Touching Upon Boundaries. An Analysis of Interspecies Relationships in the Planet of the Apes Novel, its Cinematic Adaptations and Remake

Term Paper, 2019

34 Pages, Grade: 1,30



1. Introduction

2. Embedding the Texts: Historical and Cultural Frame
2.1 The Rise of Primatology
2.2 Addressing Contemporary Issues by Juxtaposing Ape and Human

3. Means of Separation
3.1 Intra- and Interspecies Hierarchies
3.1.1 Planet of the Apes (1963)
3.1.2 Planet of the Apes (1968)
3.1.3 Planet of the Apes (2001)
3.2 The Use of Language to Justify Speciesism
3.2.1 Planet of the Apes (1963)
3.2.2 Planet of the Apes (1968)
3.2.3 Planet of the Apes (2001)

4. Blurring Boundaries: Interspecies Connections
4.1 Ulysse and Zira (1963)
4.2 Taylor and Zira (1968)
4.3 Leo and Ari (2001)

5. Conclusion

Works Cited

List of Figures

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

“To linken human beings to beasts is to stress the animal within the man” (Jordan qtd. in Greene 50). This statement gets to the heart of the discussion about the relationship between apes and human beings in Pierre Boulle’s French novel La Planète des Singes /Planet of the Apes (1963), its first U.S.-American cinematic adaptation Planet of the Apes (1968) by director Frank- lin J. Schaffner and the homonymous U.S.-remake of 2001 directed by Tim Burton.1 In re- cent years, the rising awareness of human beings’ close kinship to other primates as well as the ongoing extinction of species2 have made it more relevant than ever before to study and, thus, preserve biodiversity of apes. The three texts mentioned above contribute to an under- standing of the development of human-ape kinship over the past decades by illustrating “the human in the animal and the animal in the human” (Balaschak 20) in unique ways.

Despite the texts’ vast variety of discourses, of which most have been discussed ex- tensively in the academic field, it is the aim of the present paper to focus solely on the ques- tion of how the relationship between the ape and human species is presented in PotA (1963), PotA (1968) and PotA (2001) with regard to the construction and challenging of limitations. The aim is to demonstrate that, despite the persistence of interspecies boundaries, the texts clearly progress in bringing the species closer together.

The paper’s approach is to, firstly, embed the texts in their historical and cultural environment by considering the impact of primatology and contemporary socio-political conflicts on the representation of the ape-human relationship. Then, attention is given to means of separating the species through the construction of intra- and interspecies hierar- chies and the use of language to justify speciesism in the novel, its adaptation and the remake. This exploration is followed by an analysis of how these boundaries are challenged by taking a closer look at the respective interspecies relationships between the male human protagonist and the female chimpanzee lead. Ultimately, the paper closes with a summary of the results and, additionally, gives a brief outlook into the possible future direction of the ape-human evolution and impulses for further research.

2. Embedding the Texts: Historical and Cultural Frame

Before diving into the analysis of the three texts, it is relevant to understand the zeitgeist which lays the foundation for the relationship between apes and humans to become a central theme of the novel and its adaptations. On the one hand, the representation of the human-ape relationship was significantly affected by the increasing global interest in primate studies. On the other hand, each text reflects its respective socio-political environment, for cultural con- texts naturally influence both diegesis and reception (Gräf 61-65; Krah 286-290; Titzmann 85f.). Additionally, the movies of 1968 and 2001 “look back” at the original content and “across” their contemporary culture (Herbert 50, 61-65, 81).3

2.1 The Rise of Primatology

Even though most ancient cultures shared the belief that apes were closely related to human beings, the idea of human superiority became prevalent with Aristotle’s scala naturae, a hier- archical order among species, and the upsurge of Christianity (Harari 121, 146f.; Kjærgaard 93; Pendreigh 18, 22; Porter 704f.; Wilkins 179). This misconception lasted up to the late 19th century’s “research revolution” in which Darwin’s theory On the Origin of Species (1859) high- lighted similarities between apes and humans and the discussion on human ancestry flour- ished (Kjærgaard 89f.; Stover 471; Woods 15). Researchers’ main interest was to discover the ‘ missing link ’, an archaeological “evidence that links us humans to the rest of the animal king- dom” from “the stage just after […] the great apes stopped evolving” (Kjærgaard 89-93; Scarre 59, 717). In the following decades, remains of Australopithecus africanus and ‘Lucy’, a bipedal Australopithecus afarensis, were found (Kjærgaard 90f.; Tattersall 26f.). The exhumation of the latter marked the zenith of primate studies as the ‘ missing link ’ and the “proof to dismiss a hierarchical structure of nature” into scientific redundancy (Kjærgaard 93, 102; Greene 4; Lo 266). However, the media perpetuated the ‘missing link’ as an allegedly unsolved prob- lem.4

