Why Do We Fear Death?

O’ Death, O’ Death, won’t you spare me over ’til another year?

John Cygan as Silas Greaves (Call of Juarez: Gunslinger – 2013)

Humans have coping mechanisms for pretty much everything. When it comes to traumatic experiences, these coping mechanisms can unfortunately prove to be counterproductive. For most of us, we are rarely ever prepared when someone we love passes away. The human brain will do anything in its power to avoid sadness. One example of this phenomena is upon the event of the death of someone you love, or even after a breakup.

I have never experienced this myself, as when I did experience a death in my family, I was too young at the time to comprehend what actually happened. However, I have experienced situations where my selfish desires to ignore my pain ended up only pushing people away who only wanted to help me. Often times, when we go through something that hurts us, we will do anything we can to stop ourselves from feeling that pain. Sadly, there’s nothing we can do to change the flow of time, and there’s nothing we can do to stop death from occurring. Some films have used this philosophy in their story, to great success.

The Life of Death, The Shallows, and Triangle all tell similar tales of individuals unwilling to accept the truth, and how they find that truth by letting go of the pain that is plaguing them.


The Life of Death


In this film, our main character isn’t an animal, but Death himself. We see Death follow a number of different animals. When he tries to interact with them, they die instantly. Death never fully considered the impact of his actions until he meets an elegant deer, whom he falls in love with. Unfortunately however, this happiness is short-lived, as it becomes clear that this relationship just won’t work given the circumstances.

Yet, even when the deer knows what’s going to happen, she still reciprocates that love even when she knows that by doing so, she will meet her end.

Death and his new love meet in a short embrace, then she falls to the floor at his feet, totally deceased.

It is a beautiful representation of the harsh truth of our short existence. Death is something we cannot control. It is an inevitable consequence of existence that every living being must go through. Death is only scary because we don’t understand it. Some people have gone as far to say that entire religions were developed, purely to stow this common fear by hinting at the possibility of an afterlife.

When we don’t understand something, we try to rationalize it. This, however, is something that can’t be rationalized. Every single one of us is going to die at some point. The only way to fight something that you can’t understand, is to embrace it for what it is, and accept that you are never going to understand it.

This could even be compared to Pi’s adventures with Richard Parker in Life of Pi. He learned that atheism was something that he needed to embrace. Pi knew that the only way to give to God every last drop of his faith, was to believe in him in the absence of evidence. To let your guard down and allow yourself to be vulnerable in the face of darkness and nothingness is true bravery.

The only way you can come to terms with death, is to respond with love, just like any other part of your life. Death is a part of life, YOUR life. If you want to love yourself, then you’ll embrace every step of your journey just as much as the last.


The Shallows


After a recent re-watch, I definitely feel that I was a little too harsh on this film the first time around. Yes, the exposition was incredibly rocky, the film re-used many of the same tricks, and some of the dialogue was cringe-worthy, but despite all of this the film managed to retain some intelligence and enjoy-ability. Although some of the themes presented in the film can seem forced through dialogue, at the very least, we can say that it works.

Nancy, our main character, is a former med student who has lost her mother. Instead of taking the time to grieve with her family, she aims to ignore her pain through the adrenaline rush of surfing. After she becomes a victim of a shark attack, she quickly realizes the consequences of her decision making.

Often times when we experience grief, we may try and cope by seeking external sources of comfort and gratification. For Nancy, the pain from her loss proved to be too much for her and she didn’t want to accept that her mother was really gone. So to cope with this grief, she hoped that the short term adrenaline rush from surfing would keep her mind occupied. Of course, not everyone copes through surfing. Another example would be an alcoholic hoping that he can use alcohol to remedy the pain of a breakup, or the loss of a loved one.

When Nancy arrives on the beach and catches her first wave, the calm tone of the film skyrockets to an adrenaline ride. We hear charged and energized techno music, as Nancy rides the wave and crashes back into the water over and over again. When she returns to the shore, the music stops immediately and we are met with an uncomfortable phone call with her father and sister.

To be honest, although this is not the best choice, it’s also not the worst. The awkward dialogue actually helps in this situation, because like Nancy, it makes us feel uncomfortable and we just want it to stop so we can return to the adrenaline ride we came here for. She hangs up on her father without warning because her family only reminds her of her pain, so she hopes that by distancing herself she can run away from that trauma. This is reflected when her father says “when will you come back?”, implying that she’s been away from home for an extended period of time. When you try to distance yourself from pain instead of letting yourself grieve, you only push people out of your life who are going through the same pain, who are only trying to help you.


The Attack

When she gets back into the water, things have changed. She tries to have fun, but as the film shows us, there is now a rotting whale carcass present in the water, and the color pallet of the film has changed to dark colors to accompany the sinister tone. Despite this huge red flag that she should leave the water, as she could be trespassing on a predator’s territory, she continues surfing anyway. Nancy’s mood has changed completely, as she is no longer able to enjoy herself. Even with this discomfort accompanying her, she still continues to surf.

When we travel through the five stages of grief, our coping mechanisms will start to deteriorate, and our ability to ignore our pain will begin to degrade. However, these coping mechanisms have proved to work in the past, so we’ll keep relying on them to run away from our problems. When we’re presented with red flags, we’re either blind to them, or will refuse to acknowledge their presence. Even when our reliance on external sources of comfort prove to be harmful even from our eyes, we still rely on them because just the mere suggestion of moving on can seem to be excruciating, much like an alcoholic building a tolerance to alcohol, but still continuing to drink.

When she is finally attacked, she rushes over to a small island in the middle of the water and has to tend to her bite wound and her mental anguish all alone. When you run away from your problems, you push people away and make it more difficult for yourself to tend to your suffering. People who have tried to comfort you in the past will not take your current cries for help seriously, as when they did try and help you, they were met with hostility.

Patching up a shark bite by yourself would be excruciatingly painful, but she must do it to save her life. It is going to be just as painful when you have to let go, but it is just something that you need to do, as this person is never coming back.


Triangle


Spoiler Warning

So, unfortunately, the only way I can discuss this film involves the inclusion of spoilers. The magic of the film partially relies on the mystery of what’s going on, and for a first-time viewing, it’s a wild ride, so I highly recommend you go watch the film, then come back here. If you’re confused as to the meaning of the film after your first viewing, this post can offer some clarity for you. With that out of the way, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.


In Triangle, we follow our main character Jess, as she encounters a mysterious anomaly in the form of a strange electrical storm, which leads her and her friends to a cruise ship containing deadly guests.

We learn that the cause behind these occurrences is hidden behind a foreshadowing in the beginning of the film. Jess had accidentally killed herself and her son in a car crash due to her inadequacy as a parent. Jess could move on and seek forgiveness in God, but her reluctance to move on paired with her selfishness of wanting to stay alive, prevent her son from resting in the afterlife in peace. The cab driver, whom we see after the car crash in the ending scene of the film, encourages Jess to move on from her son’s death so they both can rest in peace. Of course, she refuses, and asks the cab driver to take her to the harbor. The cab driver was presumably there to transport her to anywhere she wanted to go until she was ready to pass on to the afterlife, but Jess thought she could cheat death by boarding the sailboat with the intention of boarding the cruise ship.

After the sailing boat is destroyed in the storm, the group is “rescued” by an empty cruise ship. When Jess arrives on the cruise ship, she eventually learns that if she kills everyone on the ship, she can restart time back when the group first arrived. The two other copies of Jess that exist on the boat are a result of the time loop. These three versions of Jess all compete for what they think will get them off the ship, depending on what period of time they exist in from their perspective.

When the Jess we know and love is kicked off the boat, she returns to shore back in time before Greg set sail. When she kills her past self, who is abusive towards her son, she tries to convince herself and her son that she’s going to be a different person. Really, Jess hasn’t changed, because when this new version of herself is behind the wheel, she still causes the car crash to happen again, indicating her inability to see the truth. Before the car crash, Jess notices a pile of dead seagulls that were all killed due to her poor driving. She could see this as a warning, that she hasn’t changed, and never will change, until she moves on.


The Seagull

“Seagull” by fatedsnowfox is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

There is also a different group of seagulls that follow the boat. Either these are all the same seagull, whom has fallen victim to the time loop, or are completely different seagulls who followed each other to find food. Regardless, we know for sure that this seagull, and the seagulls that are found dead on the beach, all serve as warnings from God. Seagulls are intelligent scavengers, and will never take unnecessary risks unless the situation calls for it. Most seagulls can operate just fine scavenging off of scraps left by humans, and dead bodies. Seagulls, like many other omnivorous creatures, will follow one another in search for food. If an animal follows a certain path consistently, and doesn’t appear to be in distress, it could be a clue that they have knowledge of a reliable source of food or water. So, a seagull may take note of this and follow that particular gull. In short, they are a variation of a crow, raven, or vulture optimized for a city environment.

The seagull that follows the ship does so because he knows that food will be waiting for him on the cruise ship. I can prove this, because Jess retains her memories when she returns to shore. Given the behavior of the seagull, we can assume that he retains his memories as well. Although Jess loses her memories when she falls asleep on the sailboat, we can assume that the seagulls retain their memories, because no members of the crew show any signs of deja-vu or amnesia in any point in the film.

Because Jess knows that the seagulls will always follow the sailboat no matter how many times she boards it, she could take that as a warning that she is going to continue to make the same mistakes, because the seagulls will not stop following Greg’s boat until their food source is no longer available, and the cruise ship will not disappear until she decides to move on.

The seagull in The Shallows serves a similar purpose to Nancy. We know that the seagull has a broken wing that prevents him from returning to shore, much like Nancy who has an injury that severely hinders her chance of survival. The seagull can’t fix himself, and he will likely die if he isn’t tended to soon. Nancy uses her expertise in the medical field to fix his wing so he can have a chance at survival. Since she was able to move on from her mom’s death, she was able to recover and move past her guilt through her brokenness. Thus, she was able to save someone who needed her the most. Since she allowed herself to be vulnerable instead of combating against her sadness, she lived to tell the tale.


For Jess to acknowledge that she was wrong, she would have to admit that all of her previous decisions were wrong. She would also have to admit that although she loves her son, she’s the reason why he met his end.

Jess wanted to revive her son because she was guilty of how she treated him. Her guilt contaminated her judgement, therefore she desperately tried to convince herself that she could save her son from herself because it would be too painful to move on. As a result, she’s perpetually stuck in a time loop, forced to suffer for all eternity.

