Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens tomorrow, August 5th. Does it have anything important to say about human enhancement and/or animal uplift?
I went to the preview screening thinking Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be another anti-enhancement, “All scientists are Frankensteins trying to cheat nature” movie. But it caught me off guard, and I have rarely been so happy to be wrong.
The film treats the viewer to an entertaining exploration of animal rights, what it means to be human, and what’s at stake when it comes to enhancing our minds.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is told from the perspective of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimp who is exposed to an anti-Alzheimer’s drug, ALZ-112, in the womb. ALZ-112 causes Caesar’s already healthy brain to develop more rapidly than either a chimp or human counterpart.
Due to a series of implausible but not unbelievable events, Caesar is raised by Will Rodman (James Franco), the scientist developing ALZ-112. Rodman is in part driven the desire to cure his father, Charles, (played masterfully by John Lithgow) who suffers from Alzheimer’s. As Caesar develops, his place in Will’s home becomes uncertain and his loyalty to humanity is called into question. After being mistreated, abandoned, and abused, Caesar uses his enhanced intelligence as a tool of self-defense and liberation for himself and his fellow apes.
That cognitive enhancement is a way of seeking liberty is a critical theme that gives Rise of the Apes a nuance and depth I was not anticipating. Though the apes are at times frightening, they are never monstrous or mindless. Though they are at times violent, they are never barbaric. Caesar and his comrades are oppressed and imprisoned—their enhancement is a means to freedom. There is less Frankenstein and more Flowers for Algernon in the film than the trailer lets on. It’s an action film with a brain.
If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the beginning of a new series, I for one am excited by the potential for complexity and exploration of humanity and enhancement in the coming films.
What do you think about animal uplift? In response to this provocative new movie and Kyle’s article above, along with George Dvorsky’s article here, IEET has just posted a new poll for our readers. Give us your opinion!
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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