Further studies of human and simian DNA revealed their close kinship as primates of the group hominidae, which consists of orang-utans and hominiae, meaning gorillas, chim- panzees and bonobos, and hominini: humans (Scarre 53). Therefore, primates, like all animals, “differ from one another in degree, but not in kind” (“It’s Time…” 0:09:46). The PotA -Saga features almost exclusively the ‘Great Apes’ orang-utans, gorillas and chimpanzees.5

It is believed that humans evolved between six and eight million years BP from the chimpanzee, the last common ancestor, and that symbolic language occurred approximately 70-80 thousand years BP with the beginning of the Anthropocene (Harari 117, 244; Pen- dreigh 187; Scarre 49, 51; Tattersall 213). Human language, however, remains an unsolved phenomenon. Although the human brain’s cognitive abilities are partially more evolved, there is no additional component which enables only humans to use language (Tattersall 220- 225).6 Going one step further, humans might even be called “degenerate monkey[s]” (Peirce qtd. in Halton 282), for “it is […] accurate to describe ourselves as apes and to speak of our divergence from other apes” (Scarre 51).

The similarity between primates is distinctive in their shared paradoxical traits of high sociality on one side and selfish deception and aggressiveness on the other (de Waal 0:01:06; Goodall 0:04:38; Greene 49; Lindner 129; Runciman 1, 5; Scarre 49, 51ff.; Wise 0:10:13). Especially chimpanzees display similar sociality and “hominid aggression” (Tattersall 53) to man, the “world’s top predator” (ibid. 57), hence chimpanzees deceive, hunt, kill and even eat other monkeys (Fallis 28f.; Harari 219; Tattersall 52; Wilkins 178f.). In the 2001-remake, the aggressive and powerful qualities of apes are plainly visible (Woods, Re-Imagined 166f.).7 This emphasis can partly be explained by the rising awareness that animals – especially apes – are sentient and cognitive beings due to the increasing public presence of the Animal- Rights-Movement (Beaudry 85; Fallis 28; Gruen 169; Lo 267; Timmerman 72f.). However, unlike its hypotexts, the remake does not address the issue of humankind’s rapid demo- graphic increase since the beginning of agriculture and its destructive environmental reper- cussions (Scarre 717; Woods, Re-Imagined 166).8

By exploring similarities and differences between apes and humans, a human self- identity is constructed, which suggests that “Western primatology has been about the con- struction of the self from […] the other9 ” (Haraway qtd. in Greene 4, 33). The fear of the ‘other’ might lead to the conception of the PotA -saga as a “negative utopia drawn from a Darwinian nightmare” (Shatnoff 58). Therefore, PotA reflects and comments on primatology as well as explores its cultural contexts through primate texts (Greene 6f.).

2.2 Addressing Contemporary Issues by Juxtaposing Ape and Human

Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes (1963) is a satirical French novel in which the role reversal of apes and humans and their relationship is used to comment on French politics and society of the mid-20th century (Pendreigh 11, 22, 104; Verevis 91; Woods 16). After the violent loss of colonies, anxiousness and racism spread across France (Porter 706). Porter states that Boulle’s “story of a ‘superior’ race (the humans; read: the French Caucasians)10 […] being taken over by an ‘inferior’ one (the apes; read: the North African Arabs […]), must have resonated powerfully in the political unconscious of a French person of 1963” (710). Having been a resistance-fighter during WWII in Indochina, Boulle “personal[ly] experience[d] […] humankind at its worst” (Woods 16). In the same decade, France was occupied by Nazi- Germany and de Gaulle’s ‘ force de frappe ’, the pursuit of French nuclear upsurge, contributed to the global tension (Porter 710). These political issues as well as the use of monkeys as test pilots in space or Pavlov’s experiments on dogs undoubtedly had an impact on Boulle’s novel (Hofstede 1f.; Woods 18f.).