If she had the bravery to inform Greg about the incoming storm, she could have one last moment with Greg to enjoy her final moments on Earth before returning to the cab driver, and passing to the afterlife.


Final Thoughts


As for the afterlife, it doesn’t matter what Religion you follow, because it is ultimately out of your control what will happen to you when you get there.

As a Christian, I have accepted that no matter what I do, I will have had accumulated several sins in my lifetime upon my passing. Whether or not I deem that I am a good person, doesn’t matter. It is up to God and only God to decide what will happen to me. No matter how scary it sounds that I will never fully understand or know for sure what lies after my death, I can’t think about it, because as a human, it is something I am incapable of understanding.

When someone you loved is ripped away from you, there’s nothing you can do that will bring them back, so moving on is something that must be done. If you decide to combat your feelings and reject their validity, you are only going to push people away that are going through the same pain you are, who are only trying to help you. By the time you realize what you have done, it will be too late to ask for help and you will be more alone than ever before.

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Noah Veremis

Can Humans Coexist with Nature?

In the film Princess Mononoke, we are presented with a philosophical question: Will there ever be a future where humans and nature will live in peace? As vague as this question is, it would be an interesting topic to discuss. Is there any way we can artificially create a scenario that has the perfect specifications and environment for the world to live in harmony?


Princess Mononoke


In Princess Mononoke, there are three main characters. Ashikata is our lead protagonist, someone who seeks to bring peace between humans and the forest. Lady Eboshi is a leader amongst a small village in the iron-works. She wishes to kill the Deer God so that the Earth’s riches will be free for the taking.

Princess Mononoke (or “San” as her friends refer her as) wishes to kill Lady Eboshi because the wildlife that lives in the forest is slowly dwindling due to loss in habitat.

In this universe, many animals that live in the forest are sentient, with the only exception being weaker animals like rats, raccoons, and deer holding a primitive brain. Because many of the animals we see are sentient, they have the ability to voice their distress and act upon the destruction of their home. This means that these animals can feel anger, sadness, and sorrow, and, have the mental capacity to seek vengeance.

In this film, hatred can bring the evil out of you and turn you into a demon. Unfortunately, this means that animals in the wild will always be at a disadvantage regardless of their intelligence. If animals were to be gifted sentience, then they’d likely try and retaliate to the destruction humans are causing. Of course, this will only deepen the problem, as it will only spread more hatred, and enable both parties to keep killing each other.

There will always be bad eggs. Sadly, you can’t rely on kindness to achieve peace when you’re considering the entirety of the human population. It only takes one person to spread hatred into large groups of people. In Princess Mononoke, we see examples of this. When Ashikata first meets Lady Eboshi, she speaks of her plan to expand the iron-works and kill the Deer God. Since the seed of hatred has already been planted into Ashikata in the form of a parasite, even he succumbs to its influence. His arm moves on its own and attempts to kill her, but he prevents tragedy from occurring with his willpower, restraining his arm.

But not everyone has the will to resist being influenced by someone else. All humans are sentient, and we have a history of going to war with each other simply over ownership of territory, or over resources like oil and iron. If humans were eusocial like bees and ants, this problem may have been nullified, as we’d all be drones following orders from a queen, and there would be no chance of rogues separating themselves from the hive to follow their own agenda. Units of a eusocial colony rarely ever survive alone, making it the only successful form of communism we have seen in any species. However, this would remove our free will and we would no longer be sentient, totally defeating the point of the question here.

Humans are just so complex that not everyone can be trusted to follow a single goal. There will always be people who will destroy habitats of local wildlife populations, and there will always be people who will be negative influences, which will only breed more destruction. The animals in our world have no voice, nor the capability to retaliate to the destruction humans are responsible for. Even if they did have a voice, it will only result in the advancement of more hatred, and will only produce more destruction.


Planet of the Apes


If you want another example that’s a little more realistic, look no further than the rise of Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot series.

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, after Caesar has lead the ape faction to near-total dominance over the Earth, Koba stages Caesar’s death and ignites a war with the humans.

In Caesar’s final line of dialogue, he explains that although he did not start this war, he will be forced to participate because humans will not forgive what was done.

As I discussed in my analysis of Princess Mononoke, it only takes a few individuals with a lot of power to influence massive groups of individuals. Humans tend to follow whatever the group is doing, as deviating from social norms is extremely taboo, and in this case, could result in your death. In addition, the Colonel had so much influence with his charisma that he had the power to shape the minds of the masses to spread hatred and continue the war against the apes.

In fact, the Colonel actually has a few similarities with Adolf Hitler. Charisma really is the name of the game when it comes to a leadership position. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you speak with confidence and magnetism, it can be a lot easier to recruit people to your believe in your ideals. If that doesn’t work, you can always force your ideals using violence, which is exactly what the Colonel practiced. Whenever one of his soldiers succumbed to the new mutated strain of the simian flu, they were killed. If any one of his supporters were opposed to this practice, they were killed as well. This set an example for anyone seeking shelter under the Colonel’s shadow, showing that even unwilling individuals can be used to spread prejudice and hostility.

Not to mention, when apes assumed dominance over the Earth, they basically filled the role of the now nomadic humans, and as a result, nothing was changed. Sure, the Earth is much healthier because of its new inhabitants, but there’s no real peace installed in this new Earth. Humans and apes are still fighting each other over dominance and territory, so the same problems are still in place.


The Answer


Unfortunately, I personally don’t think humans will ever be able to co-exist with nature. For us humans to reach the outer limits of our potential, we need to explore, expand, and build. Doing this requires resources, and the only way to gather these resources is to plunder the Earth of its riches. This can cause exponential losses in habitat for wildlife. This can lead to lower populations, which then leads to starvation and inbreeding. Some animals also need very specific requirements to survive in an environment. Some only feed on certain plants, some need a specific humidity level, and some need large areas of space for territory boundaries. When humans destroy habitats, these animals may also exhaust themselves looking for a new suitable home, or might killing each other over a lack of space for territory.

This doesn’t mean that life is all doom and gloom. There are plenty of amazing instances of people creating zoos and wildlife reserves that accept individuals who were inept to live in the wild. Sometimes, people raise pets that deem to become too much of a hassle to take care of and release them into the wild, where they are unprepared to take care of themselves.

There are also some people who have extensive knowledge of the care requirements for exotic animals and have the ability to take care of injured individuals and nurse them back to health so they can be sent back into their habitat, ready to roam free again.

Emily Roberts, the creator of the YouTube channel Snake Discovery, noticed an opportunity for her passion for exotic animals. She has used her channel’s growth to educate communities on the proper care procedures for exotic animals like large reptiles, spiders, and amphibians. Her channel expanded into a massive business, with her pet alligator Rex, whom she recovered from someone ill-prepared to care for her, is Snake Discovery’s mascot of sorts. Rex’s development was permanently stunted, so she would not survive very long in the wild. Emily uses her videos with Rex as a warning to anyone wanting to own an animal for prestige purposes, as exotic animals like alligators take extensive care and effort on the human’s part to keep them healthy.

Bob Ross, a painter that hosted the TV program The Joy of Painting, often recalled instances from his life where he would nurse injured animals back to health so they could enjoy life in the wild again. He has even brought some of these animals on the show who interacted with him while he was painting. Although he is now deceased, his TV program has since exploded in popularity, and millions of people are exposed to his kind deeds and are encouraged to replicate them.

There are also certain areas like national parks, that give wildlife free reign over their own space, completely free and away from human populations. Ecotourism is a method that can be employed for people to safely observe these animals in their natural environment. The funds from these tours are then re-routed to conservation efforts.

There have also been successful awareness campaigns and fundraisers to increase the quality of life for Earth’s other inhabitants. Team Trees, a fundraiser created by YouTube personality Mr. Beast, is a fundraiser specifically aimed at replanting trees that have been lost from human construction. It was created on October 25th, 2019, and it has since planted over 22 million trees across the globe.

One last example I will mention, that just so happens to be one of my personal favorites, is For the Love of Primates. It is an organization that provides sanctuaries for primates that have been retired from research and experimentation in laboratories, and individuals that have been previously kept as pets. However, I don’t want to imply that animal experimentation should be strictly forbidden. Some animals can be incredible resources for researching often fatal diseases that intensely affect humans and even other species.

Speaking of experimentation and research, animals have been proven to even help human populations as well.

According to Neal K. Klapp, who is Professor of Pathology at the University of Tennessee Medical Center at Knoxville, the Cotton Top Tamarin is one of the most important resources we have in researching colon cancer in humans, which happens to be one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The procedures for these experiments are relatively safe on these individuals, and the disease itself is much less severe for these animals than it is for humans. This research also gives us the opportunity to revitalize the population of this endangered species.


Conclusion


In summary, I don’t believe that humans can coexist with nature, as sentience and free will are breeding grounds for hatred in especially disturbed individuals who will only breed more destruction. However, there is still potential for humans to form lasting bonds with individual animals that can be used to educate communities and provide these animals with homes where they will be happy for the rest of their lives. If you enjoy this type of content, consider subscribing to my newsletter so you never miss another post from me.

The Tiger: The Danger of Obsession

“Amur tiger portrait…” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Tiger is a film set in 1925 Korea while it is under Japanese occupation. The Government official in charge of this particular area orders that the last remaining tiger is killed. The film uses tigers as a representation of the degeneration of humanity, and the corruption and greed that follows its absence. Simply put: When something becomes so important to you that it devolves into an unhealthy obsession, it is likely that your sense of morality will decline as nothing else in the world will matter to you.


The Degradation of Humanity


In the film, there are two characters who are polar opposites to each other. Our main character Chun Man-Duk is a hunter who lost his wife in the search for this infamous tiger, otherwise known as the Mountain Lord. Instead of taking it out on the tiger, he realized that the only purpose a tiger has in life is to kill. To expect that it would be capable of anything else would be naive, so he had no reason to hate, as there was no particular interest to attack his family. He grieved over her death, learned from his ignorance, and moved on.

Gu-kyung is an entirely different beast. He has been a hunter all his life, but we don’t learn till later that his moral compass has always been in the dark even before he met the Mountain Lord. Early in Chun-man-duk’s hunting career, he kills a female tiger, unbeknownst to him that she was a mother of two cubs. Gu-kyung insists that they should kill the cubs too, but Chun-man-duk stops him, implying that even as a hunter there are boundaries that aren’t meant to be crossed.

We learn later that one of these cubs grew up to become the Mountain Lord, and even after having his mother being torn away from him at a young age, he doesn’t hold any grudges against the man who killed her. The film uses the relationship between these three characters to tell the story.


