Interspecies Connections in The Planet of the Apes Trilogy. Caesar and Nova as Mediators between Humans and Apes

Term Paper, 2021

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Rise of Primatology

3 Caesar as a Mediator in The Planet of the Apes Trilogy
3.1 Rise of the Planet of the Apes – The Escape
3.2 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Discussion with the Humans
3.3 War for the Planet of the Apes – Standing up for the Apes
3.4 War for the Planet of the Apes – Death

4 Nova as a Mediator in The Planet of the Apes Trilogy
4.1 Friendship with Luca
4.2 Feeding Caesar in the Army Base
4.3 Preparation for the Escape

5 Conclusion

Works Cited

Plagiarism Declaration

1 Introduction

“We [humans] continue to construct the so-called ‘species boundary’ which divides ‘us’ and ‘them’ [. . .]” (Tiffin 245). With this statement, Tiffin leads to the discussion of interspecies connections in The Planet of the Apes trilogy. Over the last years, primatologists and researchers rose awareness on the close kinship between human beings and apes. The reboot of the mentioned franchise contributes to an understanding of this relationship and the impact of humans on the development of apes. Moreover, it demonstrates in how far selected characters function as mediators between the two species.

Caesar, the main character of The Planet of the Apes trilogy, differentiates from the ape community due to his medically enhanced statues and former life with human beings. Nova, a mute girl, is one of the few human characters who sympathizes with the apes and takes their side. These two characters have completely different background stories. Yet, they both associate the human as well as the ape community. By introducing these characters, the sharp boundaries between the species melt and the close kinship between human and ape becomes more prominent.

This relation forms the basis for this paper which subsequently will prove, that Caesar and Nova can both be interpreted as mediators between humans and apes. Even though they do not share the same background story or genetic predispositions, they have a closer relation to both mentioned species than any other character.

This paper’s approach is to, firstly, embed the franchise in the scientific background. I will focus on my methodology and briefly introduce the framework of recent findings in primatology. For that, Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex as well as papers by Borkfelt and Call and Tomasello, regarding the concepts of othering, speciesism and the influence of humans on apes, will be included.

To prove my hypothesis regarding the characters of Caesar and Nova, seven scenes which demonstrate their special roles as mediators across the species will be analyzed. Contrary to novels or texts, films use a variety of techniques in order to illustrate the storyline instead of relying on the imagination of the reader (Korte 24ff.). My major aim in the analysis is to examine, how certain techniques like facial expressions or sounds create a meaning, namely that Caesar and Nova can be considered mediators between humans and apes. A final conclusion will sum up and evaluate the main results.

2 The Rise of Primatology

In this chapter, the paper’s framework and context will be presented. The current status of research in primatology gives the theoretical foundation for the following analysis. These findings will be connected to The Planet of the Apes trilogy.

That humans and apes share biological roots in evolutionary terms cannot be denied. In 1871, Charles Darwin already argued that “[n]o doubt man . . . has undergone an extraordinary amount of modification, chiefly in consequence of his greatly developed brain and erect position; nevertheless we should bear in mind that he is but one of several exceptional forms of primates (197)”. This makes clear that humans, who differentiate from other species due to their highly developed brains, language and evolutionary modifications, descend from one and the same roots as apes. Humans belong to the great ape group, just as chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas (Casanova 212). These breeds also appear in The Planet of the Apes trilogy.

However, despite these similarities, non-human animals like apes, generally become described as the ‘other’. Othering is a common process which happens within the species of Homo sapiens. Otherness focuses on differences between humans, e.g., marginalized or stereotyped groups, which excludes certain humans from each other. By creating a contrast to themselves, humans strengthen the definition of what they are. To describe non-human animals as the ‘other’ means that they are embedded in a deeper otherness than that of humans (Borkfelt 138). Borkfelt states that “[w]e simply tend to place non-human animals in an entirely different category from our human others” (138). Thus, it becomes evident that humans do not foster a sense of unity with non-human beings, e.g., apes. In this case, othering means to define a concept of what it means to be a human being. Moreover, using the term animal in order to describe all species apart from Homo sapiens is an evident example for generic naming with regard to the differences between the species defined by it. Humans exclude themselves from the term animal and view themselves as the opposite to it. As already stated above, humans are claimed to uniquely have qualities which the animal is consequently supposed to lack. Thus, the concept of the animal is negatively portrayed by those deficiencies (Borkfelt 138). Humans tend to think of themselves “as beings that are apart from nature, and we have created concepts such as culture and civilization, which allow us to define our societies and ourselves without viewing these as the mere nature of our species” (Borkfelt 139). Consequentially, humans consider themselves as superior to non-human animals, having the power to set up these definitions and separate themselves from other species (Borkfelt 139).

