Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ape over apes

My buddy Joe has an ape obsession. Planet Of The Apes and King Kong are two of his most favorite movies of all time. He's been made up several times by professional make-up artists to look like several ape characters from the Planet Of The Apes movies - General Urko, Dr Zaius, and of course Cornelius. He's been known to throw on a gorilla costume for almost any event much to the horror and/or delight of his attending audience. On the surface one might guess that his love for apes originates from the alluring and almost magical processes from which they've been brought to his attention - the pre-CGI make-up effects of John Chambers (Planet Of The Apes, 1968) or over 30 years prior to that - the stop motion animation of Willis O'Brien which brought a fur and rubber Kong to life in 1933. Two creative methods which have also become favorite pastimes for Joe.

But I see another, more cerebral layer to his anthropoid primate affections... these apes of fantasy, whether as wild as Kong or evolved as Cornelius, sport a truer, more profound core than man. Kong was better off left on Skull Island, where for no logical reason I could think of he lived amongst creatures thought long extinct. He had to contend with the likes of Tyrannosaurus, a cave serpent and a pit spider (in a scene cut from the film and never found to this day) - but they were no match to the fighter pilots who took Kong down from atop the Empire State Building at the film's end. Kong was thought a monster, and yet he gave his life trying to protect the beautiful Fay Wray, who fit in the palm of his hand. By the closing credits, one would assume, there was not a dry eye in the house.

The apes in Planet Of The Apes are perhaps a much more headier conundrum. Joe would need to explain this to me - although I have seen the movie several times. While all along we are believed to be descendants of apes (putting aside, of course, the religious Adam & Eve explanation) - it is the film's surprise ending which suggests we've somehow gone as extinct as our cave dweller ancestors - and somehow apes rule the world. Although some of the apes in the original movie appeared outright horrifying to me, it was the portrayal of the two kindly husband and wife simian scientists (Cornelius and Zera) who showed the most compassion. Once again, it was man - not ape - who managed to screw things up. Astronaut Taylor finds out at the films end, that he's been on this strange planet before.

Perhaps Joe knows that somewhere behind an apes eyes lies more truth than man will ever know. Embedded in our DNA and theirs the answers lie mostly undiscovered. One day, perhaps over a hot cup of java in some late night diner, Joe and I will once again discuss these things. I need to know in that one instance when he visited the Chimpanzee cage at the Central Park Zoo - if he got any closer to the truth as he ran scrambling from the hurled feces.

"Poo Fling" cartoon courtesy of Mark DeGross