Hatred Birthed from Obsession

The same day that Chun-man-duk’s wife was killed, Gu-kyung was there hunting with him. Gu-kyung never learned from his mistakes that day, even after dozens of men were killed in front of his eyes.

Gu-kyung was already obsessed with his career of hunting tigers. When something becomes this integral to your personal mission, nothing else will matter to you. When the Mountain Lord attacked him and killed many of his colleagues his moral compass was already in the dark, so he didn’t have the emotional intelligence necessary to realize that it wasn’t the tiger’s fault. He took the attack as a personal vendetta against his character. Gu-kyung obtains a massive scar across his face as a result of this attack, a reflection of his inability to grow even when the answer is imprinted directly on his face.

Gu-kyung’s actions throughout the rest of the film become eviler and eviler as time goes on. From his perspective, killing this tiger that wronged him is so important to him that he has become self-aware of his actions. He knows that his wrongdoings will end up getting other people killed and will only cause more tragedy. He uses troops that the Governor provides to him as bait so he can enact his plan. Even when his plans go south, he still insists that the tiger be killed.

Perhaps Gu-kyung’s darkest moment is when he persuades Seok, Chun-man-duk’s son to join the hunt. In actuality, he only wants Seok present so that Chun-man-duk follows out of fear for his son’s safety, so that he may join the hunt as well, as he knows where the tiger’s trails are located.

When the tiger starts taking lives at the scene, Seok watches in horror. After he is inevitably torn to shreds, he begs for his life at the mercy of Gu-kyung. The Mountain Lord’s death is so important to Gu-kyung, that he leaves Seok behind while he searches for the tiger, only for Seok to be taken away and eaten by wolves who are attracted to the rancid corpses.

We can see how far this quest for revenge has taken Gu-kyung. His right-hand man is always by his side and constantly challenges his decisions out of the concern for his best friend, hoping that he may be able to dissuade him from the path of darkness. Unfortunately, even with this man at Gu-kyung’s side, he is unable to understand the value of friendship because he can’t fathom wasting any time that isn’t used to find and kill the Mountain Lord.

For Gu-kyung, his grudge against the Mountain Lord got him killed, as his hatred made him blind to his lack of success and his lack of understanding for the Mountain Lord’s superior wit and hunting prowess.


Examples of Obsession Today

In my own experience, I was involved in a similar, but much less brutal situation. I was in a relationship with this woman I was knees-deep in love with. Deep down, I knew the relationship was going to end eventually, but I was too blind to understand that it was my obsession for this person that pushed me away from her more than anything.

It was such a priority to me that we should stay together, that as a result, I no longer cared about how she was feeling, and the only thing left that mattered to me was the label of being in a relationship. I didn’t want to be alone, because I had a tendency of attaching to people in the hopes that this person could fix the problems that were deep in my subconscious. Eventually, I became so obsessed, that I would single out any of her male friends that got “too close”, and would forbid her from even laying eyes on them.

It had become such an issue that a deep hatred had arisen for one of these men as a consequence of my obsession with this relationship. I hated this person so much that I wouldn’t even entertain the idea that other people may be hurting as a result of my actions. By the time I realized what I had done, it was years later, far too late to do anything about it.

Another example that can be seen today, is racism. Sometimes, when someone from an ethnicity is being continuously discriminated against, they will become so obsessed with the notion of defending his/her race, only to have an inner hatred grow inside them aimed at individuals labeled as “oppressors”. Of course, this cycle of hypocrisy happens all the time. Sometimes, people can be so enthralled with hatred that nothing else will matter to them, and they will start to label simple misunderstandings and mistakes as an attack on their ethnicity.

We can see similar examples today in the Black Lives Matter movement, where people have become so engrossed in the movement that they lose the self-awareness required to see through their hypocrisy when they start rioting and discriminating against other races. This only makes the problem worse and doesn’t help the people practicing legitimate protests to raise awareness of racism.

Examples like these, unfortunately, occur as a result of a lack of self-awareness and self-confidence. Some people don’t have the motivation, nor do they know any self-love practices to help them reach their self-actualization process. As a result, they may resort to relying on external sources to help them feel fulfilled. By standing behind a movement, it gives them the illusion that they’re doing something productive and working towards a goal. Subsequently, they will lose any sense of uniqueness. In these types of situations, since they’re relying on an outside source for the fulfillment, they aren’t providing themselves that sense of achievement so they lose their personality’s “signature”.

To them, it doesn’t matter if the feeling is artificial. As a person who’s been in a similar situation where I relied on an outside source (a partner) for gratification, losing that gratification meant that I would have to provide myself that gratification. In the Hierarchy of Needs, basic essentials like food and water are at the bottom, whereas more complex needs like love, affection, and the self-actualization process are near the top. The danger here is that if you’re not equipped to provide these needs to your brain by yourself, the brain will look elsewhere to find a substitute. The brain needs these essentials to stay healthy, so if you don’t provide yourself these things, you will likely develop dependency issues.


The Domino Effect

When an obsession becomes powerful enough like in Gu-kyung, it can bring the evil out of others and create a chain reaction.

To help bring the Mountain Lord out of hiding, Gu-kyung kills his mate and his cubs and uses his deceased cubs as bait to lure the Mountain Lord out of his den.

After he has had everything taken away from him, the Mountain Lord has nothing left to lose and goes on a killing spree when he finally comes face to face with the troops sent to track him. Of course, this is out of no fault of his own, as the Mountain Lord would likely have been found eventually, so a confrontation like this was going to happen whether he liked it or not.

The point is, is that both the Governor and Gu-kyung’s obsessions were so strong that the Mountain Lord had no choice but to kill everyone on sight. Sometimes in life, someone’s terrible actions become such a problem that it will become mandatory for the recipient to do terrible things, whether it be for their survival, or out of self-respect. The whole point is that it was never necessary for the Mountain Lord, or any creature for that matter to kill this many people. How complicated and evil must an obsession become for it to be necessary to take this many lives in defense?

Gu-kyung even persuades the Governor to hire artillery troops to use dynamite to destroy the forest that the Mountain Lord lives in so they can flush him out of hiding. To symbolize the disrespect to the Mountain Lord’s innocence, the film shows these troops killing every animal that flees from the destruction in response to all the racket. As if it were a chopping block, the deer who flee from the destruction are immediately killed as they are shot one by one. These deer have no way of escaping or defending themselves and are killed for perceivably no reason.

When these troops come face to face with the Mountain Lord they arrange a shooting formation as one final attempt to end his life. These troops have a clear shot at the tiger, but all of the shots miss. This is a symbolization of their blindness to what their hatred has done to their judgment. In this final confrontation, Gu-kyung meets his end. His hatred brewed to a boiling point and become so substantial that it was the reason behind his demise.


The Aftermath


In one of the final scenes in the film, the Mountain Lord and Chun-man-duk meet one last time before their final showdown. They both understand that this cycle of hatred is only going to stop when they’re both dead. The Governor is too blind to understand that tigers are necessary for the food chain to stop wolves and deer from overpopulating.

If the Mountain Lord is killed, Chun-man-duk will continue to be affected as he will likely be forced again to assist in the Governor’s hatred-fueled endeavors. If both of them are killed, even if the hatred continues they will both be dead, so neither of them will have the pleasure of witnessing any more of mankind’s discrepancies, nor will they have any more of what little they have left taken from them.

After they are both killed, we see flashbacks of their lives before the Japanese occupation. Chun-man-duk’s wife is pregnant and they are happily married, and the Mountain Lord is still a cub enjoying his time with his mother. Obsession and hatred don’t help anyone and they don’t add to the enjoy-ability of life. Now that the two are dead, they can finally live in the afterlife in peace.


Conclusion


In summary, obsession is a human issue that will remain prevalent until the demise of the human race. The only thing we can do to combat it is to respond with kindness and peacefulness. The brain will only remain hostile if the opposition is remained labeled as a threat. If the opposition takes a peaceful response, then it may serve as a wake-up call for the person in question. If their hatred continues to be aimed at someone who’s actions display their innocence, the situation may bring out their humanity and help them on the path to understanding. This film perfectly encapsulates the dangers of obsession, and what it can do to impact someone’s judgment, in turn encouraging them to do horrible things. If you particularly enjoy this type of content, consider subscribing to my mailing list so you never miss another blog post.

Author

Noah Veremis

Keeping a Cat’s Eye on the Film Industry

“Molly the cat” by owenwilliams95 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cats have always been an intriguing presence in films around the world. They often accompany elements of mystery, morbid curiosity, and death. Cats can be great mediums for darkness as we as a species have spent little time in their presence, and aren’t fully domesticated, unlike dogs. Films like Cat People, Leopard Man, The Voices, and Life of Pi are some examples of films that explore man’s fear of the unknown, and how our rejection to understand the things that scare us is our biggest downfall.


Expecting Trust in Darkness


Humans have a track record of investing faith and trust into something that is not going to reciprocate that trust. The human brain’s biggest craving is to feel secure. When we expect love from darkness, it is because we are trying to obtain that security by being in control. However, we have control over very little in our lives.


The Tiger

In Life of Pi, this message is represented with Pi’s lack of understanding of himself and the world and therefore expects love and affection to come from everything he comes across. When he reunites with Richard Parker after his ship sinks, he is painfully reminded of what his father was trying to teach him.

Tigers are powerful and dangerous animals, but they are also prideful and confident. In John Vaillant’s novel “The Tiger”, he recalls an event where a single Amur tiger had over 500 human kills to its name. When a man named Vladimir Markov stole a tiger’s kill and shot it when it retaliated, the tiger became too slow from his injury to pursue his natural prey.

Humans don’t have the proper body type to navigate through the snow at any speed faster than a snail’s pace. In the snowy mountains of Russia, when this tiger was too slow to hunt its usual prey, it had no choice but to start hunting men. Tigers are resourceful, and they take great pride in what they do. To expect the same amount of love from a dog to come out of a tiger would be naive and will do nothing but anger the tiger as it would be disrespectful to his ego.

Now, Richard Parker was a Bengal tiger, but John Vaillant’s representation of tigers does nothing but add to the mythology and legend tigers have to their name.

There was one scene in the book of Life of Pi that was in the movie but touched upon very briefly, and it perfectly represents man’s relationship with tigers.

When Pi climbs aboard his lifeboat, he sees Richard Parker struggling to make his way to the boat. Pi doesn’t see a soulless tiger, he sees an animal fighting for his life. He fires off his whistle and throws his lifebuoy ring into the water while egging him on to keep his head above water. Just before he pulls him aboard, he hears himself say “We will be together!”

