Planet of the Apes: Is Doctor Zeius Proved right?
July 12, 2014 11:59 AM   Subscribe

In Planet of the Apes Dr. Zeius is a religious zealot, and his goal is to not have is vision of the world upended. He denies he truth of Taylor and at the end destroys Cornelius' dig site. As he is leading Cornelius and Zira away at the end he says that what he is doing he is doing for the good of all the apes. I used to take this as an act of hypocrisy, but on re-watching it this line is juxtaposed with Taylor's discovery of the Statue of Liberty. It feels to almost be implying that Zeius is right, that progress is not an inherent good. What is the intent of these last few scenes meant to be?

I know this is probably going to open up a lot of discussion about religion vs. science, but I'm hoping we can all keep it civil. I'm mostly looking for an authorial intent behind the juxtaposition, which I can't find online anywhere.
posted by ArthurBarnhouse to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
[Just to be clear from the start, only the authorial intent question is workable as an AskMe question - please limit answers to that, not to broader discussion of science vs religion. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given the violence of ape culture, I'd doubt the author meant that Zaius' actions were positive. It seemed much more likely they were just going to repeat the mistakes the humans made.
posted by emjaybee at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's more along the lines of 'Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it'. With his refusal to acknowledge the past civilization, Zeius is setting the ape culture up to make the same mistakes that humans did.
posted by Gneisskate at 12:24 PM on July 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I always thought that Zaius knew full well what man had done before and that his actions with regard to keeping the forbidden zone forbidden was to protect the apes from finding out how to destroy everything like the humans had. Maintaining the illusion that apes were the only dominant species there'd ever been prevented the whole, "who was here before?", "why aren't they here now?" line of questioning that might lead his society to disaster!

A lot like the controller in Brave New World knows the value of Shakespeare but also knows that it can't be shared with the masses for fear of causing unrest.
posted by merocet at 12:33 PM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind how the sequel ends. From an ape perspective it's hard to argue that Zaius shouldn't have executed Taylor as soon as he found out he could speak.
posted by gerryblog at 12:55 PM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Right about what? I certainly think the intent was to show that he was right that progress isn't good, and that knowledge of what humans had "accomplished" -- including because apes themselves had violent gorillas among them -- would not necessarily help them.

On the other hand, I doubt the point was to show that his methods were sound. Taylor shows that humans, when they too understand the past, might understand the human error. And nothing about the myth Zaius was maintaining, or other aspects of the understanding he was thwarting, were being shown as indispensable.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:54 PM on July 12, 2014

When I say "Right" I mean in the actions he has taken throughout the film. They are framed as wrong actions throughout the film, and that was my essential memory of it. But in the end, the reveal of the Statue of Liberty shows that the world around them was caused by nuclear destruction. in the 50s and 60s nuclear technology was seen as the future, the greatest achievement man had yet made. You can see it in the science fiction that was written at the time, where all the future was powered by nuclear technology. Certainly people feared death by nukes as well, but in the context of this movie, of one person trying very hard to stop the advancement of knowledge in his society, the end seems to imply that he was right to try and stop its advancement. The end suggests that advancement is not good.

Thanks for the link to the history of the ending. I didn't know about the conflict of who wrote the ending, it was interesting.
posted by ArthurBarnhouse at 3:05 PM on July 12, 2014

As mentioned in the article I linked above, the decision to set the film in a primitive ape society rather than a modern or futuristic society that was depicted in the book was driven by the film's production budget. So I don't think it's necessarily accurate to read Dr. Zaius' intent as anti-technology or anti-advancement of knowledge so much as a desire to avoid a repetition of the mistakes of a previous civilization.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:48 PM on July 12, 2014

Dr. Zaius has a point. In the end, he's right and Taylor is wrong. The key to the film is the hypocrisy. The first part you think the apes are the hypocrites. The last minute of the film says otherwise.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 PM on July 12, 2014

Of all things, I just finished reading the original La Planète des singes last week. My memory of the movie is hazy, so I can't describe all the differences - but it's similar in spirit, until the end. Any moral about nuclear destruction definitely comes from the movie, though.

In the book they are most definitely not on earth - they are 700 light years away on a planet orbiting Betelgeuse. The ape society is cast-oriented: the chimpanzees are the most creative and free thinking, the apes are concerned with order, and the orangutans are in charge. The orangutans are great at memorizing and repeating knowledge, but seem unable to 'create' knowledge or new ways of thinking.

Cornélius and Zaia are chimps who befriend Ulysse, Dr. Zaius an orangutan who is convinced he is just a trick monkey.

Humans don't talk. Ulysse tries to teach some, but fails.

In the archaeology zone Cornélius, Zaia, and Ulysse realize that there was a human population before the apes, and deduced that ape culture evolved out of human culture. IN the big (and ridiculous) reveal, they perform brain surgery on a human subject, who accesses a racial memory and describes how ape-slaves learned to talk, and overthrew the humans.

If there was any message in all this, it was much more animal-rights related: the humans are kept in zoos, experimented on, and hunted for fun by gorillas.

Interesting note: Boulle also wrote Bridge on the River Kwai.
posted by kanewai at 1:06 AM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I suppose your perspective on this is going to be informed by whether you are limiting yourself to the first film or taking in the entire series. If just the first film, then Zeius's position is arguably right, in that he was trying to protect apes from the same destructive technology that wiped out the humans, although it seemed pretty clear to me that apes were perfextly capable of developing their own parallel culture, with all the violence and cruelty of human culture, and so his efforts were likely to be in vain.

If you watch the entire series, Zeius is just part of a destructive cycle, a cycle that is not upended until Battle for the Planet of the Apes, in which humans and apes have learned to work together, and ape and human children are being raised as equal partners. The suggestion is that ignorance and subjugation of mankind does nothing but guarantee mutual destruction, while respect and cooperation is the only path that can create a shared future. From this perspective, Zeius couldn't have been more wrong.
posted by maxsparber at 3:01 PM on July 13, 2014

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