By Bill Watanabe
I enjoyed the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which came out this July. The movie is a sequel to the equally enjoyable Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which came out in 2011. The titles seem to be reversed—you would think the “Dawn” would come before the “Rise,” but oh well, that’s Hollywood!
The original Planet of the Apes movie came out in 1968, starring Charlton Heston (of Moses and Ben-Hur fame). I must have liked the movie, because even after decades have passed, I can still remember many of the scenes, especially the one with the Statue of Liberty’s head sticking out of the sand. I thought it was clever how the story switched the roles of humans versus apes. It was humorous, too, with the apes using many of the clichés that humans use such as “human see, human do” and the classic “I never met an ape I didn’t like.” Being a young single male at the time, I thought having the beautiful Linda Harrison in the movie was a plus, too, even though she didn’t have a word to say. It is amazing that the storyline has continued to spawn so many movies and sequels and would appear at this point to have no foreseeable end.
The latest movie, like many of its predecessors, carries a message of humans (or interchangeably, the apes) taking responsibility for the future of our species’ survival. As the apes gain more strength and power, they have to decide whether to use power for peaceful co-existence or for domination. The head ape, named Caesar, is a benevolent and powerful leader and has personal knowledge of humans—both good and bad. However, Caesar is pressured by other ape factions who are pushing Caesar to be militant and aggressive in the belief that humans are basically evil, cannot be trusted, and should be wiped out (I hate to think this may be too true to admit).
As I was watching the movie, I began to think of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Ever since Russia unilaterally annexed a part of the country of Ukraine this past spring, I have grown increasingly concerned about Putin’s motivation and long-range plans. According to a recent Time Magazine article, Putin is growing stronger and bolder, but the Western Allies (including the U.S.) are divided in what should be done to counteract him.
I found myself in Caesar’s position—should we (the West) act with benevolence mixed with power towards Putin? Or up the ante and move towards confrontation and possible war? My distracted thoughts lasted for a short while, and then I got back to the movie which was still running before my eyes.
I have a feeling that the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, followed by the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will next be followed by a sequel called The Beginning of the Final Battle, in which there is no hope of peaceful co-existence between humans and apes. It kind of has to be this way in order for Charlton Heston to discover an earth where the apes are in charge. But I sure hope the movie has no parallel in real life! I hope that Caesar and the Apes can teach us some lessons on how people can co-exist while having differences, without annihilating each other.
Bill Watanabe co-founded the Little Tokyo Service Center in Los Angeles, California, and served as the LTSC‘s executive director for over 30 years. He has served on the boards of numerous local organizations, and is a highly respected member of the APA community.