Ryder clarifies this by introducing the term of speciesism (309ff.). He points out that humans use animals for pleasure, science and other reasons: “[. . .] is it not now possible to develop humane alternatives to laboratory animals? . . . Cannot we create far more exotic textiles than the raped skins of creatures who have died in agony?” (332). Hence, the moral question with regards to the relationship between human and animal becomes evident. In the following analysis of The Planet of the Apes trilogy, this observation will be of great importance as the whole story arises from medical experiments with apes. Again, using these animals represents that the humans perceive themselves as superordinate and clearly define a border between theirs and other species. They do not contemplate trying medication on other humans as they classify apes as experimental animals.

The last aspect, which will be considered in this chapter, is the influence of humans on the cognitive development of apes. Humans take action in the life of apes at different stages and varied ways. Call and Tomasello define five categories in order to differentiate these apes (372). Wild apes spend their entire lives in their natural habitats. Only a few animals in The Planet of the Apes trilogy fit into this category. The majority of the apes are held captive, including zoos and laboratory settings. Apes who are nursery-raised are not trained by humans aiming at specific behavioral results. Yet, they are familiar with humans and their habits. Laboratory-trained apes are mostly raised in human captivity and have been trained in particular tasks such as, for example, Bright Eyes, who has been trained to complete the Lucas Tower. The last category describes home-raised apes like Caesar who are raised in a human cultural environment, including interactions and daily contact with them.

Call and Tomasello regard several studies and conclude that “[t]he cognitive development of apes is affected by contact with humans” (394). Being raised and trained by humans, apes learn about new objects, tools and their usage. They understand the relation between different objects and are trained to observe so-called object manipulation. Depending on their contact and training with humans, these skills become strengthened (Call and Tomasello 394). Especially home-raised apes may experience “a fundamental change in the social cognition . . . such that they begin to differentiate between means and ends in the behavior of others and thus view these others as intentional agents” (394). What follows is that these apes develop different domains of social learning and intentional communication due to this change and their strong socialization. Their socio-cognitive development significantly differs from apes who do not grow up with humans (Call and Tomasello 394). In The Planet of the Apes trilogy, Caesar very well represents this phenomena. He grew up with humans so that his behavior and social skills clearly contrast from the other apes being held captive. Caesar’s situation will be further discussed in the following chapters.

3 Caesar as a Mediator in The Planet of the Apes Trilogy

In this chapter, four scenes regarding Caesar’s role as mediator between humans and apes will be analyzed. For this, all three films of the trilogy will be considered in order to emphasize the development of his character throughout the storyline.

Caesar grew up with humans and inherited an experimental virus so that he shows signs of heightened intelligence and cognitive skills. Moreover, he feels a strong emotional affiliation with his human family. His medically enhanced status and experience with humans differentiate him from the apes at the primate shelter. Throughout the following scenes, it will become apparent how Caesar changed from the position of an outsider to the alpha of the apes, defending and leading them through several wars.

3.1 Rise of the Planet of the Apes – The Escape

Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 science fiction action film Rise of the Planet of the Apes follows the beginning of Caesar’s story, who was confined in captivity at a primate shelter. Soon, he wants to escape this place, making a well-prepared plan in order to free himself and the other apes. The first analyzed scene shows the escape of the apes and takes place at the beginning of the last third of the film (01:11:13).

The first establishing shot proves that the scene is set in the primate shelter and shows the apes who climb into their cages. At first, the camera follows Dodge, who closes the cages and turns his head towards the common ape area, squinting in confusion as he sees Caesar standing over there. Dodge is a character who very well represents, in how far humans feel superior towards apes as he is able to cage and torture them (Ryder 309 ff.). Through the grid, the camera takes a full shot of Caesar who keeps a straight face and watches Dodge without fear. In this sequence, the grid highlights the fact that Caesar and Dodge, representing ape and human, are separated from each other in terms of captivity. At this moment, a mystical, high tone, which creates tension, arises.

The camera then switches to Dodge at the area, and a close-up shows the electric cattle pod he is holding. A noise indicates that he just switched on this weapon, which he used several times against the apes in the past. This highlights that Dodge tries to fear Caesar with his cattle, knowing that it gives him power. Again, this action stresses that Dodge seems to hold sway over the apes, presenting them as the inferior species. The camera takes a medium shot of Caesar who focuses the cattle pod with a fixed gaze, knowing about the effect of this weapon. He clenches his fist after being verbally provoked by Dodge, indicating that he is serious and prepared to fight.