After hearing himself speak, he realizes the horror of what he has just brought onto himself. He has just brought a man-sized carnivore onto the boat, who has no purpose aside from consuming living things. He recalls something his brother Ravi said to him long ago “You’ll be the next goat”, and jumps overboard.

Humans often invest their trust in things that normally should be huge red flags. In my personal experiences, I have found myself investing trust in people who obviously had ulterior motives, and by the time I realized, it was too late. I had invited a 600-pound tiger onto my boat, without realizing what I was getting myself into. Before I could realize what I had done, I had already been manipulated, taken advantage of, and pushed around.

We often are too afraid to think that there may be darkness in our future because we want to believe that everything is going to be okay. Unfortunately, this is how we run into obstacles that may become too complicated out of the lack of ability to realize our stubbornness.


The Danger of Naivety


Humans, especially in the time period of these films, have had a consistent lack of attention and understanding of mental illness, irrational fears, and the tumors they can grow into if they are allowed to grow. No-one wants to believe that these internal evils can grow into a problem. So, we unknowingly let them into our home and let them settle in.


The Leopard

“DSC_5501” by Arno Meintjes Wildlife is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Leopard Man

The leopard in many films is used as a symbol of mysteriousness and often follows a hidden well of evil.

In Leopard man, Jerry Manning decides to help out his friend Kiki, who is a nightclub singer. Her act is being dwarfed by another woman, Clo-Clo who is an obnoxious, flamboyant dancer. Jerry comes up with a brilliant idea to bring a black leopard to Kiki’s show.

Unfortunately, Clo-Clo antagonizes the leopard before Kiki can use him to spice up her show, and the cat escapes and murders a young woman in the process.

What we don’t know, is that the next series of murders following the leopard attack were not caused by the leopard, but by a man disguising his killings to make it seem as though they were caused by a big cat. No one suspects that the killings could be caused by an actual person because no one wants to believe that evil could be lurking right in front of our noses.

People excuse the leopard for the killings because he is scared, and doesn’t know any better. Nobody takes Jerry seriously when he starts to consider that a man could be the murderer, and because the people in this world the movie has built are so naive, no one is looking for a suspect.

But what about the killer? In the end, Jerry’s prediction had been confirmed to be true. Why does the killer not get the same treatment? Couldn’t we say the same for him, that he doesn’t know any better? At the end of the film, he is shot and killed by a police officer in an impulse of disgust and rage.

This theme is reflected through Clo-Clo’s interactions with a fortune teller. In the fortune teller’s deck, the ace of spades is the symbol of death. This card frequently comes up, no matter how many attempts are made. Instead of taking this prediction seriously, she keeps trying, insisting that she had made a mistake because she was too naive to think that something like this could happen to an innocent person. Realistically this is nothing more than a fortune teller’s game, but it works with the grand scheme of the film, as Clo-Clo meets her untimely demise shortly after the ace of spades is revealed.


Cat People

“Blackys profile” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

A similar outline is used in a film called Cat People, where a beautiful woman Irena fears that she may have ties to her ancestors, who were evil witches. The film suggests that long ago in Serbia, King John had driven out an evil cult of people who could turn into vicious and ravenous cats. Most of them were dispatched, but according to this legend, a few of them survived and repopulated.

Irena’s to-be husband assures her that these stories have no real threat to reality. Deep down Irena knows who she really is, and she’s afraid that if she allows someone she loves to get too close, she could become a threat to this person.

Irena’s dilemma is frequently referred to as a mental illness. People who are grotesque and diseased scare us because they deviate from social norms. When we see behavior that contradicts what we are used to seeing, it scares us because we’ve never seen it before. For the brain, it is safer to assume something is dangerous if we don’t understand it. If we assume it to be a threat, that ensures our survival, should the subject turn out to be a hazard.

Take somebody with a phobia. Sure, a fear of doors, or spiders, or even dogs may seem irrational to us, but to them the fear is real. Imagine if you had a fear of spiders. Imagine that you’re in a car and the sight of a spider is so traumatic for you that your immediate reaction is to jump out into oncoming traffic, and your friend’s only reaction is to laugh at you. How would you feel? To Irena, these fears are real, but no one takes them seriously, so they start causing problems.


Devolution

Irena frequently visits a leopard caged in a zoo throughout the course of the film. The zookeeper says that the monkeys get all the happy customers, but no one comes to see the panther. His only justification for this is that these cats are monstrous man-eaters who are only capable of evil. Has this cat done anything wrong? Is it the cat’s fault that he is a predator? What has this particular cat done to deserve such a treatment? Cats are carnivores, and it would be naive to believe that they’d be capable of anything less. What are you to expect when you approach a predator in the wild? You don’t have to love the animal, but you can at least respect it.

When Irena seeks out a therapist, she believes that she can’t be helped. People aren’t the problem, she is. She thinks that fate is out to get her by placing her in the bloodline of the cat people. The only person that can help her, is herself. The leopard has already accepted what God meant for him to be, and Irena didn’t think she was qualified to be no more complex than this leopard at the zoo.

The problem with this thought process is that cats aren’t sentient, and can’t reason. Their brains aren’t complicated enough to reach the same self-actualization process that humans are capable of. Irena is a human and is capable of so much more. By the time she embraces her humanity it was too late. Her husband Oliver had already fallen for someone else.

To Irena, this had just confirmed her theory that fate was out to get her. So, she devolved into a cat, and went on a killing spree.

Irena realistically could have saved herself, but it was a combination of people not taking her illness seriously and her self pity that lead to her downfall. Perhaps if Oliver had set aside his fears for the sake of her health and believed her, assuring her that her fears were valid, then maybe she could have overcome these fears. After all, belief is half of all healing.

I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where we are living through a living hell of our own irrational fears and anxieties. No matter how much we show our distress, no one takes our pain seriously, and backs away, treating us no better than a cat who only lives to kill and eat. Sure, our pain may be unrealistic and irrational, but they feel real to us.

In the sequel: Curse of the Cat People Oliver’s daughter becomes friends with Irena’s ghost. Oliver resents Irena and claims that his daughter’s interactions with his past wife can mean nothing but evil for his family. After he has a chat with her teacher, he decides to put aside his pride and believe what his daughter is seeing at least for the time being.

Oliver sets aside his reservations and comforts her by saying “Do you see that woman in the garden? I see her too”. What this film is trying to say in this scene, is that sometimes if you want to help someone you have to treat their fears as you would anything else. Oliver’s daughter wasn’t afraid of Irena, but because Oliver couldn’t set aside his reservations, he was only pushing his daughter away from him.

If Oliver had believed in Irena, and just simply said “it’s okay that you’re afraid”, he could have been the rock that Irena needed.

In both of these films, the leopard was used as a representation of man’s nativity, and lack of understanding that some fears, be it internal or external, are completely valid in reality.

In Leopard Man, a sickly man was able to use society’s disgust towards the leopard, and lack of attention to reality to disguise his killings to fulfill his evil desires.

In Cat People, the leopard was used as a representation of Irena’s inner fears of what she thinks she really is, and because she believed in these fears, she devolved into nothing more than a carnivore.


The Allure of Evil


Sometimes, we may feel that we are having thoughts and feelings that are inherently evil in nature. Sometimes you may feel yourself wishing revenge on somebody that has wronged you, or you have feelings of self-doubt and self-hatred. However, these are just thoughts, and it’s completely normal for somebody to have such emotions, but what makes them harmful, is if you choose to act on them or not.


The House-cat

“Cat Portrait” by Ceyhun Jay Isik is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Voices

In The Voices, our main character is a schizophrenic young man named Jerry that has two pets, a house-cat named Mr. Whiskers, and an English Mastiff named Bosco. These animals speak to Jerry as if their voices were real.

The difference between Mr. Whiskers and Bosco is that Mr. Whiskers encourages Jerry to give into his murderous urges, and Bosco disagrees, saying that Jerry is better off living a life of normalcy.

Early in the film, we see Jerry murders a woman he has a crush on by accident. Bosco encourages Jerry’s initial inclination to turn himself in, and when Jerry confesses that he morbidly enjoyed the murder, Mr. Whiskers suggests that he should continue giving into his murderous urges and hide the body.

As Rosco and Mr. Whiskers fight with each other as to what Jerry should do, we can see a direct representation of Jerry’s thought processes. These animals aren’t actually talking, they are two separate “voices” in Jerry’s brain.

Of course, Jerry’s relationship with his pets is not “normal” in nature, as it’s a symptom of an incredibly degrading mental illness. However, this exaggerated relationship works in the blueprint the film has laid out for us because it perfectly reflects the relationship we have with our own thoughts, as all of us have had degrading and unpleasant thoughts floating through our heads every day.

These two voices are named the id, and the super-ego. The super-ego is the part of us that punishes us when we make decisions that could harm others emotionally or physically. The id is the part of us that looks after our own needs and desires. Due to the independent nature of the id, it often clashes with the collectivistic nature of the super-ego.

One example of the relationship between the id and the superego is a 100 dollar bill left behind at a grocery store. The id would likely encourage us to take it, as it could be incredibly useful to us. We have bills to pay, we have things in life that we want, and with that 100 dollar bill, we could be one step closer to getting what we want.

The superego would likely say to us that we could be in the same position. We know we would be very upset if we lost that much money, so we are able to relate to the person who dropped it, so it encourages us to turn it in to the cashier in case the owner comes back.

This is exactly why this film is so terrifying yet also so relatable because we have all been in a situation where we have done something we shouldn’t have, leaving us constantly battling ourselves resulting in an empty well of our mental energy.

By the time Jerry finds out that he never had to act on any of these thoughts in the first place, it was too late. By then, he had murdered three people and kidnapped his therapist in a mad panic.

The contrast between Jerry’s dog and his cat is perfect. Cats are mischievous and are very independent animals. A cat would be much less likely to develop separation anxiety than a dog because they haven’t spend nearly enough time with humans as dogs have. Cats do tend to love their owners and are capable of showing affection, but they generally look out for themselves. Not to mention, cats are also notorious for living with frightening individuals in pop-culture.

Dogs are much more loyal and will often do specific things for their owner to please them. Dogs are also much more akin to feel guilty when they do something against their owner’s will or break something valuable that meant something important to their owner. Dogs have evolved over thousands and thousands of years to be man’s best friend.