Being produced only a few years after the novel, the U.S.-adaptation Planet of the Apes (1968) reflects upon U.S.-society from an anti-war stance (Balaschak 21f.; Greene 10f., 36, 48; Hofstede 16; Pendreigh 11; Strank 66; Woods 25).11 The fear of a nuclear catastrophe escalated during the Cold War after the massacres of the ‘Tet-Offensive’ and ‘My Lai’ in Vietnam earlier in 1968 (Greene 8; Frey 160ff.; Leong 9; Lindner 118; Pigliucci 62f.; Stover 471; Strank 125) and what had begun as a French conflict, resulted in the U.S.A.’s first mili- tary defeat (Frey 9-12, 18). The film not only challenges U.S.-expansion in an early scene in which astronaut Landon plants a U.S.-flag into the surface of the ‘unknown’ planet (fig. 1), it also references a Vietnamese agent called ‘Lucius’ in an epon- ymous young revolutionary chimpanzee12 (Frey 16) and, ulti- mately, displays a post-nuclear- war dystopia13. In this time of global turmoil, ‘enemies’ were frequently subordinated to “an- imals with whom one could not speak or reason”, as one U.S.-soldier describes his Vietnam- experience (Balaschak 8, 19). The ‘animalisation’ of humans was similarly used for African- Americans during the Civil Rights Movement (Greene 8; Leong 9; Lindner 118; McHugh 46; Strank 125).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

fig. 1

The movie’s approach to respond to contemporary socio-political issues is repre- sentative of “New Hollywood”-cinema, which frequently borrowed from French sources (Leitch 38). It also introduced ‘twist-endings’ by “replacing the supposed diegesis with the actual diegesis” (transl. Strank 123f.). In PotA (1968), the twist-ending reveals that the ape- planet is Earth (1:45:59); thus reverses the cultural memory of the Statue of Liberty, a French gift, into a symbol of U.S.-America’s failed foreign policy (Farber 60; Hofstede 21; McGinney 223f-225; McHugh 45, 63; Verevis 92) . The ending-scene likewise unfolds the anti-heroism of its protagonist, who is being played by Charlton Heston, “the perfect American Adam” (Kael qtd. in McHugh 43). Consequently, the film ‘retells’ US-history and demonstrates that the wold’s problems cannot be escaped (Greene 8, 53; McHugh 58).

Persistent anti-Darwinism was yet another source of conflict, for accepting evolu- tionary theory was not only regarded an ‘offence’ and “threat to human uniqueness” (Kjærgaard 93, 96f., 98ff.; Pendreigh 9), but also meant that using apes as proxies for tests and experiments would no longer be morally justifiable (Gruen 169; Pendreigh 183). The movie refers to this refusal of scientific evidence in the courtroom scene that reminds of the 1920s “Scopes Monkey Trial”, in which a teacher was charged for teaching evolutionary the- ory (Huss ix).

Even though in 2001 part of the U.S.-population was still not convinced, the evolu- tion of mankind was no longer a focal point of cinematic interest. Instead, the Planet of the Apes -remake reflects upon apes and humans as both social and ruthlessly self-serving crea- tures (Woods, Re-Imagined 161; 167f.). Unlike its hypotexts, PotA (2001) introduces a post- war equality among apes and humans by rejecting any distinction between the species’ graves (1:45:42; Lindner 123) (fig. 2). This approach suggests that insights of primatology as well as the thriving discussion on animal rights14 had become of greater interest in cultural awareness after the threats of post-colonialism and nuclear war had been repelled (Lind- ner 124; Strank 235).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

above: fig. 2 / below: fig. 3

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Yet, had the movie not been published prior to the 9/11 attacks, it might have kept the tradition of emphasising on a political message, for it also ‘remade’ the twist-ending. The latter is visualised in a shot of the Lincoln Memorial with the features of ape-general Thade (fig. 3), which is both a reference to the visual as well as the cultural content of the earlier film (Greene 1; Lindner 126; Taylor 113; Verevis 95f.). Furthermore, the remake thematises the heavily discussed issue of violence in relation to U.S.-American gun-control as well as a “cat- alogue of millennial anxieties” (O’Hehir qtd. in Verevis 94).15 Therefore, political and social issues re-appear in the 2001-version for “society of the 21st-century still struggles with war, race relations, class conflict” (qtd. Hofstede 20; Greene 186; Leong 9).

Consequently, the representation of the relationship between humans and apes, is influenced by the respective historical and cultural environment of the texts.

3. Means of Separation

The creation of intra-ape hierarchies as well as interspecies ones between apes and humans are used as means of separating one species from another. Particularly the presence, resp. absence, of language is used to justify speciesist thought and action patterns.

