Simulacra and Simian

Art, Movies

Ape . . . not . . . kill . . . ape . . . unless . . . situational . . . ethical . . . concerns . . . dictate . . . a . . . temporary . . . revision . . . of . . . practical . . . application . . . of . . . apes’ . . . moral . . . code. I suppose it lacks the declarative grandeur of the more abbreviated thou-shalt-not, but it has the more singular advantage of being accurate. That Whatever of the Planet of the Apes finds itself praised as a great movie, a great scifi movie, or even just a pretty good summer action flick for what it’s worth is testimony mostly to just what a lot of lousy crap Hollywood puts out these days. At least the Marvel flicks are buoyed—most of them—by a degree of humor and insouciant pleasure at bringing a grab-bag of oddball superpowers to life; Planet of the Apes is dour, rain-soaked, and cod-epic: grim, overlong, humorless, and suffused with an utter weariness that comes to life only when it butts up against an even more boring stuffing of cliché.

What was it that Chekov said? If in the first act there’s a moral precept on the wall, then in the second or third act there’d better be a father vowing crazy revenge? I dunno. A global pandemic of MacGuffins has rendered humanity nearly extinct and apes, or at least, a cadre of apes, super smart. I am quite convinced that our childrens’ generations will regard our belief that laboratory viruses will perform such dubious miracles with the same amused contempt we reserve for the giant atomic insects of the 1950s. The apes have decamped from San Francisco to Muir Woods, and despite the fact that there are hundreds or thousands of apes and hundreds or thousands of surviving humans not twenty miles apart, they’ve gone ten years without noticing one another. Then they happen upon each other. Violence ensues. The Leninite apes overthrow the Trotskyite apes in a manufactured coup that image-checks the Reichstag fire. I shit you not. The whole thing would be a glorious hash if it managed a single joke over its geologic running time. The preceding are not jokes, by the way. They’re carried off with the gravity of a Bayreuth production of Parsifal.

Briefly—and I suppose these are spoilers, if you’re an idiot—the movie takes as its central principle that in acquiring human intelligence, so too have the apes acquired our human flaws. Their society is destined to recapitulate our own. Four legs good, two legs bad, but some animals are more . . . oh, fuck it. The apes, in living memory the captive medical test subjects of we vicious, baldy simians, don’t trust us and have an interest in self-preservation. There are good guys on both sides whose efforts to broker a peace are doomed to fail because of the plot of the movie. “If . . . no . . . inevitable . . . conflict . . . then . . . no . . . third-act . . . CGI . . . battle . . . scene,” the apes’ soon-to-be-deposed leader grunts at one moment. I thought it was a little weird that they included that line in the script, but hey, you know. What do the kids say these days? That’s so meta? Personally, I thought it was pretty ratchet.

By the way, the bad evil ape is a scarred victim of torture. Needless to say, he is an Insane Psycho Killer, as are all victims of torture, as well as all disfigured people. One of the glories of cinematic science fiction is that it permits us to recreate the phenotypological shorthand for moral character content that out-of-control political correctness ruined in art and literature, sometime between Dickens and the Civil Rights Movement, if my facts are correct. The noble appear noble, the evil are orcs, and you can’t trust a man in glasses.

The movie is supposed to be a new revolution in CGI, but in fact is back in Jurrasic Park territory, ape feet that don’t quite seem to touch the ground and fur that doesn’t quite move in the wind or rain. An early stampede of elk–these, too, are computer-generated–is especially appalling. The big orangutan’s face manages to fool you most of the time, but only because the architecture of an orangutan face is alien enough that the human eye has a hard time detecting its fakeness; the more human-standard chimps and gorillas look ridiculous. As hokey as the prostheses in prior runs around this particular fictive property now appear to us, this is worse. Small inconsistencies are often worse than big ones. An overabundant realism makes it impossible to suspend your disbelief.

Anyway, this movie is bad, but it’s so emblematic of a prototypical American cultural attitude toward conflict. “Poor Africa.” “The situation in the middle east.” “President Obama needs to be tougher on Putin.” It imagines war as fundamentally gestural, a signifier rather than a graveyard. Oh, if only two leaders could learn to trust each other, then the underlying questions of land and resources could all be banged out. Alas, evil monkey and Gary Oldman can’t get along. Yeah, yeah. Meanwhile, the apes launch a frontal infantry-and-cavalry assault on a fortified position, which would be crazy were it not for the fact that apparently the humans left the armory undefended? Boy, apparently the Simian Bird Flu also genocided common sense. As it hauls itself out of its climactic battle, the movie leaves one deep philosophical question unanswered. Could a chimpanzee really survive an uncontrolled vertical fall of greater than fifty feet onto a platform of steel rebar and remain effectively unharmed? Reader, the answer to that question is also the answer to the question of whether or not you should see this movie.

