The film Planet of the Apes stood out to me for exposing the effect of placing humans as inferior to apes. The use of the Statue of Liberty in the closing scene highlights the fact that the Americans and Europeans certainly held a superior attitude over more “primitive” cultures. An example of this may be the treatment of the Viet Cong by the Americans and their allies during the Vietnam War. The film is an expose on American superiority complex and a hyperbole of our role in invading communist countries. Planet of the Apes was written during 1963 and was released in 1968, during the Vietnam War.
This is a piece of fiction not initially seeming historical, but with themes and undercurrents very telling for its time. In the very year of the film’s release there was a massacre in Vietnam, today known as the Son My Massacre, which resulted in many South Vietnamese civilian casualties (Wikipedia). The culture of propaganda and protest around this conflict was raging. In the film, American humans land on an unknown planet ruled by Apes and are treated as inferior and seen as a foreign invader, never seen before. Taylor, nicknamed “Bright Eyes”, one of the main characters, is not humbled by his captivity but is aggressive towards his captors. In one scene, he briefly escapes his cell and is quickly captured again by nets and he states “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape” (film).
At the same time in history, as the Planet of the Apes was being produced, American forces fought in the jungles of Vietnam while sending messages home, telling of their experience. The media capitalized on the atrocities and did their part in developing propaganda. Many thought of their enemies as foreign “savages” who deserved nothing less than to be killed. The film covers related themes of the conflict present in foreign invasion. Meanwhile America and her Allies invaded and fought a war on foreign soil against the communist regimes (Wikipedia). The Apes
in the film have created a socialist setup where each ape is born into their role, chimps do one task, and orangutans do another, and so on. It is no coincidence the author, Boulle, and film maker included a caste system, as communism was America’s great enemy at the time.
Since apes have long since been considered inferior under the theory of evolution, it is interesting that they are used as superior in this piece. The three surviving humans landed accidentally on the Planet of the Apes are treated like scientific specimens. One of the characters, Dodge, was killed by the gorilla military, taken away and put on display in the Ape City museum. Another astronaut, Landon, was captured and was later lobotomized. The main character, Taylor, was held captive to potentially be studied but thanks to the psychologist, Zira, survived the ordeal. Clearly, under the authority of the Apes, humans were treated as an inferior race. These so-called scientific experiments done by the Apes, seemed to be in an effort to maintain power and control. Warfare has always been and continues to be directly linked to science as a tool and ally. Think of gunpowder, nuclear and chemical warfare and so on.
At the end of the film, Taylor and his counterpart, Nova, are shown riding away on horseback only to discover remnants of the Statue of Liberty. Planet of the Apes, presented somewhat utopian only to be in a state of dystopia as the story unfolds. Interestingly, dystopia in this film looks similar to our wars. The atrocious war on this authors mind was none other than brutal Vietnam, where chemical warfare was introduced on the scene, and soldiers degenerated into animals. His message in the hyperbole is clear: beware the act of invading and acting superior over others because, as this movie depicts, the tables may, one day, be reversed. If only we could learn.