3.1 Intra- and Interspecies Hierarchies

3.1.1 Planet of the Apes(1963)

Intra-ape society is explained by chimpanzee scientist Zira as follows: “There are three dis- tinct families, […] each of which has its own characteristics: chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. The racial barriers that used to exist have been abolished […]. Today, in princi- ple, there is no difference […] between us” (127). Her description conveys the idea of a “pluralistic pan-ape society” (McHugh 54) without intraspecies hierarchies. However, the theoretical equality is restricted, because “each species confines itself to its own speciality” (150). The “Simius sapiens” (ibid. 129) thus is divided into “social classes” (Woods, Origins 17), in which nearly all apes exhibit species-specific characteristics and occupations.

Furthermore, a clear hierarchy exists among simian species (100), in which dominant gorillas form the “most powerful class” (150). Although gorillas occupy positions of might and authority as ‘businessmen’, it is pointed out that they are also the least intelligent apes (150f.). This notion is conveyed in the short, but significant assertion: “He’s a gorilla. He’s dumb.” (237). Gorillas of the ‘labouring class’, however, are involved in manual work and hunting due to their physical strength and pugnacity (100f., 128, 151).

Orangutans, the least numerous, are characterised by outstanding memory and liter- acy, which qualifies them as ‘replaceable’ members of the “Official Science” (128, 152f.). Their conservative stance as well as their reputation for being “pompous, solemn, pedantic, devoid of originality and critical sense” (151) contributes to their stubbornly speciesist be- haviour, which includes clinging to scientific and religious dogmas and denying new scientific insights (127, 141, 153).

Chimpanzees, in contrast, are presented as innovative “great thinkers” (126, 147f.). In relation to research, they “represent the intellectual element” (153) hence their critical thinking enables them to make “great discoveries” (153f.). In intra-ape hierarchy, they are treated as slightly inferior to orangutans (Greene 32). Although exceptions exist, apes usually act in conformity to their intra-simian boundaries by e.g. choosing a partner of the same species (130).

In terms of interspecies hierarchy, apes are ‘above’ human beings and other animals. This order, which turns Aristotle’s scala naturae upside down (Pendreigh 25), is accepted by protagonist Ulysse (126; Woods, Origins 17), for simian superiority is justified by Zira’s theory that “[a]pes and men are two separate branches that have evolved from a point in common […], the former gradually developing to the stage of rational thought, the other stagnating in their animal state” (127). Due to the belief that “[a]pe is […] the only one possessing a mind” (216), humans are regarded as inferior mindless creatures that can be mistreated. The juxta- position between the 20th-century technology of the simian civilisation and the mute, animal- istic humans (30-35) creates a remarkable gap between the species (Porter 710), which places human beings closer to other animals, such as horses, which are used for sports, than to fellow primates.

3.1.2 Planet of the Apes(1968)

The first film takes a retrograde step, for apes are more strictly separated than in the novel. The novel’s theoretical equality is replaced with a racist ape society “mirror[ing]” U.S.-society (Schaffner qtd. in Greene 36). Segregated by colour and profession, “racial ‘marking’” (Snaed qtd. in McHugh 50) re-defines the subspecies hierarchy.

Pale orangutans, who think themselves superior to others (0:35:52), have not only risen to the on top of the intra-simian hierarchy (Greene 24; McHugh 53; Pendreigh 105), but are also more “manipulative and shrewd” (Greene 30) than their literary counterparts.

The role of chimpanzees as in-between mediators is further stressed (McHugh 24, 51). They remain critical (ibid. 65f.) and operate “as pacifists, intellectuals, scientists”16 (Greene 31).

Unlike its adapted source, PotA (1968) places black gorillas at the bottom of inter- ape hierarchy (Leong 9; McHugh 41, 51ff.; Pendreigh 105). Being “excluded from positions of social power” (McHugh 52), gorillas are reduced to their physical strength, as they form the military (Greene 29f.) and the impersonal “collective agency force” (McHugh 53). This “racism among apes” (Hofstede 20) resembles the happenings in U.S.-society during the Civil Rights Movement (McHugh 52). Besides gorillas, also horses are (dyed) black, which marks them as inferior “racial animals” (ibid. 41). Thus, “visual blackness connects the go- rillas and horses as other animals” (ibid. 59) (fig. 4). Although screenwriter Serling originally planned on displaying 20th-century technology (Woods, Origins 36, 42), a less technologically advanced ape-civilisation than in the novel was ultimately chosen for financial reasons (Hof- stede 5; Leong 8). This meant that horses were further downgraded as means of transporta- tion. In terms of interspecies hierarchies, another consequence of the ape-society’s back- wardness and the depiction of sparsely clothed humans, is that the primate species are “closer together on the evolutionary scale” (Pendreigh 106).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

fig. 4


1 Hereafter, the following abbreviations are used: Planet of the Apes (1963): PotA (1963), Planet of the Apes (1968): PotA (1968) and Planet of the Apes (2001): PotA (2001).

