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'Planet of the Apes' as American Myth

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'Planet of the Apes' as American Myth

Eric Greene
Current Status:
In Season

We gave it a B+

While watching Beneath the Planet of the Apes, you probably never analyzed the gorilla army’s march into the Forbidden Zone. Eric Greene has — it’s clearly a metaphor for America’s incursion into Vietnam, right? Greene’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ as American Myth sounds like one of those irony-steeped college courses, but it’s hardly monkey business. To him, the Apes movie series wasn’t merely five goofy-scary sci-fi flicks about life before and after the apocalypse. Instead, they were increasingly politicized manifestos about America during the turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s. And what’s even scarier than Charlton Heston in a loincloth is that Greene makes an utterly plausible case for his theory.

For instance, Greene, a Los Angeles writer, feels it was no coincidence that Heston, ”a film icon of white heroic strength and Western indomitability,” starred in the first film as the cynical astronaut Col. George Taylor. For a country tarnished by Asian conflicts and violent assassinations, Taylor’s mauling by the apes symbolized America’s fall from grace. In Escape, Greene sees the quashing of pacifist chimps Zira and Cornelius as a metaphor for the suppression of the Left by the Man. He even finds meaning in the limp final installments, Conquest and Battle: In his eyes, those violent, militaristic flicks symbolize the rise of the black-liberation movement and the resultant anxieties of white liberals. How’s them bananas?

Feel free to harrumph like Dr. Zaius, but Greene supports his arguments in interviews with the creators, who confirm some of these messages. He also hit the ”pause” (or ”paws”?) button enough to pick up such fleeting images as a dead African-American with a rope around his neck (in Conquest). Greene’s academic yet readable prose occasionally overheats, as when he strains to find segregation associations in the use of a school bus in Battle, when it could simply be, you know, a bus. But after 187 well-considered pages, you’ll be scratching your head in humbled agreement.