What if apes suddenly found themselves endowed with the same level of intelligence as human beings?
Perhaps you’ve heard of Koko. She’s the 43 year old kitten-loving gorilla whose trainers insist has learned to understand and communicate with humans through the use of American Sign Language. Of course, there are skeptics in the scientific community who question just how much Koko actually understands the gestures she is making, believing her actions to be a result of conditioning rather than comprehension.
Regardless of which side is correct, though, if Koko wants some attention, she signs for it rather than flinging her poop. That’s a step forward in interspecies communication any way you look at it.
One of the more interesting conversations folks have had with Koko was documented in George Page’s book, Inside the Animal Mind: A Groundbreaking Exploration of Animal Intelligence. When asked why gorillas die, Koko signed, “Trouble. Old.” And when asked where gorillas go when they die, she responded, “Comfortable hole. Bye.” Make of that response what you will.
The important thing to note, however, is that the question was asked to the ape, not by the ape. Never, to my knowledge, has there been a documented case of any animal querying a human, “Why am I here, what happens after I die, what does it all mean?” These are simply not questions that occupy an animal’s mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disparaging Koko’s ability to ask someone for a banana if she wants one, but it’s good to keep things in perspective.
But what if apes could have that kind of introspection? What if they suddenly found themselves endowed with the same level of intelligence and self-awareness as human beings? What kind of creatures would they become? Well, that’s some of the questions asked by the makers of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to 2011’s surprisingly good reboot of the nearly 50 year old film franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And not only do they take the time to ask the questions, they actually try to answer them in a sobering and intelligent manner.
The new film begins approximately ten years after the events portrayed in Rise. Since that time, the incurable plague now referred to as the “Simian Flu” has devastated the planet, leaving the remnants of the human population to scrounge for survival in powerless, deteriorating cities. The genetically-altered apes, on the other hand, are thriving. Having established a city of their own in the forests outside San Francisco, they now number in the thousands and live a relatively peaceful existence under the guidance of the wise and compassionate chimpanzee, Caesar.
However, not all is bliss. It doesn’t take long to realize that along with their human-like intelligence, the apes now have to deal with human-like problems as well. Along with the difficulties of establishing a new ape law (starting with, you guessed it, “ape not kill ape”), Caesar has to contend with a rebellious and resentful teenage son. Blue Eyes (ask your parents if you don’t get the joke), it seems, prefers the more beastial outlook of the human-hating Koba than he does his father’s more thoughtful and reserved approach to governing.
These tribal tensions are brought to the forefront when a small band of humans, led by the peaceful Malcolm, encroach on the apes’ territory hoping to repair a nearby hydroelectric dam and restore power to parts of San Francisco. Unfortunately, after one of the humans panics and shoots a young chimpanzee, Caesar orders the men to return to their city and never return. Fearing the humans’ desperation will drive them to come back anyway, and encouraged by Koba that a show of force is necessary, Caesar marches his army into San Francisco to show the humans what they will face if they disobey his directives.