2 The number of chimpanzees, for instance, decreased from approx. 1 million individuals in 1999 to less than 150,000 in 2007 (Goodall 0:19:03).

3 Particularly remakes are rather a “transculturation” (Lindner 25), a ‘translation’ of their sources, than a mere copy (Heinze and Krämer 12f.; Leitch 56). To alleviate “‘interpretative doubling’”, the process of “juxtaposing the [remake] with the earlier [movie]” (Lindner 24, 119), the 2001-remake was instead advertised as a “re- imagining” of Boulle’s novel (Lindner 31, 128ff.; Pendreigh 6, 192; Taylor 99; Verevis 10; Weinstock 15; Woods, Re-Imagined 161) by emphasising the individuality of auteur Burton (Hills 179; Lennard 217; Taylor 113; Verevis 10).

4 This led to the emergence of “anthropological science fiction [movies]” (Stover 472). Being one of the first of this genre, PotA (1968) also features the idea that human protagonist Taylor is the ‘missing link’ of simian evolutionary theory (0:49:39; Woods 23; Kjærgaard 95-98, 100).

5 The French term ‘singe’ in Boulle’s novel (1963) refers to apes and monkeys. With the publication of the adaptation, the English title was altered from Monkey Planet into Planet of the Apes as only higher primates occur in the texts (Pendreigh 18).

6 Waller, disregarding anatomical differences, suggests that unwillingness rather than cognitive inability prevents apes from using language (25f.). This belief is also presented by the novel’s protagonist as a scientific fact (79, 211) and featured as a hypothesis in the remake (0:54:56).

7 Generally, the deviousness of the simian characters in the PotA- films increases. However, the first movie euphemises apes by stating in the ‘Sacred Scrolls’ that “the beast Man [human] […] alone among God’s primates […] kills for sport or lust or greed.” (1:38:25), which is scientifically incorrect, for arbitrary killing is a common primate trait (Greene 51; Halton 282).

8 The issue of human demography is briefly touched upon in the novel (155) and the apes’ ‘Sacred Scrolls’ of the first movie: “Let him [the human] not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours.” (1:38:41). One of the PotA -sequels reveals that the scrolls were written by Caesar, the son of Zira and Cornelius (Ward 141).

9 ‘Other’ meaning ‘ape’ in this case.

10 All humans featured in the novel are presumably Caucasian (McHugh 41).

11 Zanuck (20th-century Fox) denied the film’s socio-political message possibly due to nondisclosure of director Schaffner and associate producer Abrahams (Pendreigh 6f., 11).

12 Lucius claims to be “from the office of Animal Affairs”, which refers to the rise of animal protection in the U.S.A. (1:17:06).

13 The atomic devastation is revealed in the ending scene in which Taylor exclaims “You maniacs! You blew it up!” (1:46:10).

14 Ape-antagonist Thade mentions the pertinacity of the “human [animal] rights faction” (0:23:31).

15 Chapter 3.2.3. elaborates on this topic.

16 Moreover, Greene perceives the chimpanzee-class in accordance with the Jewish community in the U.S.A. (31).

Excerpt out of 34 pages


Touching Upon Boundaries. An Analysis of Interspecies Relationships in the Planet of the Apes Novel, its Cinematic Adaptations and Remake
University of Passau  (Professur für Anglistik/Cultural and Media Studies)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
remakes, media studies, film analysis, Planet of the Apes, Human Animal Studies, Primatology, Interspecies, Speciesism, Darwin, evolution, USA, Hollywood, cinema, remake
Quote paper
Christina Haupt (Author), 2019, Touching Upon Boundaries. An Analysis of Interspecies Relationships in the Planet of the Apes Novel, its Cinematic Adaptations and Remake, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Touching Upon Boundaries. An Analysis of Interspecies Relationships in the Planet of the Apes Novel, its Cinematic Adaptations and Remake

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free