A Literal Look: Battle of Archetypes: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Jason Clarke Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The “ape to man” or “ape versus man” has been a long-standing debate among evolutionary scientist since naturalist Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Darwin’s theory proposes that all life is related and that more complex creatures evolved from lesser or “simplistic” ancestors over time. In addition, Darwin states that a “sudden leap” in the evolutionary process isn’t plausible: change is gradual. In order for any descendent species to be successful, to exist without fail or function, must advance though slow steps (Darwin, 1996).

The ages long battle of how life began, and the “ape to man” debate will undoubtedly persist. For the sake of argument: what if modern scientists are able to accelerate the evolutionary process and thereby genetically enable the brain to renew itself? The deliverable “cure” ALZ-112 as in the successful 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes?

Hollywood seems to think so. Cinematically, audiences were privy to this breakthrough in the evolutionary process and witnessed an uprising of a “lesser species” that would survive, reproduce and eventually rival that of humankind. It is this rival theory of evolution—the threat to human existence—is what makes for great tales of drama, and these tales that make for really great movies.

A Battle of Archetypes

There would not be a “rise” in the ape vs. human theory if apes did not possess the psychological structures of archetypes that are reflected in that of humans. There must be recurring themes (symbols and images) that common societies possess. In Rise, Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) intelligence began to exceed what his human counterparts expected of him. Caesar eventually was able to adapt and understand the motivations of his loving caregivers, Will Rodman (James Franco) and Charles Rodman (John Lithgow), and equally, that of his antagonists, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) and Dodge Landon (Tom Felton). Caesar’s acknowledgement of these character’s motivations are what’s considered “the initiation” of his circumstance, or the moment awareness of his problems and the acknowledgement of his “responsibility” to remedy the negative result—being removed from his “human home” (the fall[1]) by his trusted caregiver, Will, to that of being caged and mistreatment by Landon.

Battle Between Good and Evil

Fast forward 10 or so movie years and we arrive at the battle between good, peace and cohabitation between man and ape, and evil, the budding war between man and ape. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), there are two significant “battles” or conflicts of the hero Caesar (Serkis), the anti-hero Koba (Toby Kebbell), human-protagonist Malcolm (Jason Clarke), and human-antagonist Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) attempt to overcome in the film:

     * Battle between good and evil.
* The un-healable wound.

“The battle[2]” that exists between Caesar and the human population was an obvious outcome the moment the apes and humans became aware of the threat to their survivability. When Carver shot Kobo’s son Ash in panic, the opportunity for peace was severed. Kobo, still resentful of humans due to his mistreatment began undermining Caesar’s intent to not war with the humans, yet, will do all he can to defend their home.

Koba’s “un-healable wound[3],” physical and psychological, causes him to question Caesar’s loyalty to the apes, so Koba attempts to kill Caesar, and proceed to wage war on the humans. He was unwilling to compromise. It is Koba’s inability to trust humans, and rightly so, which ultimately led to his demise.

Malcolm’s part in both situational conflicts are the same as Caesar’s, that of a father and concerned citizen. They both succeed by obligation and responsibility to their wives and son(s). Malcolm tried to prevent the destructive actions of Dreyfus, who wanted nothing more than to eradicate the ape population.

Dreyfus’s character affinity for disorder, failed to see the bigger and more logical picture—a world in which both humans and apes could live in peace. The ape-archetypes in the “Rise” and “Dawn” films are similar to their human counterparts because they too, desire to exist.

In relation to what motivate character actions—or why a character does something—is what make watching movies an enjoyable and interactive experience: we are able to recognize where there are inconsistencies in the plot because we are able to recognize and understand character motivation (the why a character “does something”) in order to predict patterns of behavior archetypes.

*Please note: that there are additional classifications for “situational archetypes,” and “archetype settings,” such as “the quest,” “the task,” and settings “forest/wilderness,” “the tower” etc., both featured in the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) film, but will be discussed in future film archetypal analysis.

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Darwin, C., & Beer, G. (1996). The origin of species. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Woodard, C. R. (1967). The Archetype of the Fall. College English. Urbana, IL: The National Council of Teachers of English.

[1] “The Fall” in situational archetypes describes a “descent in action” where the hero or protagonist experiences a defilement or loss of innocence.”

[2] “The Battle” in situational archetypes pits obvious forces against one another.

[3] “The Un-healable Wound” in situational archetypes cannot be healed fully. The sufferer takes desperate measures for redemption.


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Sandy Hoffman

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