Monday, November 28, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The brief review sounded like a good bet for our 18th anniversary dinner-and-a-movie celebration -- plus it was at the cheap-theatre, which also sounded good after the spendy restaurant we had in mind!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
In this funny, tense and fascinating film, a researcher (James Franco) raises a young chimpanzee uniquely affected by his experimental brain-repairing drug. Here's a movie where you can almost forget you're watching special effects, and simply fall into watching a great story.

The dinner was savory, leisurely, lovely. The movie -- was beyond tense for me. After the first half hour I was knotted up with such a strong emotional reaction that I nudged JoyDad and told him I wanted to leave. He was all in favor.

So here's the deal with the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and be warned, this is spoiler-filled, at least about the first part of the film!

The film is a prequel to the famous Planet of the Apes, a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which apes have become ascendant and humans have become slaves. Rise of the Planet of the Apes creates a contemporary groundwork for the apes' ascendancy. The "experimental brain-repairing drug" alluded to in the review is to be a block-buster cure for Alzheimers, and potentially a whole raft of other conditions. The researcher who raises the young chimp is also caring for his own father at home -- his father who has Alzheimers, and is simultaneously deeply impaired yet still physically strong, such that he'll need institutional care very soon (there's no evidence of the family receiving any services that would help him remain at home, by the way.)

The researcher treats his father illicitly with the super-drug, which works amazingly for a while. The young chimp Caesar, meanwhile, is the offspring of a mother who received the super-drug in the lab, and the son ends up with beyond-human intelligence, in (of course) a powerful chimp body, able to communicate via sign-language. The researcher and his father become dad & grandpa figures to Caesar, who eventually falls afoul of the law while attempting to defend his "grandpa" in an Alzheimers-related altercation with a neighbor. It was at the point soon after, when Caesar is locked away for the good of society, that I felt the need to walk out.

The institutionalization of poor Caesar is a devastating betrayal by society, enabled by his researcher-father, though the researcher does try to go through channels and get it reversed. It was just too much for me to watch Caesar, a more sympathetic character than the humans around him but with no place in human society due to his chimpanzee form, comprehend what was happening to him (and the "institution" was far worse than the researcher-father realized.)

Perhaps you can see where my reaction might have come from. Institutionalization for people with disabilities is not just part of our history -- we're living in a state here that has frozen enrollment for programs that help frail elders and people with disabilities live in their communities... except that if there's a crisis, they'll fund emergency institutional care.

On top of that, the film was raising issues of genetic meddling to "cure" disabling brain conditions -- there was one scene where the researcher was pitching his drug for approval for testing on humans, and in his presentation the word "autism" floated across the screen among the conditions that were going to be... fixed. There have been other fictional explorations of this kind of thing: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (an autism-specific tale).

Issues, our society has issues. If you want to see them explored in a tense action drama, you might want to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- it tells an effective story and the CGI-animation is pretty impressive. But if you've got a personal stake in disability issues, don't be expecting to fall happily into to a funny story. There's a whole lot more at stake than that.


Suze said...

Oh dear. I kind of have a crush on James Franco, and I don't want that to be ruined if I see this movie!

On the other hand, speaking of apes, I just read the book Ape House (by Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants) and it is excellent. I couldn't put it down! Also, it has nothing to do with sci fi or people with disabilities...

AuntieS said...

I never could watch the Planet of the Apes movies because they seemed to strange and creepy to me. So, I didn't mind the spoilers for this movie, and I am totally confident that I won't see this one anyway! I'm sorry it didn't turn out to be at all what you expected. I am glad that you two had a lovely dinner, though!

Anonymous said...

What AuntieS said.

Isn't that what Hollywood is good at - displaying 'issues'?

Back to Harry Potter for me!