Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hero's Journey: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Can an ape be a Hero on a Journey, just like a human character? Is a chimpanzee capable of self-realization and a transformation like in the myths of old? For Caesar in the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it can. Read on, but beware: if you haven't seen this movie, spoilers lie ahead.

1. Ordinary World: Caesar is living with his caretaker, Will. Because he was born in a laboratory, Caesar's Ordinary World is in a normal home, living with humans. Will and his father take care of Caesar, letting him have free reign of the house. They take him to the Redwoods, allowing him to experience climbing and running free and wild, but that is as close as it gets for him to being a chimpanzee. Caesar was born with the experimental virus that his mother was dosed with, so his intellectual capabilities outweigh those of normal chimpanzees. As a result, his identity is something he questions. Is he a pet? A person? Just another animal? Caesar's Journey will be one of self-discovery.

2. Call To Adventure: Caesar's Call to Adventure, one in which he is presented with a Special World, comes when he sees Will's father, Charles, being threatened by a hostile neighbor. Charles suffers from Alzheimer's, and in a confused attempt to drive a car, he damages the neighbor's car. Caesar watches from his attic window as the neighbor gets physically violent, and Caesar becomes defensive and aggressive, attacking the neighbor.  Caesar is now sent to a primate facility. This is Caesar's Special World, one that is opposite of the life he once knew.

3. Refusal of the Call: Caesar does not want to live in the primate facility, nor does he understand why he cannot go home with Will. He pounds against the glass, despondent and sad. He knows this is not where he belongs. He belongs with humans, not other apes.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: At the facility, Caesar is frightened by the other apes that act different than he does. However, another ape, an orangutan named Maurice, was once part of a circus and learned some sign language. He communicates with Caesar, giving him advice about how to act and what to do.

5. Crossing the Threshold: Caesar is picked on at first and attacked by other apes, especially a chimpanzee named Rocket. However, he finally decides to accept his position at the primate facility. He refuses to be picked on and establishes dominance over Rocket and the others. Caesar begins to question his role and his identity as he witnesses a chimpanzee being tranquilized and taken to GenSys, the lab he was born in.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: As Caesar establishes himself as the dominant ape in the facility, he overcomes his enemy, Rocket, and earns the respect of the other apes. He becomes close friends with Maurice, and even gains a close ally in Buck, the gorilla who is locked up separately from the others. The human caretakers pose more of a threat to him, especially the sadistic Dodge. His tests are all focused on being accepted by the others, even though he is different. When Will comes to take Caesar back home, Caesar refuses. He realizes who and what he is.

7. Approach: Caesar slowly gains the respect of all the apes. He uses Rocket to befriend the other apes, handing out cookies. Caesar watches and learns, slowly figuring out how to escape, and crafts a master plan. Caesar breaks out one night and goes back to his home, stealing canisters with the virus in an aerosol form. Returning to the facility, Caesar uses the canisters to make the other apes super-intelligent like him. Caesar teaches them all sign language and prepares for his escape.

8. Ordeal: The ultimate Ordeal for Caesar comes when he must face his worst nemesis. The sadistic Dodge threatens Caesar, and he speaks, much to the shock of all around him. He stands up to Dodge in the Inmost Cave of the dilapidated ape sanctuary, and has passed the test.

9. Reward: Caesar and the apes are rewarded with their freedom. The revolution has begun.

10. The Road Back: The Road Back is where the hero tries to return to their old life, but they cannot, for they have been changed. In Caesar's case, he goes to the only place from his old life that he can now: the Redwoods. It is there that he most felt like an ape, where he most felt at home and at peace. And it is there that he will return. But first, they must make their way there. The chimpanzees escape, freeing apes at GenSys and the zoo. Caesar and the apes try to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and head to the Redwoods. The police try to stop the apes, but they fight back, repelling their enemy but avoiding true violence. Many apes are killed, including Buck, who sacrifices his life to protect Caesar.

11. Resurrection: Will arrives to try and control Caesar, but it's too late. Caesar has faced himself, and has learned who he is. He is a leader.The apes successfully make it over the bridge and past the police. They are now free!

12. Return with the Elixir: Will follows Caesar and finds him protected by his companions. He tries to convince Caesar to turn back, that he can put everything right. But Caesar speaks: "Caesar is home." Will realizes with these three words that the old Caesar is dead; the new Caesar, the one standing tall in front of him has been reborn and is resurrected. Caesar will never be able to go back to his old life, as heroes never truly are able to.  The film closes as Caesar and the other apes scale the massive, towering trees. The "Elixir" that Caesar has given them is their freedom and the realization of who they are, distinct creatures that will shape the future of the world.

Note: this post was revised and updated on 8/28/12.

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