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Maoist Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
July 2014
PG-13

In our review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), we drew parallels to the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) from the original series. The final episode (Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)) of the original series takes place hundreds of years after apes have risen to power and gives an interesting take on the dictatorship of the proletariat as apes rule benevolently over humyns and strive for a peaceful society. The latest, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) is more of a Conquest part two in terms of the timeline, but takes on many of the themes of Battle.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes place a mere ten years after Rise, featuring many of the same ape characters. In those ten years, humyns had been virtually wiped out by a virus that was a product of testing done on the apes and infighting that resulted from the crisis. In the meantime, the apes that fled to Marin have built a home there, and other species have made a miraculous recovery in the absence of humyns.

The theme that Dawn shares with Battle is the apes realizing they are no better than humyns when it comes to war and violence. This is a positive lesson in historical materialism that looks at the social causes of war, conflict and change in general. It makes sense that as apes develop a more advanced society with language, buildings, fire and larger populations, that similar social phenomenon will come into play as we have in humyn society.

In Battle this was a nice lesson as it came after hundreds of years of dictatorship of apes over humyns, at which point one would expect a sense of commonality (internationalism if you will) to have developed. What is less believable in that movie is that after all that time there would be a vengeful element, which is played off as an almost genetic/racial thing particular to the gorillas. In the most recent movie we would expect much desire for vengeance against humyns, as these were the very same apes that were raised in prisons and experimented on by humyns before the revolution in which they freed themselves.

The new series has not yet reached the point of dictatorship of ape over humyn, only separate settlements that are now engaging in war with each other. Both sides have their militarists. The ape is motivated by vengeance from the torture he endured, while the humyn has a sense of purpose in returning humyns to their rightful place as dominant. A looming oppressor consciousness persists among the humyns despite their fall from grace. Though the main material force pushing them into conflict in the first place is the need for the hydro power that is within ape territory. No doubt, the justification of genocide for natural resources is still deep in these Amerikans' way of thinking.

Dawn does offer us some underlying political lessons. Caesar, who led the revolution in the previous movie as the only ape who knew how to speak, is now the established leader. All apes have developed some ability to speak (and at least the younger ones are learning to write), and they are able to communicate even more complex ideas through sign language. The mantra "ape shall not kill ape" is a direct throwback to Battle, that is repeated throughout this latest movie. This format is similar to short sayings from Mao that the Communist Party of China promoted under socialism to imbue the people with a new collective consciousness. It was necessary in a society with very limited literacy. Like Mao, Caesar is reified. At the same time, as Caesar disappears from the scene, it is clear that there is a core of people who followed Caesar's ideas, and not just him as a persyn. And there is a sense that the whole population has some grasp of these ideas, again similar to socialist China. But when a usurper seizes power, the masses follow him with little resistance. Like the Gang of Four in China, those perceived to be loyal to Caesar's ideas are imprisoned.

There is a strong theme of the nuclear family in this movie, at times saying that family is more important than the greater people. While Caesar learns to not idealistically trust all apes, he thankfully does not turn inward to his nuclear family as many do when they feel betrayed by larger organizations or society as a whole. Family is the hideaway of the coward, often the patriarch, who feels they can have greater control there. But revolutionaries strive to transform society by the power of scientific understanding. Like the last movie, the apes show heroic revolutionary sacrifice in their struggle for the greater good for all apes and the society that they have built. While they face internal contradictions based on the harm that oppression has stamped on their psyches, they have done much to build a promising society.

In our review of the previous movie we talked much about the integration struggle, with the apes rejecting that road. The ending of this movie leaves the protagonists from each species hoping for a collaborative effort, but seeing that it is impossible at this time. Caesar in particular seems keen at recognizing the material forces at play and the impossibility of collaboration with the humyns as a whole despite the friends he has among them. Similarly in our world, while there are certainly genuine revolutionary forces among the oppressor nations, we should not be fooled into interpreting that to mean that the oppressor nations as groups are ready for peaceful coexistence.

It is the contradictions that humyns face between their weakened state and their desire to have the material benefits of the past that is the biggest threat to the apes in this movie, and seemingly in the next one to come. We hope that the apes learned valuable lessons from this latest struggle that they can consciously consolidate into their ideology as a society as they move forward in their struggle against oppression and to end war.