15 thoughts on “Simulacra and Simian

    1. the flying monkeys in Wizard of Oz fucking terrified me as a kid. this movie may have cured me of any lingering fear of movie monkeys. i think you guys are right to blame the CGI. CGI has done to suspension of disbelief what google and others have done to ‘remembering useful information.’

  1. THAT was your comment on the current reason for why there are Jooooooooz in the Noooooooooz?
    I expected something far less veiled and far more tortured.
    I guess for that kind of thing, you need a Moloch-Agonistes to put you in the mood.

  2. it’s the BS belief in “realism.” convince my eyes & ears that this bullshit is “real”, w/in the fiction of the story of course, and i’ll slurp down my Super Gulp-N-…sorry too drunk to come up w/a bucket o’ popcorn follower.
    BUT believable human emotions and characteristics? hell, you can do that by blowing up a Death Star sized wad of styrofoam cups w/o all the Lucas n Lights BS. i listen to music & read and shit cuz i want to know what actual human beings feel like cuz i cain’t meet any here in MY CUBICLE!!!!!

  3. “The Leninite apes overthrow the Trotskyite apes…”

    No. The First Comrade was overthrown by **Koba**. You can’t make a character more of a Stalin stand-in than that. True, they could have named him Dzugashvili, but it probably wouldn’t have played well with the focus groups.

  4. What did you think of Rise of TPOTA? I enjoyed it a lot but after seeing Dawn, and being disappointed by it, I think it might just have been low expectations.

  5. Analogue as compared with Digital ….. one look at those ghastly Digital Watches as opposed to those battery less ones (of course now, battery less watches sell for thousands of dollars …. favored by, … and only affordable to, Silicon Valley Digital billionaires) told a horrifyingly sad story which unfolded to disastrous effect …. Jason Lanier made bucks admitting they fucked up music in the digitalization of it) in that Silicon Valley/Palo Alto, Cali White, so Brilliant, DOD backed, Dreadlocked Boys rental in his ultimately icky Gadgets book … which teases one in only to insanely promote Virtual Reality to be lived solely via Machine.

    The whole exploding Silicon Implant thing might have given a clue, if those implants had been used as a sort of Viagra (of course, they knew better).

    1. (oops, Jaron (not “Jason”) You Are Not A Gadget [!$$$$$ …. as if no one knew they weren’t a gadget]Lanier…(Master White Blondish ‘Dreadlocked’ NSA/DOD funded Microsoft Researcher, Squid/Octopus Fanboy).

      ‘Thank you’ mother fucker (and I do mean your mother) …. li’l Billy, The Ex Congressional Page Boy, Gates [Keeper/COMMON COREMENTOR!] for that unsolicited corrective touch in the ‘soft ware’ which never fails to undermine actual correct spelling, intent and clarity.)

  6. oh my, Jacob, you can’t imagine how much your first pic, reminded me of my treasure, Ruby, who lay so sweetly next to me on her last night, two Aprils ago, Ruby had a white tip on her tail, otherwise I wondered if something unexplainable had not happened.

    I wrapped her in my favorite sleeping wear …… so wonderful to know her kin remain…

    1. (it also tickles me that the second shot reminds me of my childhood treasure, Bright Eyes, quite the huntress … . Ruby, on the other hand, had a beautiful, ‘unsymmetrical’ swoop of black across her nose and cheek; against which, one could note when she was pissed …. as her white whisker antennae would, ever so slightly, flicker.

      Bright Eyes mother was Sy, my first kitty treasure, whose face was mostly white and whom we had to leave behind, as she was quite feral, when we moved back to PA, from ILL.

      Ruby was born on the perimeter of Sly Con Valley; consequently, she didn’t trust too much of anyone.)

      1. (Bright Eyes daddy was Tom (okay I guess I wasn’t that imaginative with that name…… but I was only in first grade! ….), Tom was about 20 pounds, and jet black …… missing part of an ear, …sweet as the day was long, and then, much more than that … so hard to describe …… (though clearly, he did have that occasional brawl …. Sy seemed more adept as to not getting her ears torn, and most especially, not letting anything rip up her babys’ ears) ….. we left Tom behind also. … yes, leaving Sy and Tom behind, ….. filled my child’s reality with crushing heartbreak, … I imagine it filled my parent’s heart’s with perhaps more pain ….. watching their baby child have to ‘grow up’ …after all, my mom had that puppy which was taken away …. and my dad had that ‘pet’ racoon …and then that sweet skunk …. (yes, my dad was ‘country’ …. my mom, was city.)

        I don’t know anything about Ruby’s parents, it became pretty clear that someone cut her loose before I took her home …Ruby had some razor claws when alarmed. ….Who could blame her.)

        I

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