Evolving Intellect through Instinct: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

April 30, 2017

So I'm definitely a latecomer to this party, but I was pretty impressed with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I feel like it makes some astute depth psychological observations about human nature and the avarice behind some of mainstream biomedical scientific culture, so I thought I'd unpack a few of the more poignant moments here.  Early in the film, a fairly straightforward Freudian hermeneutic dawned on me:  ape = instinct; biomedical tech industry = intellect.  The plot line then follows what can be considered a “classical” psychoanalytic struggle between the intellect, which attempts to manipulate and control the instincts (symbolized by the apes), which then “return” as the “repressed” from out of their literal cages. 

 

There is a caveat here, however, that bucks Freud’s dictum of “where Id [instinct] was, Ego shall be.”  In this case, the Id – those primal sexual-emotional human instincts that so threaten the dominance and control of the intellectually oriented Ego – don’t simply “return,” they evolve.  In Rise, the instinctual apes, through a genetically modified mutation, take on the characteristics of their “maker” (i.e., the human intellect), but evolve beyond it – yet including it – in a “superhuman” integration of both intellect and instinct.  What makes the apes so powerful is that they retain their instinctual nature and yet integrate it with “human” consciousness.  Whereas their human creators operate from a purely scientific, rational expression, the apes “outgrow” their human counterparts through their ability to integrate both intellect and instinct, a healthy synthesis of Ego and Id.  It is through their integration that they emerge as “superior” to the one-sided (intellectual) consciousness that seeks to repress or deny instinct or affect.

 

This analytic hermeneutic is demonstrated through a variety of scenes:  first, in Caesar’s (the “leading” ape) ability to demonstrate on numerous occasions both empathy and cognition, as well as retain his “animalistic” instinctual nature.  Secondly, through the choice of San Francisco - tech capital of the world - as the urban backdrop for the film, contrasted with the more natural setting of the redwoods in Muir Woods.  As the returning repressed, the apes crash through office buildings throughout San Francisco’s financial district, destroying the technology which often flattens instinct, before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to “return” to a more natural instinctual environment among the redwoods.   

 

Depth psychologist C.G. Jung wrote often on what he believed was the “one-sided” nature of modern individuals.  To Jung, contemporary “Westerners” have developed the intellect at the expense of instinct and affect, and to the detriment of the more creative and primordial powers of the soul (and their associated archetypes). Rise speaks out of this depth psychological matrix with important lessons about allowing Jung's “million year old man” inside of us to have his (or her) say, lest those ancient powers have their way with us.

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