Jerry’s relationship with his pets is a perfect representation of his id and super-ego at work. In one point in the film, we see Bosco confess to Jerry that he will no longer support him, and even leaves his house to go into the wild. This scene is a great representation of Jerry’s superego, as the pain from his guilt becomes too much to bear. Right after Bosco leaves, Jerry commits suicide.


Conclusion


There are plenty more films involving a cat in the blueprint of the film’s story and themes. These are just examples that I personally found to be very intriguing. In any case, cats can be a great representation for dismay, as cats are very independent. When independence has become too important for an individual, it can lead to selfishness and possibly even psychotic behavior. I can’t think of any other animal that has a close relationship with humans that can be used in this manner. There are just way too many films of this nature to include in a single blog post, so expect some more cat action in future content.

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A Monster Calls: Chaos in Acceptance

A Monster Calls is a 2016 film about a boy named Connor, who’s mother is slowly dying of cancer. To cope with this tragedy, he imagines a monster made from a tree who tells him three stories. Each of these stories teaches him about the uncertainty and unpredictability of life and teaches him how to grieve.

Throughout these three stories, the film teaches us to allow us to be contradictory, accepting the unpredictability of life, and the power of belief. Much like Castaway, this film shows the dangers of power and control, when we try and bend reality to our will when events down happen to our liking. In the end, this film is about the incredibly difficult process of letting go, even when you don’t want to.


The First Story

The first story is arguably the hardest to analyze because it is the hardest to understand, and for good reason.

In the first tale, the story serves as a representation of the unpredictability of life. For example, The King in the story was presumed to be poisoned by his Queen who had been delving into the dark arts of witchcraft, but he had merely grown old. Another example would be when The King’s grandson’s new wife had been killed. At first, we automatically associate her death with the crooked Queen. However, the King’s grandson killed his own wife so he could frame the Queen and take the throne.

In most tales, we would expect that the story-line would be linear and easy to understand. However, as we can see with this story, that is not the case. Even Connor stated to the monster that he felt cheated. Although like the monster says, many things in life feel like a cheat.

One of the film’s best ways of explaining this part of its story is through another film that is referenced multiple times: King Kong. There have been other films that have done this in the past, such as Iron Giant, that used the character Superman, as a means to explain the Giant’s longing to forge his destiny, thus, wanting to protect the world, instead of destroying it.

In this film, Connor’s mom explains to her son that people tend to reject things they don’t understand. In King Kong, the movie ends with a less-than-stellar ending, with Kong being killed by airplanes and falling off of the Empire State Building. As a person who’s watched King Kong and loved it, I have to agree that it is not exactly the easiest thing to watch.

Nonetheless, I can still see why Merian C. Cooper wanted this as the ending, as its a great way to end its story, as heartless as it is. If Kong had survived, it may have also stripped away the stakes to the story and ruined the tension that it had built up. In life and film-making, you can’t eat your cake and have it too.

As much as Connor wanted Kong to survive, the film is not going to change. He doesn’t understand why Kong had to die, or why his mother’s medication is failing her, and this is because our brains are wired to fear things we don’t understand.

If someone walked up to you and started lifting a book with their “mind”, you would immediately start freaking out, and likely blame the ability on the paranormal. When something in life goes against everything you have learned up till now, like a disease not being able to be cured, or someone using telekinesis, our immediate reaction is anxiety and fear. Humans evolved in nature, so it was key for our survival that we perceived things we couldn’t understand as a threat. If we don’t understand something, we can’t discern if its friend or foe, so the safest bet is to treat it as something dangerous.

So by knowing this information, the best way to deal with these types of situations is to accept that you will never understand what is happening to you and allow yourself to be scared. In many situations, people are afraid to speak their mind because they fear they will become hypocritical. In events like this though, its perfectly okay. This is because they know they’re never going to comprehend their dilemma, so they embrace the confusion, allowing themselves to be vulnerable in the face of darkness. After all, one of the bravest things anyone can ever accomplish is accepting vulnerability and letting the confusion set in, instead of fighting a fight they know they won’t be able to win.

Life just doesn’t work the way you want it to. Some things in life are completely out of your control. Just like in the first story, as much as you want there to be a good guy and a bad guy, the story will never change. We always want things to happen a certain way, so it’s not unreasonable to expect someone to react with anxiety when life veers off of their expectations. There was never anything guaranteed to happen, nor will there ever will be. That sucks, and we may never understand why it has to happen, but we don’t have to understand or to like it. It’s scary to think that life will do things to us without our “permission”, but that’s life. Connor’s dad even said that most people don’t become happily ever after. Most people become “messily ever after”, and that’s okay.


The Second Story

The second story explains the consequences of resorting to fight your problems instead of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It also serves as an example that sometimes even when people are poorly mannered, that doesn’t make them a villain.

For example, in the second story, the partisan spoke against the apothecary’s olden ways of healing, and in doing so, deprived him of business. However, when the partisan’s daughters acquired a deadly illness, he begged for the apothecary to help him, saying he would preach in his favor and essentially lie about his beliefs just to save his daughters. In a surprising turn of events, the apothecary refused, and the partisan’s daughters died of their sickness.

Sure, the apothecary may have been rude, but the partisan used his power to attack someone he disagreed with and manipulated the people he was preaching to. The apothecary was still a healer, and, as far as we know, only became sour once his business capsized.

Connor’s Grandmother could be easily compared to the apothecary or even the witch Queen from the first story.

As much as it seems that she’s out to get him, in reality, she only wants the best for him. When she tells Connor that he’ll be living with her for a few days, Connor feuds with anger and flat-out rejects her proposition. It’s harder on her than it is for Connor because they both want what’s best for Lizzie, and Connor just won’t let go.


The King’s Grandson

For a good portion of the film, Connor wears a similar striped shirt to the King’s Grandson in the first story. The boy in the second story killed his wife because he couldn’t accept how events were pulling together. Even if he wanted to take the throne from the Queen in a respectable way, not only was he too young, but by law, the Queen was to reign for another year.

Of course Connor never kills anyone. The meaning behind this comparison is that there are consequences when you try and change things you can’t control. After the second story is finished, the monster begins destroying a house and encourages Connor to take part. During this fit of destruction, the film abruptly cuts to Connor destroying his Grandmother’s furniture, leaving the house in disarray.

In life, when you waste time denying the truth and bottle your emotions, you end up pushing people away. Everyone else is dealing with the same problem he is and is just as confused and frustrated as he is. This isn’t a problem exclusive to Connor. When he looks into his Grandmother’s eyes and realizes what he has done, it is too late.

In the case of the parallel between Connor and the King’s Grandson, the comparison is important because, in both situations, the consequences that resulted from their actions resulted in pain and tragedy at the expense of another person.

Just because Connor couldn’t accept the reality of his mother’s inevitable death, or that he couldn’t get along with his Grandmother that only wanted the best for him and Lizzie, he acted out in a fit of rage and anger. Why is it necessary that he responds to his pain so selfishly when his family is dealing with the same pain he is feeling?


Messily Ever After

There’s a scene after Connor’s destructive rampage that I hold close to my heart. Connor’s father tells a story of his own, a story about his relationship with Lizzie. He said that they thought they had everything they wanted, but their marriage unfortunately, fell apart over time. He could have begged her to stay or vice versa. They could have promised to each other that they’ll change and work to fix this broken marriage, but they didn’t do that. They knew that life sucks sometimes and there will be points in life where relationships with two amazing people die for seemingly no reason.

Both of them had to let life take its course. What were they supposed to do, Fight back? Life is one of the few things humans can’t fight. So, Connor’s father just admitted that he still loves her, and had to give her up. He could have chased after her, in worry that the person he loved may have ended up with someone else, but what sense does that make? What sense is there in worrying who’s she’s going to be with when he knows in his heart that they’re never going to be together again?

In truth, those thoughts probably did come to mind after they split apart, but that’s the whole point of the film’s message. It’s okay to have contradictory feelings, as humans are complex, and our coping mechanisms often get in the way of our true intentions. The great thing about all of this is that none of it matters. All that matters is your actions. What’s amazing about thoughts, is just that. They’re just thoughts, and no one but you has access to them. So, what should we do with these thoughts? Just let them flow through your head as if they were dust bunnies.


Caesar vs Connor

To make it easier for me to explain what I want to say, I’ll compare Connor’s arc to a similar arc from a different film.

In War for the Planet of the apes, Caesar killed Winter, and albino gorilla, all for the sake of his selfish quest for vengeance. Winter may have exposed their hiding place to the Colonel, but he was scared. In his fear, Winter acted in such a way because he was fearful of the future, and his own life. Sure, that may be a selfish act as well, but it’s not unreasonable to expect someone would make rash decisions when they’re in fear.

In this film, the King’s Grandson killed his wife only to take the Queen’s place. The Queen may have become an evil witch in the future, but she was not a murderer, as the King had merely grown old. She certainly never deserved to be framed for the death of an innocent woman.

Like Connor and the King’s Grandson, Caesar acted harshly because he couldn’t look past his selfish coping mechanism for his rage and look the other way.

When Connor destroyed his Grandmother’s furniture, it was because he couldn’t look past her seemingly hostile nature. His Grandmother may seem to be the “bad guy”, but people cope with life in different ways. Connor reacted with such hatred just for something he could have easily forgiven.

Another example of this parallel between these films is Connor’s conversation with his father after his fit of destruction, vs Maurice, telling Caesar he’s acting like Koba after his selfish actions become the cause of Luca’s death.

Caesar may not like the notion of turning the other cheek while his family’s killer walks away unscathed, or that he was compared to Koba. Unfortunately, the reality of life is that we have to accept what it throws at us because we can’t change the past. If he had accepted the humility for what it was at face value: an act of war, he would have been able to separate his grieving process from his leadership over his tribe. It may be painful to just allow these thoughts and emotions to ungulate in his mind without acting on them, but it doesn’t matter how we feel, or what we think, it only matters what we do.

Connor’s father tries to teach him that just because people don’t get along, doesn’t mean they can’t love each other. His father came to the UK because he knew what Connor was going through and knew he needed his dad around in these trying times. He even offered to take Connor to LA for Christmas. After all this generosity, Connor rejected it. His father’s only here for a short amount of time and Connor is placing his selfish bubble higher on the priority list than spending quality time with his father.

The only thing Connor wants is to spend time with his mother and fails to see the big picture. When something terrible happens to us that we can’t control, we have to let it happen instead of pushing people away who are trying to help us.

It’s okay to accept that some things won’t last forever, and it’s okay to say goodbye and let terrible things happen to us. The bravest thing someone could do in this situation is being vulnerable in the face of darkness.


