Rupert Wyatt's 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes': A Genuine Touchstone
by Brandon Lee Tenney
August 3, 2011
Every once in a while there comes a film that is yours and yours alone. It was made for you. Almost as if the writers, director, and the rest of the cast and crew peeked inside your head, pulled out those memories and experiences and regrets and ideas that you might not have ever shared or spoken out loud and placed them with delicate fingertips amid a chronology of a film that, surprisingly, others, too, are able to see. Lots of others, all over the world. And so a film that, once, might have only existed in shades of shadow, intangible, only watchable via daydream or nightmare, is being projected in front of you. And then you're watching a story that, to you, is damned personal. Is raw and secret. Is yours.
But it isn't. They don't know me anymore than I know them—less, even. But that experience, the feeling of recognition of one's self via any artistic medium, is the reason I watch movies. I'm looking for a piece of myself. I found a whole lot of myself in Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. So much of what I care about is there in the script and up there on screen. So much, in fact, that it's an impossibility for me to talk about the film outside of the sphere that is me. Sure, every review or experience with a movie is subjective. But mine with this one... it goes beyond subjective. It's instinctive.
So this isn't a review, really. It's a platform for me to talk a bit about those films that mean the most to us: Touchstones. And why they're touchstones at all. It just so happens that the most recent of these is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. So it's through that film that this will be focused. Every film I've felt this strongly about has shared key components. They all have in them one or more of the defining moments of my own life. They are all able to elucidate a memory—though differently—more vividly than I even remember it myself. As only movies can do, of course. And, finally, every one of my touchstones has, in one way or another, utilized my own nostalgia.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes centers around a story of one man doing all he can to cure his father's suffering due to Alzheimer's. The reason I write, the reason I am who I am, the cause I'm most passionate about is Alzheimer's disease. I watched my grandfather suffer and deteriorate much the same way James Franco's Will Rodman watches John Lithgow's Charles Rodman suffer. Watching my father watch his father changed me. Witnessing my grandfather forget him, my dad, then remember a glimpse, then become angry at himself, then project that anger and impotence and lack of control onto my dad... not quite understanding why my grandpa didn't know me anymore... knowing him, loving him, having these memories and being unable to share them anymore. That sort of biological theft is unimaginable and I saw it happen right in front of me and I was powerless. I was weak.
And then there were all of those complicated emotions and themes up there in this movie. There was my grandfather. My father. Me. And it was so fully realized. So true. And Will Rodman was doing these things that I simply can't do, couldn't do. I'm no scientist. But I wanted to be. And now I can be. Through him. And he is doing them for all of the same reasons why I do what I can do to cope.
It's exciting to see one's self up there in lights. And even in a film that was my most anticipated of this year, it was a surprise. That connection layered atop my already intense love for the first film series my father showed me. Those apes. I loved them! I did not expect such a strong wave of nostalgia from this contemporary reboot of the franchise. I did not expect the amount of fan service and continuity and faithfulness to a canon I care far too much about. But it's there. In the same way the Star Wars prequels answers questions in a way that we didn't really need or care to know, Rise of the Planet of the Apes does the same and the opposite. It answers the question: Why? And it nails it. It's great. If I could tell six-year-old me the answer this movie told me in the theatre, six-year-old me would high-five me with a smile ear to ear.
I don't expect this from every film. Really, I don't expect this from any film, but there's a lot of mediocrity this summer. There's a lot of hate out there. And who's to say that some positivity, some passion, some un-ironic sincerity can't travel just as far? Shouldn't it travel farther?
...I've typed this in a flurry. And I, to be perfectly honest, don't even know what my point is. I don't have a grand conclusion beyond wanting you to see this movie. Hoping that you might feel a bit of what I felt. But, mostly, I just want to encourage this passion and connection to movies in general. There's a lot of cynicism out there. Hell, there's a lot of cynicism in me. But this is entertainment at its base. They're movies. They're escape. Sometimes, they're art. But every so often, most of the time when you least expect it, one can be your touchstone. Your own. I just hope you'll be open to it when that first frame flickers on in front of you. And you'll be brave enough to embrace it as it will embrace you.
So what are your touchstones and why? And how do you even attempt to explain to others that just can't feel what you feel? Do you even care to? Me, well, I obviously do. And I hope, maybe, I did.