Planet of the Apes is a science fiction franchise based on Pierre Boulle‘s 1963 novel, La Planète des Singes (‘The Planet of the Monkeys’). Boulle’s novel was meant as a satirical look at the dangers of the people of a civilization growing complacent and intellectually lazy, resulting in the decline and fall of that civilization, which is then humiliated by its replacement with a new civilization of a previously inferior species; the movies that followed, however, were concerned with larger political and social issues, making the story an allegory of such things as racism, the fear of nuclear annihilation, and most obviously, cruelty to animals.
I will present an allegory of the class struggle of the proletariat (the apes) against the bourgeoisie (the humans). The films’ allegory isn’t told from my communist perspective, though, but rather from the viewpoint of reactionary, bourgeois liberals. All the same, a hidden communist meaning is there, buried under Hollywood’s liberal agenda. I will compare scenes from the novel and the early Apes films with significant political issues, past and present, to illustrate the validity of my allegory.
Here are some quotes from the first five movies:
Planet of the Apes (1968 film)
“Tell me, though, does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother… keep his neighbor’s children starving?” –George Taylor
“I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.” –Taylor
“Man has no understanding. He can be taught a few simple tricks. Nothing more.” –Dr. Zaius
“Dr. Zira, I must caution you. Experimental brain surgery on these creatures is one thing, and I’m all in favor of it. But your behavior studies are another matter. To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of man is sheer nonsense. Why, man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It’s a question of simian survival.” –Dr. Zaius
“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” –Taylor (ranked #66 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema)
“It’s a mad house! A MAD HOUSE!!” –Taylor
“‘Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport, or lust, or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.'” –Cornelius, reading from the 29th scroll, sixth verse, of Ape Law
George: [brandishing rifle] Don’t try to follow us. I’m pretty handy with this.
Dr. Zaius: Of that, I’m sure. All my life I’ve awaited your coming and dreaded it. Like death itself.
George: Why? I’ve terrified you from the first, Doctor. I still do. You’re afraid of me and you hate me. Why?
Dr. Zaius: Because you’re a man! And you’re right. I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand in hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a war-like creature who gives battle to everything around him…even himself.
George: What evidence? There were no weapons in that cave.
Dr. Zaius: The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it ages ago.
George: It still doesn’t give me the why…a planet where apes evolved from men? There’s got to be an answer.
Dr. Zaius: [with surprisingly genuine sympathy] Don’t look for it, Taylor! You may not like what you’ll find.
[riding down the beach in the last scene] “Oh my God… I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. [falls to his knees screaming] YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! AH, DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!” –Taylor [camera pans to reveal the half-destroyed Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand]
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
“Our great Lawgiver tells us that never, never will the human have the ape’s divine faculty for being able to distinguish between evil and good. The only good human is a dead human! But those fortunate enough to remain alive will have the privilege of being used by our revered Minister of Science, the good Dr. Zaius.” –General Ursus
“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.” –Mendez
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
“Please, do not use the word “monkey”! It is offensive to us. As an archaeologist, I had access to history scrolls which were kept secret from the masses, and I suspect that the weapon which destroyed Earth was man’s own invention! I do know this: one of the reasons for man’s original downfall was your peculiar habit of murdering one another! Man destroys man. Apes do not destroy apes!” –Cornelius
“Mr. President, the people must be told that the killers of today could become the mass murderers of tomorrow!” –Otto Hasslein
Otto Hasslein: Cornelius. This is not an interracial hassle, but a search for facts. We do not deny the possibility of man’s decline and fall. All we want to find out is how apes rose.
Cornelius: Well, it began in our prehistory with the plague that fell upon dogs.
Zira: And cats.
Cornelius: Hundreds and thousands of them died. And hundreds and thousands of them had to be destroyed in order to prevent the spread of infection.
Zira: There were dog bonfires.
Cornelius: Yes. And by the time the plague was contained, man was without pets. Of course, for man, this was intolerable. I mean, he might kill his brother, but he could not kill his dog. So humans took primitive apes as pets.
Zira: Primitive and dumb, but still twenty times more intelligent than dogs or cats.
Cornelius: Correct. They were quartered in cages, but they lived and moved freely in human homes. They became responsive to human speech and, in the course of less than two centuries, they progressed from performing mere tricks to performing services.
Interrogator: Nothing more or less than a well-trained sheepdog could do.
Cornelius: Could a sheepdog cook, or clean the house, or do the marketing for the groceries with a list from its mistress, or wait on tables?
Zira: Or, after three more centuries, turn the tables on their owners.
Cornelius: They became alert to the concept of slavery. And as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word, a word which had been spoken to him time and again without number by humans. He said: “No”.
