It may seem a bit odd to some that I am lumping Richard Linklater’s new masterpiece ‘Boyhood’ in with this weeks big blockbuster about a bunch of talking apes, but I think you will understand by the time I’m done. You see, the truth is that I think ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is every bit as good and every bit as important a piece of filmmaking as ‘Boyhood’. I also think that the bigger picture of both films is an attempt to tackle the very nature of humanity and dig as deep as possible into what it is to be human.
I know what you might be thinking. “How can a movie about apes be all about the nature of humanity?” Well, I will tell you my fellows homosapiens. It’s because both the apes and the humans in the film represent humanity. Yes, there is a lot of work done to make the apes move realistically and look absolutely perfect, but the nature of their development is akin to Neanderthals at the dawn of our own civilization. It just so happens that the dawn of the civilization in this film is that of the apes. That doesn’t change the fact that the men who wrote this film were human and the characters that they are representing on screen are reflections of themselves. And it is in this conceit that ‘Dawn’ truly becomes fascinating to watch.
In the beginning of the film we bare witness to the near extinction of humanity and learn that it was from a virus we attempted to create to cure Alzheimer’s (you would know this already if you watched ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’). Then we open on only the apes and their new world. The ape colony is lead by Caesar (Andy Serkis in his most brilliant motion capture performance yet) and his trusted soldier Koba (Toby Kebbel) in a forest outside San Francisco. We first see them hunt in a stunningly shot sequence that represents our introduction to this world. We soon watch them teach each other in makeshift schools and give their children common values. We see them love. We see them fear. In other words, we get a real sense of what it might have been like for any early civilization to flourish.
Then they run into a group of surviving humans and we get the other half of the puzzle. Human beings are alone. They are desperate. They are also afraid, but they are completely reliant on the technology that they have created to sustain themselves and have a hard time living in this new world without it. They are also a multi- dimensional group. Some, like Jason Clarke’s character Malcolm and his family (played by Keri Russell and Kodi-Smit McPhee), are intrigued by the apes. Others hate them for being different or blame them for the destruction of the planet.
It is once the humans arrive in the picture that the true depth of this film really begins to take shape. While Malcolm and Caesar are trying to work together to bring the lights back on at a local dam, Koba is stealing guns from the humans in order to get revenge for many years of torture at human hands. The metaphors for current political issues and general views of humanity are numerous. Koba’s revolution is largely a stick at gun control, but it also can be tied to Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of prisoners. The human against ape divide can be tied to tons of conflicts including America towards the Middle East or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hell, you could just connect it to any conflict that boiled down to the differences between cultures at any point in human history if you like.
My point here is that the film holds up a mirror to us in the form of these future apes and future humans. Then it asks us in the subtlest of ways to examine ourselves and our own nature by constantly juxtaposing the scenes of compassion with scenes of violence. This is the nature of our world and it has never been more clearly represented than in this film. It may be done in the type of way that you could easily dismiss it and enjoy the ride you are being taken on, but it is there for those who like a little depth with their popcorn.
‘Boyhood’ has that same level of depth, but it is much easier to discern the images in its mirror. As a matter of fact, part of its brilliance lies in the clarity of young life that it provides. Conceptualized by Richard Linklater over 12 years ago, the movie follows a child from the time he gets in grade school to the time he goes to college and everything in between. When done right this idea can always be enlightening, but never has a film ever been quite like this one. Part of the reason for this is the obvious fact that the young boy we are following, Mason, is played by the same actor for the entire film. That’s right, this film was filmed every year for 12 years in order to get what’s on screen.
There is no questioning that when we watch the same boy grow right before our eyes that it is unbelievably intimate. Growing up and growing old are 2 of the most important things we do in life and never has a film so vividly depicted the physical state of growing as this one does. Yet, without a brilliant script this would just simply be a neat gimmick. Luckily, Linklater is a fantastic writer and this film is equally interested in showing us the situations and conversations that shape a young boy into a man. It is in this writing that he manages to illuminate this psychically changing actor into a flesh and blood piece of the human experience.
Much of the nature of our humanity is discovered in the early years of life. So, the right coming of age story can truly show an audience more about what is inside themselves than most any other film genre around. ‘Boyhood’ does that 10 times over and also manages to just be an entertaining film that keeps its audience consistently engaged over the course of its near 3 hour running time. Oh, and don’t forget about the performances. The movie boasts wonderful performances from actors Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and many more as people who shape Mason’s life.
‘Dawn’ also boasts wonderful performances from it’s supporting cast and Gary Oldman is good enough in his few scenes that I was actually moved to tears at one point by him. I’m not sure why that should surprise me. Oldman is an amazing actor. Just like these movies. They are both amazing for their own reasons, but also for the same reason. You will learn more about the nature of your humanity watching these than most of the Oscar bait you are likely to get later this year and certainly more than in some class.
Then again, you could always just watch these movies to see cool shit on screen like digitilized apes talking or a kid morphing into adulthood before your vary eyes. Either way, you need to go out and see both of these movies over the course of the next few weeks. They are two of the best films of 2014 and they should be seen by as many people as possible. So, if you see them be sure to share your experience my friend. It is an experience you want others to have. I guanrantee it.
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