover a most awesome one, right before the end, on the Golden Gate Bridge, a thunderous image that seeks to establish that the establishment has been overthrown. You got to see it.
And yet there is one, and my reaction to it made me curious. Caesar stands up against his prison guard Dodge (Mr. Felton), and you know Dodge in an arena squared up against an ape is a no-contest. Dodge is one of us, a human, and Caesar is the other with whom our sentiments lay. But I wasn’t rooting for him maul Dodge, and instead I was flinching in my seat. A word is spoken, and sound in cinema scores a point. Ah a hundred points. Rise of the Apes often becomes a silent film, and that is when it is most awesome. Subtitles appear sometimes, when two apes speak, and one feels its purpose is not to provide a way of dialog but to provide for a shift in perspective. Until then, we’re with the humans, and from then all of them seem to be on the other side of the field. And there’s Mr. Franco, playing the father to Caesar, and he hardly even qualifies for an elder brother. They do meet at the end, and you would see that the son has clearly outgrown the father. And yet Caesar looks towards him, seeking permission. And Mr. Franco nods. I didn’t like that one bit. All hail Caesar.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 9:08 AM