Hasslein: So that’s how it all started.
“Zira! I want that baby! If you won’t give it to me, I’ll shoot!” –Hasslein
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
“Lousy human bastards!!” –Caesar
“If we lose this battle, that’s the end of the world as we know it!! We will have proved ourselves inferior!! Weak!! And all those groveling cowards who are alive, when the battle is over, will be the weakest of all!! This will be the end of human civilization!! And the world will belong to a planet of apes!!” –Governor Breck
Caesar: Your servant, your creature, your animal.
Breck: But I saw you die.
Caesar: The king is dead. Long live the king! Tell me, Breck, before you die, how do we differ from the dogs and cats you and your kind used to love? Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?
Breck: Because your kind were once our ancestors. Man was born of the ape. There’s still an ape curled up inside of every man, the beast that must be whipped into submission, the savage that has to be shackled in chains. You are that beast, Caesar. You taint us. You…you poison our guts. When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.
“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of man’s downfall, the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland, out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans, except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you…NOW!!” –Caesar
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
“In all our years of slavery to mankind, the word “No” was the one word we were electrically conditioned to fear. An ape may say “No” to a human, but a human may never again say “No” to an ape.” –Virgil
“We…want…guns! Guns…are…power! Now we go and get guns!!” –Aldo
The evidence has been revealed that Aldo murdered Cornelius, Caesar’s son
Apes: (chanting) Ape has killed ape.
Apes repeat the chanting for Aldo violating ape law, then march towards him
Jake: What’s the matter with them?
MacDonald: I guess you could say they just joined the human race.
I’ll be focusing on the novel and original five films, which, though the sequels–as opposed to the superb reboot trilogy of the 2010s–are all flawed to varying degrees, they still have lots of powerful social and political commentary that’s more than worthy of examination. Indeed, while the reboot trilogy is better overall, the original five films have even more political and social commentary, and are therefore of more interest in this analysis.
I: Planet of the Apes, the novel vs. the 1968 film
Boulle’s novel opens with a framing device involving two “sailing cosmonauts” (as they’re called on page 5–note the Russian/Soviet term, as opposed to the Western ‘astronaut’), Jinn and Phyllis, travelling in a spaceship, space travel being a common way to vacation at such a time, centuries into the future. They discover a bottle floating in space, with a written message of help from Ulysse Mérou (his equivalent in the 1968 film being George Taylor, played by Charlton Heston). Jinn and Phyllis read the message, which begins the story proper: thus do we see the beginning of the 1968 movie’s parallels with Boulle’s novel.
Mérou agrees to join Professor Antelle and his disciple, Arthur Levain (the latter two men paralleling Landon and Dodge, respectively, in the 1968 film; there is no female astronaut in the novel to correspond to Stewart in the movie, though the novel includes a chimpanzee astronaut, Hector, for which a corresponding chimp, ‘Pericles’, can be seen in the Tim Burton remake) on a journey, starting in the year 2500, to Betelgeuse.
In the film, Taylor is the misanthrope (see above, the second quote cited from the 1968 film); in the novel, the professor has misanthropic tendencies, or at least an apathy towards humanity (page 13: “I [i.e., Mérou] even felt that the prospect of escaping from his [i.e., Antelle’s] contemporaries was an added attraction to the professor. He often admitted he was tired of his fellow men…”; page 15: “It is certain that the learned Antelle, without being a misanthrope, was not interested at all in human beings. He would often declare that he did not expect much from them any more,…”).
This misanthropy, in accordance with my allegory, represents left-leaning liberals‘ dislike of the excesses of capitalism, even though they aren’t all that committed to putting an end to the profit motive’s deleterious effects on the world.
In the novel, after time dilation pushes them centuries into the future, the three men discover a habitable planet, which they name Soror (Latin for ‘sister’), a ‘sister’ Earth, but certainly not Earth, as it is in the films. After reaching the planet’s orbit, they launch a shuttle to land on the surface.
The men find a waterfall and go skinny-dipping below it. Nova appears early in the novel: the golden, mute beauty is insouciantly naked (the primitive humans of the novel don’t wear the animal skins of the 1968 movie). She sees Hector the chimpanzee and, frightened of him, strangles him to death. She’s also hostile to the men’s clothes and other man-made things, as are all the other naked humans, who destroy these unnatural things on sight. We’ll learn the reason for all this hostility soon enough.
Clothed gorilla hunters attack all the humans, killing Arthur Levain as they do Dodge in the movie. The survivors are taken away as captured animals.
