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The Anger of Apes and Humans} ?> I admit it—I struggle with road rage. It was particularly out of control when I first received my license as a teenager. While I was driving one evening, a car turned into my lane unexpectedly. I changed lanes and hit the gas, intending to pull up next to the driver and, uh, show my displeasure. But before I could do so, the elderly woman behind the wheel waved an apologetic hand toward me, and in that instant, I calmed down and realized how inexplicably angry I had become. I waved back and went on my way.
Whenever I’m behind the wheel now, I remember that incident. I try to become a calmer driver, one who doesn’t need a wave to remind me to be kind on the road. But it remains a challenge for me to respond with grace when I feel wronged. Anger is easier, and satisfying in the moment—an emotion Caesar, the protagonist in the Planet of the Apes reboot, is intimately familiar with.
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the previous film in the trilogy, Koba, a bonobo who is unable to forgive humans for the experiments they conducted on him, sets the impetus for war between humans and apes. Though he died in that movie, his specter continues to haunt Caesar as he finds himself becoming more and more like Koba. In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar chooses to hunt down the Colonel, who had murdered his family. Caesar leaves his tribe defenseless by doing so. As violence escalates, Caesar, having always been the ironic picture of what humanity could be rather than what it is, grows angrier and angrier. After one of his comrades, Luca, is killed, he declares that the humans must pay, to which Maurice, his thoughtful friend and trusted adviser, responds, “Now, you sound like Koba.”
Later, Caesar begins to realize that his vengeance is destroying him, admitting, “Maurice was right. I am like Koba. He could not escape his hate. And I still cannot escape mine.” He later sees that the hatred is not only affecting him, but his loved ones as well. Without Caesar’s leadership, his tribe (including a young son) is captured and enslaved. Caesar is heartbroken.
Caesar becomes so laser-focused on how he’s been wronged, he forgets that his own desire for comeuppance can spread like a disease. Those around us are affected, emotionally and physically, by the way we react to stress. When anger distracts us from all else, we put those closest to us at risk of being ignored or unprotected.
The disease of bitterness and ungrace spreads within as well. It corrupts my perception of the world and feeds my pride. I paint the person who is the object of my ire as evil, as someone who wants to inflict pain upon me. I see him as an enemy instead of a human who makes mistakes. I treat her as something less. They might as well be animals.
The Planet of the Apes trilogy asks great questions. Do we treat each other as humans? And what is it that makes us human?
At one point in the film, Caesar’s squad comes upon a human girl who is mute due to a simian disease, one that the Colonel believes must be eradicated. Caesar insists they leave the girl behind, but Maurice answers, “I understand, but I cannot leave her,” reminding his friend that she is not the enemy, nor are the apes inhuman, not as long as they treat others with kindness and compassion.
I think Caesar remembers this decision to save the girl, who later plays a critical role in helping the apes, when he confronts the Colonel and has his chance to exact vengeance. The scene makes me wonder, is Caesar more human than the Colonel? Or by this point, are they both animals? In considering what he’ll do, Caesar asks his enemy, “Is there anything left of you to save?” There may not be—the Colonel is too far gone both mentally and physically—but Caesar can still be redeemed. The Colonel dies after their confrontation, but by his own hand, not Caesar’s; Caesar made the decision to spare his enemy.
Hatred begets hatred, creating a cycle of bitterness. You don’t have to look past the news headlines to see it, but I prefer to look inside myself and remember how acting in anger has impacted myself and those around me. Every time I choose grace over anger, it gets easier, because I know the peace that follows and long for it. I want there to be parts of me left to save.
Recently, on a snowy evening, a young man ran a red light and slammed into me. I pulled over, left my car, and walked up to his, not really sure what I intended to say or do. As he exited his own car, I could tell he was clearly shaken. I think I surprised both him and myself when I put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Don’t worry. It’ll be alright.”
I’ve come to realize that people will hurt me and that it’s out of my hands. What I can control is how I react. Whatever side we’re on—perpetrator or victim—we’re all just humans, after all.
He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.
A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.