Belief is Half of all Healing

In the second story, the partisan preached against the apothecary’s business, but the apothecary did nothing wrong. The apothecary may have been using ancient methods of healing, but this process never hurt anybody.

Just like how humanity yearned for King Kong’s death because they couldn’t understand him, people automatically assumed the apothecary was evil because he’s the only one of his kind. Even today, when people produce healing remedies made from herbs, they do it in the privacy in their own homes. If they are respectful and humble people, they won’t entertain the notion that their remedies would always be more effective than something from a modern doctor.

Just by believing that the apothecary’s work can heal people, the city’s morale would have been raised significantly. Unfortunately though, the partisan never allowed him to continue with his work and turned his people against him.

The partisan only turned to this man when he had no options left for saving his daughters. He offered to give up everything he believed in, even promising to preach in his favor.

The problem with this, and why the apothecary turned him down, is that this wouldn’t have changed anything. It would have only made the situation worse, as the partisan would be preaching a lie, and by doing so, turning his back to the people. He would be abandoning his respect for his people, and they would have inevitably found out what’s going on. The partisan likely isn’t as smart as the King’s Grandson, and wouldn’t be able to devise a master plan to use the people to get what he wants.

The people and the church would have found out what’s going on, and his trustworthiness would have crumbled. When people say they’ll promise to change just for somebody else, in a frantic attempt to stop something horrible happening to them, they only do so out of selfishness from their crisis. Even if the other party entertained them, it still wouldn’t change anything. Both parties would be turning away from who they are and will be living a lie. This has happened many times throughout human history and has always resulted in relationships collapsing.

This message is reflected in Connor’s life in multiple ways. One of the most prominent ways it does this is through Lizzie lying to Connor, saying she’s going to be healed when she knows in her heart that she’s long gone. When Connor speaks of the fourth tale and tells the truth, he said that deep down he knew that she wasn’t going to be okay. Lizzie wanted to keep Connor ignorant to give him hope to believe in the cure. I think we all know the hypocrisy of this whole situation. Lizzie knew that by keeping him in the dark she could keep Connor hopeful while he figures it out himself. But why would Lizzie want to give him hope, when she already knew the endgame? And to tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer myself.

I’ve said this many, many times throughout this review, but I can’t emphasize this enough. Humans are complex, and not even the most intelligent of our kind, have not unraveled all of our brains strange and unorthodox ways of thinking. In positions like these, we may find ourselves wanting the truth, but also wanting to be lied to, as to not injure our hearts. That’s just the nature of the human spirit.


The Third Story


In the third story, we learn about the dangers of attempting to fight life. Even though sometimes we may think that life doesn’t know we exist, but that doesn’t mean the people that care about us don’t. As much as you may think that no-one is noticing you, they are always watching.

The tale goes like this:

There was once an invisible man, who had grown tired of being unseen. It was not that he was actually invisible, it was just that people had become used to not seeing him. One day the invisible man couldn’t stand it anymore. He kept wondering, if no one sees you, are you really there at all?

Liam Neeson as The Monster (2016)

After The Monster told this story, Connor then stormed forward and took out his anger on his bully. Connor was then reprimanded by his school principal after finding out his violent outburst put the boy in the hospital. When Connor asks why he isn’t being punished, she responds with: “What could possibly be the point?”

This film uses the third story to help explain to Connor, and the audience, that there’s nothing we can do to stop life from enacting its master plan, and we’re bound to make mistakes. Humans are complex and flawed, and we’re so used to being able to control everything. When they’res something we can’t control, we react with fear and anger. As I mentioned earlier, when the brain encounters something it doesn’t understand, its first response is to treat it as a threat. Knowing this information, it’s not unreasonable to expect that someone would make mistakes and act irrationally when dealing with something frightening.


The Fickleness of Punishment

People only learn when they feel pain. I think we can all relate to a situation where we tried to prevent someone we loved from making a rash decision, but the person in question never entertained your advice and they ended up making a grave mistake. Only after they made such a grave mistake did they realize what they have done, and end up asking themselves, “what was I thinking?”.

People don’t realize that they’ve made a mistake until after the consequences become reality. That’s how people learn to be better people. There’s no real way to live life without experiencing failures. After all, When we fail, we will naturally adjust our actions so we don’t make the same mistake again. Connor didn’t need to be punished by his actions because the consequences that resulted from his actions were so traumatic that it was never needed.

In instances like these, where we mess up and cause disarray, we may feel like we deserve the worst for acting out of line. The truth is if you’re going through something traumatic, and you lash out by breaking things, no one is going to hold that against you. You knew you messed up, and the other party can forgive you given the circumstances, so, what’s the point of punishment? In the end, Connor’s Grandmother flat-out rejects Connor’s apology because they’re both going through the same experience and have both made mistakes.


The Invisible Man

Leading up to the telling of this story, Connor felt as if he didn’t exist. In my own experience, I can relate to Connor because I too have lived through times where I felt that the world was piling on top of me. I felt that the world had been doing what it wanted, without a care in the world of how I felt.

To Connor, his Grandma doesn’t seem to pay attention to him or care about him, his father tells him things he doesn’t want to hear, and his mother tells him that she’s going to be alright when in reality, her condition is only worsening. Connor’s age benefits his character arc here, because everyone just tells him a “script”, and do their “grown-up” talk while he is seemingly ignored. After a lengthy buildup of this, his anger leads him to take out his frustrations on his school bully.

The truth of the matter is, you can’t cure invisibility through violence. If anything, it only makes your situation worse, as now everyone is staring at you in reaction to your heinous act. When grieving, it’s important to realize that giving your anger what it wants is going to do nothing to benefit you.

In my own life, I can recall several occurrences in which I felt that nothing I had been doing had been working to dull the pain I was feeling. This doesn’t just happen from going through the loss of a loved one, or even a breakup. This phenomenon happens in all instances where someone would be experiencing depression or sorrow in their life.

From my experience, I can say that there were times I had tried to listen to what people were telling me, watching self-help videos, and watching movies that dealt with a similar theme of acceptance. When none of them worked, I felt the only thing that could help me, the only thing that could make me feel powerful was my anger.

So when I felt I had no options left to cope with my emotions, I snapped, and said and did things that I would regret later.

What I and many other people failed to realize when under its influence is just that. Anger has an incredible influence on our minds if we let it roam free. The truth of the matter is, there are other options. No matter how much you may think that no one cares, there are people that care. The only reason why you may think you are invisible is because your depressive thoughts make you invisible.

There’s a powerful scene near the end of the film when Lizzie’s condition has reached critical levels. It’s too late to continue this charade any longer, and she has to tell Connor the truth. In an inspirational monologue, she says:

One day, if you look back, and you feel bad for being so angry, you can even speak to me. You have to know that that was okay, that I knew. Because I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud. And if you need to break things, by God you break them!

Felicity Jones as Lizzie O’Malley (A Monster Calls – 2016)

The best way to cope with grief, and your anger, is to embrace it as who you are. If you need to scream, if you need to punch a wall, or if you need to break things, that’s okay, because that’s what being human is all about. It’s okay to be angry, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to be punished when you feel such emotions. You shouldn’t have to feel like you need to hurt someone to express yourself.

People resort to violence in these situations because they are afraid. They are afraid of speaking the truth and embracing their vulnerability. Our pain and our anger makes us who we are, so trying to run away from it would only be foolish. We need these emotions to make us flawed, to make us human. That’s what the gift of free will is all about.


The Truth


In an inevitable sequence of events, Connor has to face his nightmare and speak of the 4th tale. In his nightmare, and finally admit to what he’s feeling, that’s been plaguing him for this entire journey. In this nightmare, a sinkhole develops in the ground, and Connor has to hold onto his mom as the void from the earth sucks her in with immense strength. To save himself, he has to let go. When he does, he finally, admits to The Monster and screams: “I just want it to be over!”.

Back to the theme of punishment again, Connor still thinks that he deserves punishment for wanting his pain to end, even if it meant losing his mother. This is only basic human instinct, and it’s completely natural to wish for an end of pain. He wished for an end to his pain, but he also wished for his mother to continue living. Just as these three stories suggest, not everything in life is going to make sense. At some point in his life, Connor had to accept that sometimes, that’s just how life happens. Of course, these two things contradict each other, but that doesn’t matter.

In King Kong, the humans killed him because they failed to understand him. Connor couldn’t understand his feelings and why he wanted to believe that his mother was going to live when he knew all along that she was lying. After all, from The Monster’s mouth, it does not matter what you think, it is only important what you do.


Conclusion


I feel that the best way to conclude this blog post is to tell my own tale in reflection on what I learned from this film.

I think we’ve all been in situations where we have been suffering through more pain than what should be warranted, as we avoid the red flags because we don’t want to let go of what’s causing us pain. In my own experience, I can recall a similar experience of having to let go. I had recently gone through a breakup from a partner whom I loved very much. I know I had to let her go, but the thought of her being with someone else was too much for me. How could I wish for an end to my pain, yet also want to hold onto her? It didn’t really make sense. Although, no matter what I thought, I knew I wasn’t ever going to get her back, nor would it be a healthy relationship anyway if I did. So I allowed myself to be hypocritical and just accepted reality, as confusing as it was.

Over time, I was healed. Yes, it was hard, it was more than hard. Nonetheless, I was able to move on because I knew that it was best for me, as confusing as that felt.

Author

Noah Veremis

The Grey: Optimizing Opportunity

The Grey is a 2011 film about a group of plane crash survivors that soon find themselves as stalking victims of a group of ravenous, aggressive wolves. On the surface, it looks nothing more than a typical Liam Neeson movie. On my revisited viewing of this film, I absolutely fell in love with this film.

The Key to understanding what this film has to say is to look at the dynamic between Liam Neeson’s character, John, and the alpha of the opposing wolf pack. When John found himself stranded in the middle of an arctic wasteland, he was forced to make a choice. This setting is perfect for the film’s message, as when you consider that in a life-threatening survival situation, to survive one must optimize every single choice they make to ensure their safety.

John’s character in this film lived through life as a jellyfish, just letting the waves carry him through life. When that plane crashed, it forced him to take initiative. In storytelling, the most boring character that could ever be written into a story is one who does not make decisions that move the story forward. So, The Grey takes this to the extreme and builds the entire message of the film off of rapid decision making as opposed to letting life (or the story in this case) make decisions for you.


