I remember sitting in a theater, watching Dances With Wolves. Behind me was an obnoxiously stupid woman who chitchatted throughout the film, and became especially noisy during one scene. There is a moment where Wind In His Hair and John Dunbar meet for the first time; Costner’s white settler is holding a gun at the native Wind In His Hair, who is shouting defiantly “Do you see that I am not afraid?” in response.

It is a tense moment, and during it the woman behind me whispered fearfully, “Oh my God, shoot him. Shoot him. Shoot him-shoot-him-shoot-him!”

It took all my self-control to not turn around and yell, “Will you shut the FUCK up?”

Obviously, Costner did not fire his gun, and the two men become friends over the course of the film. The whole movie is a study in communication between strangers, and how solving problems through relating to others is better than force.

I thought of that scene during Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In ‘Apes,’ the path to war is set in motion when a human named Carver runs into two apes in a forest. It is a moment somewhat like in ‘Dances,’ only with the completely opposite outcome; Carver, a fearful and stupid person, shoots and kills one of the apes. Where Costner was reserved and patient, Carver was panicky and impulsive. Carver is the kind of person who only looks out for himself. He doesn’t trust anyone or anything but his own instincts, which is unfortunate because his character doesn’t have the brainpower enough to warm a piece of bread, much less handle complex situations.

Over the course of the movie, Carver’s ability to grasp reality never expands; he is continually behind the curve when it comes to what is happening, and what he believes. During one scene, it is explained to him (and the audience) that scientists experimenting on apes in a lab created the disease that wiped out most of humanity. This disease got the name ‘Simian Flu,’ but apes didn’t spread it, and apes were not the host. The disease was entirely man-made, and man-spread. This fact didn’t matter to Carver; he heard ‘Simian Flu’ and blamed apes for the downfall of mankind, facts be damned. The “Carver character” works so well in the movie because he is all too real, and people like him walk among the rest of us.

The crux behind ‘Apes’ is that individual characters can hurt the whole. On both sides of the coin—among humans and in the ape colony—misguided individuals think what they believe is more important than what is beneficial to all. Some humans don’t trust the apes; some apes don’t trust the humans. Instead of conversation, these weaker, less intelligent characters call for violence. When you remove ‘apes’ from the equation and insert ‘religion’ or ‘country,’ it becomes a mediation on how all of humanity can be shaped or driven by the weakest and least intelligent of the herd. The idea “A single drop of poison ruins all,” if you will.

When you relate it to politics today, you see that a minority of tea baggers, people so incoherently clueless they believe destroying America is the only way to “save” it, currently controls the Republican Party. When you relate it to religion, a minority of Muslim terrorists create enough fear that the entire religion is looked upon with suspicion. Translate it to disease, and anti-vaxxers who ignore scientific fact present a threat to the whole of the populace. In each case, the minority can (or does) inflict great damage upon the whole simply because they champion ignorance above all else.

Several days before seeing the movie, I interacted with a real-life ‘Carver,’ a man who, in 2014, still believed America invaded Iraq because Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Obviously that was never the case and has been disproven repeatedly over the years, but in the run up to the 2003 invasion “9/11” was trumpeted from the rooftops and broadcast from the airwaves. It is a perfect example of population control: you repeat a lie often enough, and the dumb will believe it. This means 1984 wasn’t just a great read, it was prophetic.

(“We have always been at war with Eastasia.”)

The real-life ‘Carver’ exposed his cluelessness regarding the world around him, but could parrot talking points like nobody’s business. When presented with facts on the economy, “Lower taxes!” was shouted. When Iraq was discussed, “9/11!” When presented with the state of tax rates over the past few years, he had no comeback other than to double down on his particular political fetish. When presented with facts regarding trickle-down economics, and the current state of affairs in Kansas, who had just cut taxes to nil, lost massive amounts of revenue, had their credit rating demoted, and was running severe budget shortfalls, silence was the response. Not because he was mulling over the facts presented to him, but because there was no point in discussing facts. What he believed had to be true, all evidence to the contrary. This same willful ignorance happens when Christians are told “Not all Muslims are terrorists,” and when anti-vaxxers are told “Jenny McCarthy is a fucking idiot and vaccinations do not cause autism.” It doesn’t matter what the facts are, they know in their heart and gut that they’re right. No matter how wrong they are.

I wonder what these people think when they see themselves on screen. I wonder if they recognize themselves in the most ignorant of screen characters. The woman sitting behind me in Dances With Wolves was crying at the end of the film; she sobbed as Wind In His Hair shouted, “Do you see that I am your friend?” Maybe the movie touched and changed her just a little. I don’t know.

Maybe others don’t think anything at all while watching the screen flicker. They just want to be amused and entertained.

Maybe they agree with the actions of the dumb, and think, “I would’a shot him, too.”

How sad.

 

Post Script: For the record, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a horribly boring movie. Yes, it has moments of character study, but overall it isn’t worth your money. I won’t give a movie review here, but Vince over at FilmDrunk sums it up nicely. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I agree with enough of the points to say, “Yeah, ‘Apes’ is not a good movie.”

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