In the film, prior to the hunt, Taylor and his two colleagues look on all the mute humans, seeing Nova for the first time, and imagine running the whole planet in short order. If man represents the capitalist class, here we see the talking grande and haute bourgeoisie wishing to rule over the mute petite bourgeoisie, in contrast to the ‘level playing field’ that the right-libertarians delude themselves into thinking “free market capitalism” will provide, with minimal state interference.
Instead, the visitors of this “upside-down civilization” discover the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the ape civilization can be said to symbolize. The ape civilization of Soror in Boulle’s novel has modern technology, including airplanes and satellites (page 154: “They have electricity, industries, motor cars, and airplanes, but, as far as the conquest of space is concerned, they have reached only the stage of artificial satellites.”). Only in the cartoon adaptation of the mid-70s do we see such modernity among the apes; as for the films and the short-lived TV show, which largely lacked the budget to create a modernistic ape society, there were precious few examples of apes understanding high technology.
In the forgettable Tim Burton remake of 2001, General Thade (Tim Roth) seems to learn modern human technology well enough not only to fire a gun and repair a spaceship, but also to fly it through an electromagnetic storm and time warp to reach Earth sometime back in history, to change the world into a planet of the apes before Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) returns in the baffling, but explicable ending.
In Escape From the Planet of the Apes, a genius ape scientist named Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) implausibly figures out how to repair Taylor’s spaceship, just in time to fly himself, Zira (Kim Hunter), and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) to safety, to escape the nuclear destruction of the Earth, triggered by the same Taylor who’d condemned humanity for the previous nuclear war that’s understood, at the end of the 1968 film, to have caused the reverse evolution of apes and man. How convenient that Milo, Cornelius, and Zira could have escaped without knowing what was happening underground at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in the struggle between the apes and the nuclear-armed telepathic humans!
Even with the improved budget of the reboots, we don’t see Caesar et al ever developing modern technology. Seen from the point of view of my allegory of class war as interpreted by revisionist liberals, we remember how critics of socialism always say “communism doesn’t work,” and propagandize about countries ‘destroyed’ by Marxist ‘totalitarianism’, symbolized in these films by the brutish treatment of the caged humans by the apes. What is often left unmentioned is the remarkable list of achievements by the Soviet Union, which went, in a few decades, from being a backward, agrarian society to a nuclear superpower: the first man (Yuri Gagarin)…and woman (Valentina Tereshkova) in space (and these Soviet glories were both achieved by 1963, the publication of not only Boulle’s novel, but also its translation by Xan Fielding), etc. In contrast, Americans may brag about Neil Armstrong.
Read Boulle’s novel…to the end…to see how far ape technology advances…
Zira, the first ape to take seriously the advanced intelligence of Taylor/Mérou, tries to get the conservative, narrow-minded orang-utans, led by Dr. Zaius, to open their minds to the idea of an intelligent, talking human. In Boulle’s novel, the orang-utans just smile in smugness at such a bizarre idea; in the 1968 film, Zaius is much more pointedly hostile (see his quotes above).
While the orang-utans, on the surface, seem to be a satire on the fanatical closed-mindedness of religious fundamentalists, though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. Zaius wisely recognizes the danger that intelligent humans pose, not only to ape hegemony, but to the whole world.
Similarly, those of us who are the more strident critics of Western, and especially U.S., imperialism see the danger of accepting conservative AND liberal attacks of ‘tankies’ too uncritically. For whatever faults can be seen in the rule of Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ceausescu, and the Kims (as well as the wildly exaggerated number of deaths attributed to communism), there is much more right-wing genocidal evil to be found in Churchill, Leopold II of Belgium, Hitler, and all the war-mongering presidents of U.S. history, especially those of the past 25 years.
The same comparison can be made favourably of ape civilization, ruled by the stodgy orang-utans, as against human society. Just hear Cornelius’ reading of the sixth verse of the 29th scroll, towards the end of the 1968 movie. Taylor, who had been going against his misanthropy in defending man against the orang-utans, suddenly reverts to his hatred of humanity on seeing the Statue of Liberty, knowing man really used nuclear weapons to wipe out human civilization.
The fear of nuclear war, when the 1968 film was made, was understood firmly in the context of the Cold War (i.e., the Cuban missile crisis); this is what makes it so easy to see Planet of the Apes as an allegory of communism versus capitalism. There were plenty of revisionists among the communists who endangered the Soviet system, however well-intentioned they may (or may not) have been. Zira and Cornelius, in their helping Taylor/Mérou, represent such ‘open-minded’ liberals.
Having Charlton Heston play Taylor was a perfect casting choice, not for his (over-wrought) acting, but for Heston the man. Consider the history of his political activism to see my point.
