This movie is very good. The special effects are amazing, and the storytelling is top notch. The story itself is quite moving, and although the plot is full of implausible aspects and unscientific elements, they’re not so distracting that you can’t pretend to accept the premise temporarily and enjoy the film.
The marketing campaign for this film kept repeating it’s clever tagline, “Evolution becomes Revolution.” But this story isn’t really about evolution. (I mean for one, can a creature be said to have “evolved” if it was purposefully manipulated in a lab? There are glow-in-the-dark-dogs now and nobody’s claiming they got that way through evolution.) No, this is a film about some of the ways in which humanity is flawed, and how we don’t always act like the most intelligent, refined species on the planet. We certainly don’t always act like the most civilized. We often don’t always treat other creatures well. And, normally, they can’t fight back or tell us how much we’ve hurt and wronged them, but what if they could? Are we justified in the mistreatment of animals just because they can’t complain?
I don’t think so. I don’t think the Bible supports that view, either. Scripture clearly distinguishes humans as being more important than other animals, including in Psalm 8 which says,
“You [the Lord] made him [man] ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim in the paths of the sea.”
Matthew 10:29-31 also uses a comparison to other creatures to emphasize the importance of humans in God’s eyes:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
This passage is usually quoted or referenced to make humans feel better about ourselves, but we mustn’t overlook the part that says that God does care about the welfare of all creatures, even seemingly insignificant little birds. I don’t think that means we all need to become vegetarians, but we should at least consider that animals do have feelings, they can experience both pain and pleasure, and we should make every effort to treat them humanely.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes does a terrific job of presenting Caesar’s (the ape, motion-capture-performed by Andy Serkis) point of view. He loves the humans that he grows up with, he’s protective of them, he’s confused about his place in the world and worried that he’s less than human yet more than beast. (Am I a pet?, he asks once.) When he suddenly has to be locked in a cage at an ape reserve, he feels lonely, homesick, and betrayed. He recognizes the injustice of his and his fellow primates’ situation and wants to change it, but he doesn’t want to kill the humans, he only wants to be allowed his own freedom. It’s all the more impressive that his motives and emotions are all very clearly communicated to the audience with little to no dialogue. I was really rooting for Caesar’s campaign to succeed by the end.
As I’ve said, it’s a fantastical story that couldn’t really happen, (probably…right?) But there are companies like the ficticious Genesys featured in the film that recklessly pursue profits, and there are people like the scientist Will, (James Franco), that try to play God. There isn’t any mention of theology in the movie, but Will’s girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto) warns him against putting all his hopes into (and ignoring ethics and safety procedures in order to try) curing his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, saying, “Some things aren’t meant to be changed. You need to accept that.” And there really have been primates that were raised in a human family, and later abandoned by their “family” and locked in a cage, like Gua or Nim.
And, there really was a time, recorded in the Bible, when an animal was gifted with language through extraordinary circumstances, and used the newfound ability only to point out the injustice of her mistreatment at the hands of her master, Balaam. (You can read the story in Numbers chapter 22, starting with verse 21.)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a highly entertaining film with a moving message that is supported by Biblical truth; that animals, while not actually human, still deserve to be treated kindly, like creatures that God created and cherishes.