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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why don't the gorillas rule?

Saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes last night. It wasn't great, but it was entertaining, and had as plausible a plot line as one can expect from this type of movie.

Despite the obviously evolved intelligence of the chimpanzees, the point is made -- twice -- that chimp leaders ascend by virtue of sheer physical power. There are two fights between Caesar, the good chimp, and Koba, the evil one, to determine who will lead. Both times the other apes seem content to passively await the outcome.

My son asked the perfectly logical question: if might rules, why aren't the gorillas in charge? (The gorillas in the ape colony tend to fulfill more blue collar roles, sentries and the like.)

Given that Dawn is sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the filmmakers were obliged to show continuity. And the plot to Rise hinged on James Franco, as the compassionate scientist, adopting Caesar as a baby and affectionately cuddling him as he grew up. This would have been more awkward with a gorilla.

But it's hard not to think that some of this was also an outgrowth of some recent real life chimp attacks, the most publicized of which involved that unfortunate Connecticut woman who was mangled by her friend's pet chimp.

In Africa, the locals know full well that chimps, when given the opportunity, will kill and eat young humans. Chimps tend to bite off the face, fingers, and genitals of humans first, so their attacks are particularly gruesome.

Gorillas, on the other hand, kill rarely. Of course, there are far fewer gorillas than chimps, but even given that, gorillas, despite their more intimidating appearance, are simply less vicious. When confronted by a human, they are far more likely to bluff charge, or beat their chests, than actually attack. This is as befits a herbivore. (Chimps are omnivores, like us.)

So, maybe the underlying message of the movie is that it is not the most intelligent who rules, but the most vicious and dishonest.

In that sense, they are not so different from humans.


Mimi Black said...

And seeing as how you've nailed it, there's not much more to add without simply complicating the point. That's exactly how it is. Physical intimidation is simply a method, the brute force part is used only when the threats and mind games didn't work, and that doesn't always end well for the aggressor, but they'll try it if they can't accomplish their goal of domination and control with the other tactics. Those who are obsessed with being in control are the ones who fight for positions of control.

John Craig said...

Mimi Black --
Yes, exactly, which is why those who end up in control are always the worst possible people for the job (in response to your last line).

The human world is different than the world portrayed in "Dawn." But even with us, where it's theoretically all about mind games and cunning, the implicit threat of violence always gives the more fearsome-looking players a social edge.