He started out a liberal supporter of the civil rights movement in the 60s, then drifted rightwards. He became a supporter of Reagan by the 80s, then became a mouthpiece for the NRA. The thing to understand about ‘left-leaning’ liberals is that, at their core, they conceal a pernicious centrism that easily shifts to the right the very second the left has ‘gone too far.’ Parallel this rightward move to Taylor’s condemning nuclear war in the 1968 film, then setting off the bomb at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
Consider how it was considered ‘progressive’ to vote for the psychopathic, war-mongering Hillary Clinton against Trump (Seriously? Anyone can be considered ‘progressive’ when compared to the orange ignoramus!). Liberals will grandstand and engage in virtue signalling about social justice, but they’ll never commit to it.
Similarly, Taylor/Mérou will scoff at Zaius’ closed-mindedness to any scientific discoveries deemed “scientific heresy” (Boulle, page 142), and Taylor will advise a young ape never to trust anyone over thirty; but kill Nova, as an ape does in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Taylor will nuke the entire Earth.
(What the orang-utans call “scientific heresy,” by the way, sounds a lot like deviation from what the tankies call “The Immortal Science of Marxism-Leninism.” Though I respect the notion of scientific socialism, the above verbiage, both that of the orang-utans and the Marxist-Leninists, does sound suspiciously more like religion than science. The Soviet Union, in spite of its great scientific achievements, was censorious of any science deemed out of league with the philosophy of dialectical materialism.)
So, maybe Dr. Zaius was morally justified in his repression of humans, and in his support of an ape religion he knew was fraudulent. At the same time, for all the flaws of the Soviet system, consider how much more destructive unfettered capitalism is–to the working class, to the environment, and to the suffering Third World.
In Boulle’s novel, Professor Antelle reverts to animalistic mutism (pages 160-161); his apathy, or antipathy, to humanity seems to be put to good use, as if knowing the evil that human speech can lead to, a conclusion Brent comes to in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Also, nudity and the inability to speak symbolize powerlessness in the Apes universe. Antelle’s counterpart in the 1968 film, Landon, has received a lobotomy, depriving him of his ability to speak and taking away his identity, his very humanity…as we understand it.
Lobotomizing Landon represents Soviet censorship of any writing deemed counter-revolutionary. During the trial for “scientific heresy”, an orang-utan mentions how all apes are equal, an idea theoretically true in Boulle’s novel, too (page 150: “In principle they all have equal rights and are allowed to occupy any position.”); Taylor responds by saying, “Some apes, it seems, are more equal than others,” a reference to Animal Farm, a book banned by the Soviet Union.
There is some sense of class differences in ape society, with the orang-utans (in orange uniforms–these ape uniforms seem, if for no other reason than for their…uniformity, in a sense reminiscent of those worn by the vanguard) as defenders of the faith, chimpanzees (wearing green) as liberal intellectuals, and gorillas (in purple/black) as soldiers; and these three groups tend to look down on each other–this class structure is evident in Boulle’s novel and in the 1968 film. But these class differences aren’t gaping: as to what they represent in communism, they don’t lead to the kind of wealth inequality we see in today’s neoliberal world; similarly, the New Class that Milovan Djilas and George Orwell saw in the U.S.S.R. was never the huge class oppression it was assumed to be in the West.
The fear of ascendant capitalist hegemony justifiably feared by the Soviets, as symbolized by Zaius’ fear of intelligent, speaking men, seems to justify the suppression of literature critical of the U.S.S.R., or the brain surgery on talking humans; for consider the destruction unfettered capitalism has caused the world, or what man does to the earth with his modern brain intact, not lobotomized by apes.
In Boulle’s novel, there is no great fear of talking humans, apart from the orang-utans, at first; it’s only when Mérou and Nova have a baby, which shows clear signs of advanced intelligence, that almost all the apes of Soror are scared. (This ape vs. human fear is in reverse in Escape From the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which Zira and Cornelius have become parents to the evolved ape, Caesar, who threatens the survival of human civilization in the late 20th century.)
By allegorical analogy, repression of the market was far from absolute in socialist states. In Yugoslavia, Tito refused to do things as Stalin had wished, and Yugoslavia’s was a market socialism. China and Vietnam brought back the market in the 80s, and even Cuba has allowed a small amount of free enterprise on the island. They’ll only let capitalism go so far, though, as the apes would only allow Mérou so much freedom.
An impressive advance in ape technology, as seen in Boulle’s novel, is when Cornelius has Mérou see electrodes applied to humans’ brains, causing them to recite, from racial memory, the remote past of Soror. It is learned that, centuries ago, the human/ape relationship was the same as that of Earth. Apes on Soror were made to be human servants, who ultimately rebelled: this idea seems to have been the basis for what is seen in Escape From and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In the context of my allegory, we see the bourgeois ruling class’s oppression of the proletariat, who then rise in revolution.