Living in a Dream


One of the very first pieces of information the film gives us is John’s wife. Some time ago, his wife had passed, and he spends his days mourning during the daytime and living in a paradise in the dream world, where he can be in his wife’s arms.

There’s a poem that John’s dad had coined early in John’s childhood, and had framed on the family wall. The poem reads:

Once more into the fray,

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know,

Live and die on this day,

Live and die on this day.

Liam Neeson as John Ottway – The Grey (2011)

This poem entails that one should do everything they possibly can to complete their goals, thus increasing chances of success by optimizing every opportunity they come across.

We don’t see much of John’s father, but we can assume that he was an important figure in his life. However, after John’s wife had passed away, all hope and enthusiasm that was left died with her. So now, his only reason to live is to wait until he falls asleep so he dull his pain, even for a short moment. John, like anybody would be, is heartbroken. He wishes for things he can’t have and asks the same questions over and over even when he knows he’s going to get the same answer.


Suicide Letter

We learn that since her death, John had landed himself a job working for an oil company. There’s a rampant wolf problem in this area that threatens the workers, so they hired John as a hunter to keep the company’s employees protected.

The opening shot of the film begins with John reading out loud a letter to his late wife. In it, he allows himself to be hypocritical for the sake of acceptance. He writes to her that he doesn’t know why he’s writing this, or what good it will do, especially considering that he knows she’s never going to return to him.

As we progress through this monologue, John explains that the people working for this company are the lowest of the low. They consist of ex-cons, fugitives, and drifters: according to John, as anyone unfit for mankind. Anyone who lands a job working for this company has made far too many mistakes in life to fit in with the rest of society.

There is some religious symbolism in this film that considers the credibility of God’s existence. These people have made far to many mistakes to have any hope of redemption, so why should we believe in the existence of God, when the evidence of his guidance is nowhere to be seen?

Well, shortly after John finishes this letter, he walks into a bar and takes a look around at the filth that inhabits the room around him. He then proceeds to take his last drink and walks outside to take his own life. He ends up stopping himself when he hears the combined howl of a pack of wolves in the mountains.

John chose to live on because it’s his purpose to protect his fellow workers from wolves. From my personal experiences, I only thought about suicide because I didn’t feel like I had a purpose in this world. From my perspective, I felt that the world wouldn’t lose anything if I left. Not necessarily that no one would miss me, but that I was a waste of oxygen. When John was reminded of his purpose, he had no choice but to live on, as all of those deaths attributed to wolf attacks would have been on him.

As John said, these people are the scum of human society. However, by defying fate and delaying their deaths, perhaps he can prolong the inevitable long enough to give them a second chance at redemption. However, as we come to find out, not everyone who works here is a lowlife. Sometimes it just happens that we have no options left. If John were to kill himself, his absence could be responsible for the death of someone who was just down on their luck. They would be at the mercy of fate.

When we feel that we don’t have many options left, when we feel we are beyond hope of saving, we may look to God for guidance. How do you think you would feel if the only person staffed to protect you from wild animals ended up killing himself, only to have you murdered by one of them? Sure, some people might not believe in God, and that’s fine. However, it would be selfish of you to take that faith away from them. Faith exists to give people hope, that as long as they keep breathing they’ll be okay.

People are counting on John to protect them. Even if John had physical proof that God didn’t exist, it would be much smarter just to let people be ignorant. Some people are in such a hole that God is the only thing left they have to hold onto. It would be incredibly self-centered for John to kill himself because so many people count on him. These people trust John with their lives, and John wants to end his own life because he can’t handle being away from his wife? No, that would be horribly unreasonable. So, John pulled his finger off the trigger and chose to live on for another day, in the name of life.

Later in the film, John will come to regret this decision, but that regret is short lasted. After the plane crash, the opportunity presents itself for the need for leadership, and John took initiative because he knew he was the best candidate for the job.


Taking Initiative


There comes a point in the film where John and some of his fellow workers have to board a plane flight for a business trip. John eventually falls asleep, and we see him in bed with his wife. John’s still wearing his coat as she’s cradling him. John’s only coping mechanism for reality is to escape from it in his dreams. So when the plane starts to crash, he’s ripped (literally) out of his wife’s arms and into reality.

Reality isn’t dull anymore. John expects reality to just leave him be until he enters the dream world, but that’s just not the case. This is real, and he has to make decisions that count. Being depressed about his dead wife isn’t going to help him in this life or death situation. It’s not that he doesn’t miss her or that he’s not hurt, it’s just in his best interest to keep living and make a decision, as he has been given an opportunity to turn his life around, to start treating his purpose with respect.

John accepted the harsh truth that no one isn’t going to find them. So, instead of wallowing in the pit life has thrown him in, he starts working for a solution. After all, no one else is equipped to lead, and every group needs a leader to succeed. John could care less about who these people are or why they ended up with such a dead-end job. All he cares about is that it’s in his best interest to take leadership status to ensure his survival. It just so happens that he forms friendships with these people later on.

The other members of the group just don’t have the leadership skills required to survive. He doesn’t spend too much time to mourn the people who have passed, not because he’s heartless, but that it would be a waste of precious time given the current situation.

There is one scene where he does give time to mourn that’s worth mentioning, however. After everyone settles into reality and recovers from their shock, one of the men is stricken with the horrible fate of his inevitable death as he slowly bleeds out. John decides to sit next to him and act as comfort for his dying soul. He does this because nobody else is equipped to handle this situation, so John steps up. See, whenever an opportunity presents itself that the world needs John’s skills, he takes initiative and doesn’t stop until he has no more energy. This is because he wasted so much precious time on his life worrying about things out of his control, waiting for life to allow him to see his wife again.

So now, he makes decisions that count, because there will be situations where the world will call for his aid. Many people may be conflicted as to what their purpose is, but John could care less what his purpose is. He only fills in the role he knows no one else can fill. He only wants to live life as full as he can because all he’s been doing is waiting to go to sleep so he can see his wife. He just wants to solve problems that he knows he has control over.


The Alpha


The wolves in this film may seem at first glance to be heartless killers, but they’re no different from John and his crew, especially the alpha. After the first death from one of these wolves, John explains that they may be trespassing on their territory, hence why these wolves begin hunting them.

Wolves aren’t territorial because they’re out for blood. As a wolf. if another carnivore enters your territory, it threatens your livelihood because you now have competition. If a group of carnivores enters your zone of control, that’s less food for you and your pack. As a leader, wolf or not, your job is to tend to the safety and survival of your pack. Wolves don’t attack humans when outside of their territory because there’s no purpose to, other than being prey, but that’s just the circle of life.

Diaz, the mouthy and rebellious member of John’s group, puts on quite the act to compensate for his fear. He puffs his chest out and talks a big game because that’s the only way he knows how to cope with his fear. So, when John points this out and puts him in his place, Diaz pulls out his knife and challenges his leadership. Of course, John beats him to the ground, not because he hates him, but to assert his dominance. John must maintain his spot as the leader because he’s the only one capable to lead the group. Diaz then apologizes and actually becomes a productive member of the group, but that’s beside the point.

The Alpha also makes a similar display of dominance when one of the wolves threatens his leadership. He then proceeds to kill the challenger, as a means to keep his status as the alpha. This decision to kill the challenger wasn’t personal, it was only practical. If the alpha decided to let it slide, his credibility to be a leader would collapse. The stability of the pack would crumble, and the pack would likely be killed off or starve to death.

In the final scene of the film, John finds himself to be the only survivor and accidentally stumbles into the wolves’ den. The alpha orders the wolves to stand down as he challenges John on his own.

John pulls his bearings together and gets his weapons ready instead of surrendering because there’s still a tiny chance of survival. Although the chances of his success are incredibly slim, there’s still a mathematical chance that he will survive. So, because he’s exhausted every other alternative option of survival, he readies for battle to survive. The only acceptable environment required to allow yourself to surrender is if you have exhausted every other option to complete your goals. In making any decision, you accept the consequences of what may come of it, if you’re tactical about it that is.

The alpha orders his pack to stand down because if he were to be “cowardly” and let his pack do his dirty work, he may have incubated an environment for one of the members of his pack to challenge his authority. For if he challenges the last survivor head-on, none of the other wolves would even dare challenge him. His pack knows he’s making the right decision because his extremely tactful nature in the past has warranted their trust to follow him.

Is this realistic wolf behavior? Absolutely not, but that’s not the point. Animals in films are often personified to be more relatable or frightening, and that’s not a bad thing. This is exactly why in the Lion King 2019 remake, all soul and emotion was lost when the decision was made to keep the animals as realistic as possible.


Conclusion


I absolutely fell in love with this film after my second viewing, and for good reason. I feel that this film’s version of the message, “living life to the fullest”, is the best adaptation that I have ever seen. The dynamic between John and the alpha is amazing, and I feel this is definitely a hidden gem that everyone should see. I love movies that use animals to incorporate their message, and this film did so with flying colors. If you take anything from this film, know that the worst decision you could ever make is not deciding at all.

Author

Noah Veremis

Planet of the Apes: Lesson in Character Development – War

War for the Planet of the Apes is the third and final film in the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, released in 2017. After Koba forced apes into a war with humans, Caesar is forced to lead his tribe against a fight he didn’t start, because he has to protect his kind, and no one else is qualified to do it.


War


In this film, Koba’s actions haunt everyone even after his death. After Caesar’s family is killed by the Colonel leading a surviving society of humans, Caesar lets his emotions get the best of him when he abandons his tribe to go on a manhunt for revenge. Throughout the film, we start to see Caesar adopt some of Koba’s toxic traits, and this, in turn, puts his tribe in danger.

The magnetic presence and influence Caesar has over his apes play a tremendous role in the overwhelming amount of trust his people have for him.

Caesar in this movie could even be a reflection of Moses from The Bible. This film has many religious commentary inside of its content, and even more so a message of anti-violence. In this spectacular finale, we see Caesar learn exactly how much he means to his fellow apes, and how far they will go to serve him.


Caesar vs Koba


Koba’s actions in Dawn still haunt the apes that remain, especially Caesar. When Caesar talks about this with Maurice, Maurice says that no one could have known how much hatred and darkness that had infected his heart. Of course, yes, that is true, but technically it was Caesar’s fault that this war even happened. Caesar looked down upon humans and thought that they only capable of destruction. If Caesar had learned to treat humans with the same amount of respect as apes, he might have seen the foreseeable future.

However, as Maurice stated, no one had a clue how much hate was living inside of Koba. This version of Caesar is arguably the best in the trilogy because he’s the most relatable. We have all met someone who we trusted, only to be back-stabbed by that person. In my own experience, at one point in my life, I was so captivated by someone that I wasn’t understanding or able to predict that they were just using me for themselves.