A close-up of Caesar’s face represents that he still does not change his expression, even though he becomes verbally threatened by Dodge, which represents his fearlessness. Dodge thrusts his cattle towards Caesar and tells him to go back to his cage, trying to fear him with his weapon. Yet, Caesar is just grunting in response, unimpressed. Dodge then uses his cattle to attack and insult him, as he did not get his will. Meanwhile, the apes are grunting and screeching behind bars, cheering Caesar on. The camera switches between close-ups of Caesar and Dodge fighting until Caesar grabs Dodge, who shouts at him to let him go. During this movement, the background sound climaxes in order to strengthen the tension, and Caesar says his first word: “No!” whilst staring down at Dodge.

The film then becomes quiet, highlighting the importance of this moment, and zooms in on close-ups of the faces of Dodge, Rodney and Buck. All three of them share the same facial expression with slightly opened mouths as they are blown away by Caesar speaking. At this moment, one aspect that divides the species of human and apes, namely the verbal human language (Casanova 212), melts. With a close-up of Caesar slapping Dodge, a vivid and nervous background music sets in. Caesar is breathing heavily, knits his brows and again screams: “No!”, walking towards the cages of the apes. Consequently, the screeches of the apes become even louder. He then locks Dodge in a cage and a close-up shows that he takes and throws his cattle on the floor, indicating that the tables have turned. The camera tracks Caesar as he frees the apes who are jumping around in their cages. He moves very purposeful, pushes his chest out and shows his teeth until he arrives at the cage of Rocket, representing his self-confidence. The camera stops and shows Rocket, who does not screech like the other apes, as he is not on good terms with Caesar. His facial expression is sorrowful as he watches Caesar with opened eyes. Caesar hesitates for a short moment but releases him as well, without paying him further attention. This proves that he does not leave anyone behind, relying on his code “Apes Together Strong”.

Then, Rodney, who did not intervene in the previous actions as he is afraid of the apes, appears at the cages. The camera switches between his fearful face and a full of shot of how he becomes attacked by the apes, indicating that they want to take revenge at the humans. Caesar is screeching and stops the apes from their action, helping Rodney up and pushing him into a cage. The camera shows their faces from medium shot and it is striking that Rodney is heavily shivering, looking downwards whereas Caesar stares at him with a strong facial expression. This shot proves that it is now the human who fears the ape instead of the other way around. Meanwhile, Dodge woke up and opened the cage. He looks at Caesar and runs up to a water hose without success. Thereby, the music again becomes louder and more vivid, indicating action. The camera tracks Caesar, followed by the other apes, as he walks up to Dodge, who sees and takes his cattle in the same moment. A close-up of his face shows him threatening the apes and pushing his cattle towards them. Caesar then turns on the water so that Dodge dies of an electric shock. The camera switches between a high angle shot, showing that many apes run up to Dodge, and a close-up of Rodney, shivering and staring at the actions in fear. It is striking that Caesar’s facial expression changes for the first time throughout the scene. He slightly opens his mouth, stares at the death body of Dodge and shows signs of remorse about his actions, which becomes clarified through the tragic music. Caesar then stares at a Gen-Sys label which was attached to a cage door, realizing the connection between the caged apes and the laboratory of his adoptive father, which becomes apparent through his sudden empty gaze.

The scene ends with the camera tracking Caesar through the primate shelter, who then climbs up the big tree and bashes through the glass dome together with the apes. A final long shot zooms in on the apes escaping from the primate shelter. This rebellion is highlighted through dramatic music and Caesar’s screeches (01:15:43).

This scene very well represents how Caesar became the alpha of the ape community through his intelligence and strong character. He implements his plan and knows how to overcome obstacles like Dodge. Caesar radiates strength and self-confidence so that he is being hailed as a hero among the apes. The fact that he carries the experimental virus gets together with his past, being a home-raised ape. Call and Tomasello already stated that these apes develop different domains of social learning and intentional communication, what makes Caesar very skillful with other beings (394). The apes observe and celebrate him starting the rebellion against the captivity. He literally becomes the voice of the apes by verbally expressing his first word: ”No!”. This stresses how he mediates between the two species and stands up for all his adherents, even though he became harassed by several apes. Moreover, it becomes apparent that he is a moral decision maker, a trait that he probably gained whilst living with humans. Instead of arbitrary killing all human beings, he spares Rodney, remembering that he did not hurt the apes. Furthermore, Caesar feels bad for unintentionally killing Dodge, even though he was mistreated by him. This stresses that Caesar has a sense of empathy, even for human beings, and remains level-headed, instead of being driven by anger.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Interspecies Connections in The Planet of the Apes Trilogy. Caesar and Nova as Mediators between Humans and Apes
University of Göttingen  (Seminar für Englische Philologie)
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interspecies, connections, planet, apes, trilogy, caesar, nova, mediators, humans
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Bauke Janssen (Author), 2021, Interspecies Connections in The Planet of the Apes Trilogy. Caesar and Nova as Mediators between Humans and Apes, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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