But since the story of the rise of the apes is given from a human perspective (pages 242-247), we learn little, if anything, of the cruelty man has inflicted on the apes (allegorically, this represents bourgeois liberals’ laconic discussion of such things as wage slavery or capitalist imperialism).
Finally, Zira and Cornelius help Mérou, Nova, and their child to reach his spaceship via an ape satellite (pages 259-263). They return to Earth, but to Mérou’s horror, he learns that apes there have supplanted human civilization, too, as echoed in Burton’s 2001 movie. The framing device at the end of Boulle’s novel reveals that Jinn and Phyllis are themselves chimpanzee cosmonauts! Allegorically, could this not represent the fear of a global communist victory? Back in 1963, such a Western fear was palpable.
A rise in ape intelligence (representing a proletariat with raised, class consciousness) coincides with a “cerebral laziness” (page 243) causing a drop in human intelligence (studies have shown that those with conservative views are less intelligent, on average, than those with liberal, left-leaning views; now, remember that these movies present the class war from a bourgeois liberal perspective, so while humans [capitalists] are portrayed as dumb brutes, the orang-utans [religious fundamentalists] and gorillas [hard-line communists] are also portrayed as stupid, compared to the intelligent, open-minded liberal chimpanzees).
With this foundation in mind, we can now examine the 1970s sequels.
II: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
When Brent arrives in the 3950s to look for Taylor, Nova leads him to the ape city, where the apes are discussing shocking discoveries in the Forbidden Zone, revealing the threat of humans, who might steal needed food from the apes. General Ursus (James Gregory–note the pun on Ursa for the link with communism) thus wants to lead his ape army to kill the humans.
While the bourgeois liberals who produced this ultimately inferior sequel would have us believe that Ursus, like narrow-minded Zaius, is an unthinking monster (the same goes for Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), actually, his concerns over protecting his fellow apes from famine are legitimate, as are communist concerns over counter-revolution and imperialism.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc made the U.S./NATO into the one, unchallenged superpower, meaning the capitalists have been able to do anything they want with impunity. The Warsaw Pact disappeared, but the no-longer-needed NATO (from a containment perspective) expanded to include most of the former countries of the Warsaw Pact, save Russia, of course. NATO, an extension of U.S. imperialism, has had troops lined up along the Russian border, ready to fight a possible war that could go nuclear, as could the crisis with North Korea.
Speaking of fears of nuclear war, the humans that the apes are worried about have a doomsday bomb. Brent discovers the advanced humans underground, where he sees the ruins of his old world, and thus surmises that his world was destroyed by a nuclear war. What’s worse, the underground humans are telepaths who actually venerate their atomic bomb. Consider the allegorical implications of such insanity.
The one thing that was preventing the use of nuclear weapons (after the U.S. used them on Japan, of course) during the Cold War was the notion of MAD. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, though, those in the U.S. military-industrial complex have begun to think that MAD can be avoided if the U.S.’s nukes can wipe out Russia’s nuclear system before any of their nukes can be launched against the West. Such a breaking of the taboo against nuclear war can be seen as symbolized by the telepaths’ insanity of worshipping the bomb.
Currently, the U.S. has created a new Cold War against Russia out of baseless accusations of tampering in the 2016 U.S. election. The banging of the American war drums has gone on against China and North Korea, too, with little anti-war resistance from ‘left-leaning’ liberals. Indeed, just as the fear of Mérou and Nova having a speaking baby poses a threat to the simians of Soror, so is the emergence of China and Russia as global powers a threat to the hegemony of the American empire.
The human telepaths don’t directly kill anyone: they make their enemies kill each other. They try to make Brent kill Nova, and later they try to make Brent and Taylor kill each other. Similarly, the U.S.’s favourite method of flexing her imperialist muscles these days is to fight proxy wars (an idea started by that liberal, Carter, and his commie-hating National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski); while domestically, the capitalist class makes the proletariat fight each other through such fifth columns as identity politics–this way, the 99% won’t rise together in solidarity and fight the 1%.
The telepaths’ use of mind control (i.e, hallucinatory visions, etc.) is like how the mainstream media manipulates us and manufactures consent for all these imperialist wars, vilifying the leaders of every regime the U.S./NATO wants to replace with one that will kowtow to imperialist interests.
