“It’s their fault… Don’t tell me that it doesn’t make you sick to your stomach just to look at [the apes].” (Carver, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
Taking place 10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn opens with an ape culture that has become much more highly evolved since their escape into the forest. Having developed an organized society, they remain loyal to their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and believe that they are finally free of their previous human oppressors. However, when a small band of humans are discovered on ape territory, tensions between the two species rise quickly. As a result, battle lines between humans and apes are quickly drawn with both sides wrestling with whether or not the other can be trusted.
Still, Dawn is more than just a mindless summer blockbuster. Beneath it’s ground-breaking CGI-work and explosive action, this film offers an incredible portrait of a developing Cold War that is reminiscent of any number of global conflicts (past and present). However, rather than simply depict one side as ‘good’ and the other ‘evil’, Dawn creates tensions within each species, revealing that these conflicts rarely offer clear answers and perspectives.
Ultimately, however, the most introspective piece in the film is its exploration of the damage of unresolved anger and unforgiveness. Given that the origin of their culture came after their escape from captivity, there remains a history of pain that follows them into the darkness. Yes, they have established a fully functioning society but a terrible rage boils under its surface. Fear and anger arise within the apes the moment the encounter even one human face to face. (Incidentally, this rage is also not merely relegated to the apes themselves. Although mostly wiped out by the simian flu, the humans still very much blame the apes for their extermination as well.) This is best exemplified through Caesar’s military advisor, Koba. Still angered over his mistreatment in the labs, Koba remains bitter and believes that the true interest of the humans is ape extermination. “Caesar trusts humans. Koba does not,” he growls.
In contrast to this, however, lies Caesar. Emotionally, Caesar has been forced to deal with his own bitterness and pain. Although forgiveness is a strong word to use—he still wrestles with a great deal of pain—Caesar is at peace with his past. He recognizes that not all humans are necessarily evil and, as a result, he is able to move on from the damage he has endured. As a result, Caesar experiences true emotional freedom whereas Koba remains trapped in a cage built by anger and vengeance.
It’s here that the film treks into spiritual territory. How do we deal with the rubble of our past? How does God expect us to let our hurts go? Having worked with many youth have are wrestling with the trauma associated with a history of abuse, I have seen the damage that one—or many—can cause another. Forgiveness can seem insurmountable. The concept of grace can be a difficult one to accept, whether it pertains to the victim or the attacker. Yet, in the midst of this, Jesus still calls us to love our enemies. He reminds us that, if we do not forgive, our Father in Heaven will not forgive us. Without question, God sees value in the broken, even when their actions have caused harm. (After all, our actions have often caused harm to others, regardless of whether or not it’s ‘as bad’ as theirs.) In the same way that we accept His grace for ourselves, we are commanded to offer it to others. Admittedly, this is not something that we can do for ourselves. Genuine grace always stems from our Father who helps us to ‘no longer see [others] from a human point of view.’ (Even Caesar recognizes that evil is not strictly a trait that lies in humanity but within apes as well.) In this moment, we understand that the other person’s need for Jesus’ healing is as great as our own and, potentially, opens up space for new beginnings and grace.
When this happens, we experience genuine spiritual freedom.
When this happens, we experience a new Dawn.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke
Directed by Matt Reeves
****1/2 out of 5