In the 1968 film “Planet of the Apes,” Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) binds Dr. Zaius to a tree trunk that has washed ashore. He tells Dr. Zaius that he intends to learn what happened to the humans who once ruled the planet. The orangutan scientist, Chief Scientist and Defender of the Faith, warns Taylor, “If you do, you may wish you had not sought the truth.”
(Spoiler Alert: I am about to reveal the surprise ending of this forty-four year-old film. So if you have not seen it, you have been warned!)
Taylor pulls Nova onto his horse, and the two ride off along the beach. It is at Point Dume that the full impact of Dr. Zaius’ prophesy hits him. He has traveled for two thousand years before his ship crashed on this planet. He had believed that he was on another world, far away from Earth. But when he sees the Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand, he knows exactly where he is, and that his worst fears about humanity have proven true.
|"Uh, guys, wait up!"|
As they marched through the arid desert at the beginning of the film, Taylor told his fellow astronaut Landon that he accepted this mission because he hoped that, somewhere out there, there was “something better than man.” Taylor was fed up by the mixture of selfishness, greed, politics, and violence that prevents man from making the Earth into a utopia. So he travels into space, leaving everything behind, in the hope of finding a place where people truly care more about others than they do about themselves. Sadly, his greatest fear—that man would destroy himself—has proven true.
|"If you need some help, let me know!"|
Is Taylor right to be so cynical? Is Dr. Zaius right to condemn all of humanity for its record of violence against itself? At times, I side with them, choosing to believe that even those who perform good deeds do so for selfish reasons. I hold up the injuries others have caused me as proof of man’s inherent callousness. But then I have to ask myself: what am I doing to make the lives of those around me better? How much of my time, energy, and caring can I afford to give others, without slowing or halting my progress along my desired path?
|Proof of Apocalyse, or Utopia?|
Taylor and Dr. Zaius would point to all the mansions atop the cliffs as proof of man’s callousness, of how he allows his fellow humans to starve and suffer while he lives in luxury. I watch the scuba divers venturing into the ocean, the people rock-climbing, the children and parents playing together. Like Taylor, I pause with my life-companion before Point Dume. I acknowledge the validity of his beliefs, and recognize that his worst fears may yet come true. But perhaps he and Dr. Zaius may eventually be proved wrong. Perhaps, working together, we can all make this world into a utopia.
I’d like to be a part of that.