When General Ursus and the ape army try to grab the telepaths’ nuclear bomb (whose Alpha/Omega labelling is an idea echoed in the Colonel’s human army in War for the Planet of the Apes), this is symbolic of the arms race, with the USSR imitating the U.S.’s amassing of nuclear bombs. The apes’ behaviour is certainly reckless and dangerous (in this bourgeois/liberal presentation of the ape/human conflict), as was the communists‘ contribution to the arms race perceived to be; but the Soviets’ action was essentially defensive, as is Kim Jong-un’s right now. The U.S.’s use of nukes has been essentially aggressive, as a scan of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will show; furthermore, the capitalist West has a double standard as to who is allowed to have nukes (the imperialist powers) and who isn’t (the weaker, exploitable ones that are ripe for invasion).
So, what the reactionary liberals who produced this film would call the madness of a ‘holy war’ led by power-hungry General Ursus, my interpretation would call the aggravation of class struggle under socialism, a necessary defence against an insidious creeping back of the cruelties of capitalism. For however brutish and cruel the apes may have been to the humans throughout the first and second movies, it is Mendez and, ultimately, Taylor who set off the bomb and destroy all life on the Earth; just as the continuation of unfettered capitalism is bringing about the ecological catastrophes that are accelerating an end to life as we know it.
Charlton Heston personally influenced the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, insisting that he didn’t want to be involved in sequels. So Taylor died killing all the apes, all of life on Earth, and, Heston hoped, the Apes franchise. As I said before, Heston was perfectly cast as Taylor, for Heston was Taylor.
Boulle wrote a draft for a script, Planet of the Men, which was rejected in favour of Paul Dehn‘s Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Boulle’s sequel would have been about a counter-revolution of humans, led by Taylor, overthrowing ape civilization, the contemporary parallel of which would be the collapse of the Soviet states and the metastasizing of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, the class war would be allegorized according to Dehn’s vision for all four sequels.
Now, one thing to remember is that, while the apes may–to humans–look ugly, the good looks of the telepaths is only on the outside–when they reveal themselves to their god, the bomb, they are much worse-looking than the apes could ever be…and their actions in the movie show how ugly their thinking is, too.
III: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)
Early in the movie, after Dr. Milo, whose advice has been to imitate primitive apes instead of talking and asserting their intellectual equality with 20th century humans, is killed by a gorilla in a cage (like a proletarian killing a liberal revisionist traitor) neighbouring the one Zira and Cornelius are in, the two remaining evolved chimps are freed and allowed to live in the human society of the early 1970s, in which they’ve arrived aboard Taylor’s repaired spaceship after escaping the nuked Earth of the 3950s and passing through a time warp.
The arrival of the three evolved chimpanzees in human society parallels the arrival on Soror of Mérou, Antelle, and Levain. Similarly, Zira’s and Cornelius’ brief freedom and celebrity–as talking ‘animals’ in the civilization of those that the two chimps have always regarded as animals–also parallels Mérou’s experience in Boulle’s novel (Part Three, from Chapter 27 onwards).
Zira and Cornelius briefly enjoy the material pleasures of [capitalist] human society, wearing high-fashion clothing, living in a luxury hotel, and Zira’s taking a bubble bath. However, when the chimps tell the humans of the future destruction of Earth following the supplanting of human civilization with that of apes, the human authorities, especially Dr. Otto Hasslein, get paranoid.
We can see an allegoric parallel in our world in how the writings of Marx, Lenin, et al are allowed to be published in the West, and unions and communist parties are tolerated (provided the numbers are small); but when these groups get too powerful, unions are busted, anarchist, communist, and other socialist pages on social media get brutally trolled, and in extreme cases, like during the Red Scare of the 50s, communists (and those merely accused of sympathizing with communism) are persecuted. Consider also what happened to communists in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, as well as the bombing of North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
When Zira is discovered to be pregnant with Caesar (originally named Milo, after their dead friend), she and Cornelius are deemed a threat to human civilization (as Mérou and Nova are to simian society). Zira and Cornelius, seeming to regret their having helped men like Taylor, quickly realize how few good humans there are, as any revisionist or reactionary who sees the light will know of capitalists: indeed, I imagine how rueful Orwell and Djilas would be if they saw the depths to which neoliberal capitalism has brought the world since the collapse of the ‘oppressive’ Soviet system those two liberals propagandized against, a system many Russians and east Europeans look back on nostalgically. The reasons for such nostalgia should be easy to see, provided one isn’t blinded by Western propaganda: socialist states provide full employment, free education and health care–a very odd way for a government to oppress its people.
In contrast, consider the terrible wealth inequality in the U.S. and U.K., and how many Americans go hungry; also, think of how many Americans die from lack of adequate health care, and how many American millennials are deeply in debt for their university education. Is this ‘democracy’?
Back to the story. Hasslein chases and kills Zira; Cornelius is also shot by a sniper. Hasslein thinks he’s shot their baby, too, but it has been switched with a circus chimp. Caesar will now be raised by Armando (Ricardo Montalbán), a circus owner.
IV: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
Armando and MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) are the only humans to show kindness to Caesar (Roddy McDowall) in the authoritarian police state of 1991; but even their sympathy to apes has limits, for Armando takes Caesar around on a leash instead of even trying to defy human authority, he shushes the chimp whenever he wants to talk (remember, inability to speak–as well as nakedness–symbolizes a lack of power in these films), and he advises Caesar to get naked and join the slave apes…for his safety (consider circus animal cruelty), if Armando won’t be able to protect him anymore; similarly, at the end of the ape uprising, MacDonald tries to dissuade Caesar from shedding human blood.
This limited sympathy is allegorical of how left-leaning liberals like Bernie Sanders would give poor Americans more free stuff, but not end the depredations of Western imperialism. Theirs is a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalism.
The police state governed by Breck (Don Murray) is brutal in its enslavement of apes. This is the only Apes movie without a pre-title scene. When the film was screened to an audience prior to its release, viewers were appalled by the, in their opinion, excess blood and violence, so Conquest was censored; it is believed that a pre-title scene was filmed of a slave ape, covered in bruises and welts, trying to escape, and then either beaten to death or shot.
This censored footage, if it’s ever existed, has never been found: finding it would be like the Holy Grail to Apes fans, since the uncut, unrated version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (available only on Blu-ray) was clearly better than the tamed, sanitized theatrical version; the original version’s dark ending, in which Governor Breck is beaten to death by gorillas while Caesar looks on and gloats, is pure, cold-blooded bad-assery.
A police state enslaving apes (a similar situation is seen in the ‘ape concentration camp’ in War For the Planet of the Apes, a movie in which there’s another connection with fascism: the ape ‘donkeys’ are clearly symbolic of class collaboration), in the context of my allegory, is easily explained: whenever there’s a danger of the working class [apes] rising against the capitalist class [humans], the latter uses some form of fascism to suppress the former. Britain’s MI5 used none other than Mussolini to keep Italians involved in the imperialist First World War; the German bourgeoisie, aided by American big business, used Hitler and the S.S. against the Jews and the German proletariat, and the first ones put in Nazi concentration camps were leftists (don’t believe that nonsense about Nazis being socialists!); Franco and the Falange party suppressed the leftists in Spain, with help from Fascist Italy and the Nazis; and a 1973 coup in Chile, aided by the CIA, replaced the democratically elected Salvador Allende with Pinochet’s brutal authoritarian regime.
Breck is afraid that Zira’s and Cornelius’ baby wasn’t killed after learning that Armando’s chimpanzee may have spoken, so Breck interrogates him. Don Murray practiced Breck’s lines, translated into German, so that, when he said them with crisp, articulate English, he’d sound more like a Nazi.
Note the contrast between the city life in Escape and Conquest as symbolic of the bourgeoisie, that is, the people of the borough, or self-governing, walled town, as opposed to the small ape village surrounded by fields, trees, and forests–suggestive of rural, peasant life–in the first two films and in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. For communists, the peasants have been essential to revolution. Hence, to go from the first two movies to the third and fourth is to leave the dictatorship of the proletariat to that of the bourgeoisie.
Apes are conditioned to obey and to fear the word “No!” through such tortures as having to dodge flamethrowers and receiving electric shocks. In this way, their slavery is not only an allegory of wage slavery, but also of the suffering of those in concentration camps, as when Amon Göth shot at Jews to stop them from resting on the job and frighten them to make them get back to work. Remember that fascism is capitalism in decay.
Caesar leading the apes in rebellion is, of course, echoed in the thrilling ape revolution in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot essentially based on Conquest, but one concerned more with issues of cruelty to animals and science lapsing into recklessness than with an allegory of racism and classism.
Rise deftly combines two important quotes from the original series of films: Taylor’s “damn dirty ape” with “No!”, taken from Escape, Conquest, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. In the original series, “No!” was originally supposed to be spoken by Aldo, the leader of the ape revolution prophesied in the scrolls, centuries after the time of Conquest; but the repercussions of Zira’s and Cornelius’ time travel have (implausibly) sped up evolution, and Caesar’s love interest, Lisa, says no to him, to stop the gorillas from killing Breck in the theatrical release, a real revisionist let-down that brought a potentially great film down several notches.
[One odd thing to be noted during Caesar’s revolutionary speech at the end of Conquest: he refers to his fellow apes not as such, but as “my people.” He says this twice; in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, one’s fellow apes are also referred to as one’s “people.” This doesn’t seem to be an oversight on Paul Dehn’s part. Given how these apes walk more or less upright and erect, their anthropomorphic form, as opposed to the more realistic apes in the reboots, seems to be more than just a case of the limits of the technology of the time; these humanoid apes are most emphatically representative of the people.]
Played by Natalie Trundy–who also played Albina, the telepath in Beneath, and Dr. Stephanie Branton in Escape–Lisa shows a misguided, soft-hearted compassion for Breck (a dangerous authoritarian ape-hater who is as little deserving of compassion as anyone could be) at the end of the film, when he’s about to be killed by the gorillas. Lisa thus represents the stereotype of woman as the ‘civilizing influence’ on warlike males. Actually, this changed ending, with Caesar implausibly switching from bloodthirsty revengefulness to “dominat[ing] with compassion”, merely from hearing her say, “N-n-no,” is an example of liberal reactionaries preferring reforms over committing to revolution.
I know it’s not my place to prescribe what women should do, but if I may, I’ll state my preference that they stand at men’s sides in revolutions against every Breck in the world, not shying away from violence when it’s necessary to end oppression. In today’s neoliberal world, millions die of hunger/malnutrition in developing countries every year (especially children under five); imperialist wars multiply, so capitalists can profit from weapons sales, to the point of risking nuclear annihilation; and if we don’t wipe out all life on Earth that way, then climate change and global warming, always denied by capitalists, will likely do the job instead. I must quote Caesar in response to those who claim a socialist revolution will create a worse world than what we have now: “Do you think it could be worse?”
V: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
The story should have ended with Conquest: that’s what Dehn had intended with the original, violent version of that movie. In fact, they’d intended to end it with a nuclear war, to link it more completely with the 1968 film, but budget constraints thwarted that plan. What’s worse, an ‘audience-friendly’ version of Conquest was wanted for a PG rating and, therefore, a selling of more tickets (once again, capitalism ruins art).
As a result, the fifth and weakest Apes film was made to milk as much money as possible out of the pockets of Apes fans, child and adult alike. So what we have in this film is pure reactionary liberalism, allegorically, an attempt to reconcile communism [ape society] with capitalism [humanity]–in other words, social democracy.
Caesar tries to rule as a gentle, benevolent dictator. Apes may say no to humans, but not vice versa–classic liberal political correctness and identity politics, instead of ending class contradictions. Aldo, who hates humans and despises Caesar’s softer rule, is more like a hard-line communist; and in this bourgeois liberal film, that means he can only be a villain. When Aldo speaks of wanting guns to gain power, he reminds us of what Mao Zedong once said: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a similar premise to Battle, Aldo’s equivalent in the reboot trilogy is the vicious Koba, whose name, incidentally, is from an old nickname of Stalin’s. Here we see typical liberal propaganda: neither Aldo’s/Koba’s pro-ape, anti-human [left-wing] extremism, nor the [right-wing] human extremism of Kolp/the Colonel is acceptable; only Caesar’s ‘centrism’ is desirable. The problem is that this ‘centrism’ leads to neoliberalism, exemplified in Macron, Obama, and the Clintons.
There is always a drift to the right in politics, against which the dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary bulwark. Nicolás Maduro‘s government has been under siege from a violent, U.S.-backed opposition reminiscent of that which toppled Allende [think of Kolp’s men attacking the ape village]; yet Maduro, like human-friendly Caesar in Battle (or the reboots, for that matter), is trying to preserve his democratically–elected, social democratic government (which isn’t the ‘dictatorship’ the U.S. media slanders it as being) in a bourgeois-legal, democratic way, compromising with the demands of the capitalist class, which can only spell danger for all the Bolivarian revolution has tried to build for the Venezuelan poor.
Battle ends with humans demanding equal rights, and Caesar relents. But the only way to end the evil of capitalism, which is synonymous with inequality, is to crush the bourgeoisie and keep them down, as Lenin’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat was elaborated in The State and Revolution. First, you smash the bourgeois state [end human rule over apes, as Caesar did in the original version of Conquest]; then the workers’ state [ape city] represses the capitalists [humans are kept in cages, etc., as happened in the 1968 film] until all of capitalism is crushed [no more humans to threaten the apes], then we can have the withering away of the state [the apes finally have power, and freedom].
If the revolution isn’t carried out to its conclusion, we have, at best, the tense irresolution represented in the ending of Battle, with its statue of Caesar, a tear ludicrously running down its cheek. At worst, we have total destruction of all life on Earth. Surely, the apes–representative of the common people of the world–can do better than that.
Pierre Boulle (translation by Xan Fielding), Planet of the Apes, Ballantine Books, New York (Del Rey), 1963