Although in Caesar’s case his circumstances are slightly different, the situation is the same. We have all been in a situation where we couldn’t see what someone’s true motives are. I can also think of any number of times where I wallowed over one of my mistakes, thinking hindsight can fix the past. Sometimes it’s hard to let go, even when the universe is screaming at us that it’s in our best interest.


Winter

One of the characters in the film, Winter, is part of Caesar’s main crew until he betrays him. At the beginning of the film, we learn that Rocket and Blue Eyes have found a desert a lengthy distance from the woods and that the apes could travel there to escape further battle from hostile humans. Unfortunately, before they made it to the tribe, their base was attacked by a human military.

Some of the kin working with this band of humans are apes who were previously followers of Koba. They serve as “donkeys” for humans in fear of what Caesar will do to them. One of these donkeys named Red, informs Winter that the colonel will spare his life if he leaves Caesar’s side and informs him of the location of Caesar’s base. Winter, being a fearful creature, gives in and becomes a donkey for the humans.

Unfortunately, this leads Colonel McCullough (the leader of this opposing tribe of humans) to lead a stealth mission to infiltrate the base and kill Caesar. Not everything went as planned however, and Caesar’s wife and son were brutally killed.


Letting Go

This begins the start of Caesar’s character arc, as he is naturally incredibly angry for what had happened to him, and runs off alone to find and kill McCullough in a solo vendetta ride. The problem with this is that he’s leaving his apes behind without a leader. Caesar is a leader and lets his vengeance take priority over leading his people. Not to mention, the only member of his family that survived the attack was his newest son, Cornelius.

Caesar says that by leaving he is giving his people a chance to escape because when he finds the Colonel his forces will look for him. Although this may hold some truth, the fact of the matter is the Colonel would probably expect a prideful ape as Caesar to stick with his men. Colonel McCullough at some points tries to get Caesar to calm down, saying that what he had done was performed solely as an act of war. and that Caesar is taking it much too personally. Regardless of what you might think of McCullough, he’s right.

However, to let this go, and not take it personally, Caesar would have to forgive the Colonel. After all, Caesar wasn’t the one who instigated this war, as he is only invested in it to protect apes. To to properly move on from this traumatic event, would be to live with the fact that Caesar would have to resist his urges for vengeance.

I know not all of us have had family brutally murdered, but I’m sure we can all relate to the fear of forgiveness. Using the same situation I mentioned earlier, it was really hard to forgive this person and live on knowing that this person would live on without anything happening to them, that they would continue to have friends and live a happy life after doing something so terrible to me.

Using Winter as an example, when Caesar left on his suicide mission, Maurice, Rocket, and Luca joined him to make sure he comes back. They come across a human military camp, and surprise surprise, Winter is there. When Caesar’s crew confronts him, humans outside notice the racket, and Caesar promptly puts him in a headlock. Unfortunately in his rage, Caesar accidentally kills him.

Winter is an albino gorilla, which is incredibly rare in the wild. This extraordinary, beautiful creature was killed because he made a mistake driven from the fear for his life. Surely Caesar would have been able to forgive Winter given the circumstances. Winter truly thought that humans were going to discover the hideout, thinking that he would be in the death count. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Caesar to put his anger aside and forgive Winter. He probably could have even changed his mind and motivate him to join the crew, or at the very least meet back up with the other apes.

Caesar killed an albino gorilla, all because he couldn’t forgive and set his emotions aside. After this happens, Caesar has a dream where he sees an apparition of Koba. Koba says to him “ape not kill ape”. Which haunts Caesar like a revenant out of fear of becoming what Koba represented. In some situations, fear of our past mistakes make us repeat them at a higher volume. When Koba mocks Caesar for killing Winter, he is afraid of admitting his fault because he doesn’t want to be wrong.

In life, it is inevitable that there will be outcomes where the very people who have harmed us mock us or remind us of our shortcomings, and we retaliate because there’s no possible way we could be the very thing that harmed us. Unfortunately, this happens more than we’d like to happen to us. It’s scary to think that we have committed the same mistakes as someone whom we despise out of the things they have done to us. We don’t want to be associated with people like that, so instead of admitting our faults, we retaliate in anger thinking it will prove a point, but usually only prove to the accuser of what we’ve become.

However, the truth is, no matter who we are, we all make mistakes. There’s no fault in admitting of making a mistake either. It’s okay to be vulnerable instead of being defensive because you aren’t going to solve anything unless you forgive.


Simian Flu


One of the main plot-points in this movie is the mutation of the Simian Flu. It’s explained later by the Colonel that the disease that every remaining human still carries, had suddenly changed, rather, mutated into something far more dangerous.

Nova had been a victim of this mutation. What the mutation does, is rob those affected of their higher thinking abilities. They still have the intelligence required to problem solve, but what made them human had been taken away, and had been turned into primitives.

On the trip to find the Colonel, Caesar’s crew encounters Nova when they find her in a small hut filled with trash. The man who was taking care of her had been neglectful of her health. Maurice interacts with her and persuades Caesar to bring her along after they discover she cannot speak.

We later find out that people who had stopped speaking were green-lighted to be killed. The Colonel, informs Caesar in a monologue that anyone who stops speaking carries the mutation, and that the only way to rid of the mutation is to kill them.


Nova


Nova represents vulnerability. Never in the film does she ever show aggression, or even anger. She remains a pretty inactive character for the majority of the film, that is until Luca dies.

After finding an ape that can take them to a weapons depot where the Colonel may reside, the crew gets ambushed on their way there and Luca is stabbed in the chest. The only reason why Luca was killed was because of Caesar’s own selfish desire to go after the Colonel as opposed to protecting his apes.

Luca is the same type of gorilla as Buck from Rise. In that film, Buck’s death represented Caesar’s evolution into an independent character. Caesar no longer had Will to take care of him, and he no longer had Buck to protect his authority. Instead, he developed to rely on his charisma and leadership skills from thereon out. Of course, Caesar has moved past that, and had become a powerful leader using the skills he learned when he was confronted with challenge. Unfortunately however, Caesar has lost the understanding of what’s important. Instead of setting aside his emotions and allowing himself to be vulnerable, he decided to go after the Colonel in a quest for vengeance.

Vulnerability doesn’t make you weak. In a scene before Luca’s death, he plucked a flower from a blossoming tree and set it atop Nova’s ear as a hair-bow. Just before Luca takes his last breath, Nova gives the flower back to Luca as she cries over the dying ape. In his own words, the Colonel started killing people infected with the mutating Simian Flu because he was afraid of becoming no more intelligent than cattle.

In other words, Colonel McCullough started killing his men out of fear of becoming weak. However, as we’ve discussed, vulnerability doesn’t make you weak. Sure, Nova ability to speak was taken from her, but she was able to learn sign language like anyone else. If you can put aside your anger and allow yourself to grieve, to cry, to allow yourself to feel awkward in front of others, you stop pushing people away and allow yourself to be showered with the love you need.


The Prison

Even after Luca’s death, when the dangers of power and control are staring into Caesar’s rage-induced eyes, he still proceeds to press on. When Maurice resents Caesar, he tells him that he is starting to sound like Koba. Caesar responds with rage and decides to go after the Colonel alone. This inevitably leads him to find out that without his leadership, his apes have found themselves captured in a labor camp in terrible living conditions. If this wasn’t terrible enough, Caesar’s tunnel vision lead him to be captured by Red and brought to the Colonel in handcuffs.

Even when McCullough asks him if he’s come to save his apes, Caesar replies with “I came for you”. Caesar doesn’t fully understand the gravity of his mistakes until he sees his only son behind bars, forced to work like everyone else.


Maurice

Maurice, as he’s always been, is a comforting soul who serves as Caesar’s rock. That is especially prevalent in this film, as Maurice is the one who serves as Nova’s protector and guardian. If not for Maurice, Nova likely would not have come along or probably not have survived with the crew, and Caesar would not have learned his most valuable lesson.

After Luca’s death Maurice tries to reason with Caesar. In summary, he says that Luca is the first of what will be an onslaught if Caesar continues down the same path. Thanks to Caesar’s actions, his selfish quest to kill the Colonel will only lead to the death of more apes. When Caesar goes off on his own, Maurice chooses to stow his hand, as sometimes the only way for someone to learn of his shortcomings is for them to occur as a consequence of said shortcomings. After all, people only learn that they’ve done something wrong when something unpleasant happens as a result from their lackluster decisions.

I have had experiences where people have tried to convince me as hard as they can of the path I was walking through, and how dangerous it was to my health. I only learned what I was doing when I found myself at the deep end when I went too far. Only when I finally caved in to self reflect did I realize what I’ve become. The best way for someone to improve from their mistakes, is to have them experience an event that is a consequence of their poor decision making.

So, it’s no surprise that when Caesar is captured and realizes what he’s done, there are a handful of orangutans sprinkled in with all of the other apes.

In a powerful scene, Caesar is forced to work with the other apes on a wall that will defend the base from an attack from a rivaling tribe of humans. After one of the orangutans makes a mistake, he is doomed to be brutally whipped by none other than Red. Caesar screams “LEAVE HIM!”.

Following this scene, all of the apes start shouting and chanting in protest. It’s at this point that Caesar is starting to understand how important he is to his apes, as just two words of confidence from him can motivate his apes from a state of having no hope, to setting everything aside to follow in his footsteps, trusting every move he makes.

When the Colonel threatens to kill Caesar if the apes don’t go back to work, Caesar doesn’t have to say anything. His fellow apes start to work on their own volition. In any other circumstance, if any other ape was the leader of the pack, he would probably be killed to send a message without hesitation. That just shows how much Caesar means to his family. They will do anything he asks, because after seeing the kind of person he has evolved into, they know he’s the best candidate for their leader.

The loyalty of his followers only increases when Caesar is strung up on a log, similar to Crucifixion, as punishment. This is why we never see Maurice fight anyone in the entire film. Even when he is shot by Koba in Dawn, he still never shows resentment towards him. This is why vulnerability and anti-violence is so much stronger than Koba’s philosophy. When you allow yourself to forgive your enemies and allow yourself to be humiliated in front of your followers, that only makes you and your followers stronger.

If you respond with violence, you are no better than your oppressors, and you don’t solve anything, as it is effective as punching a brick wall. If Caesar decided to fight back in any of these circumstances, he would have been beaten and likely killed. Caesar’s people need a leader, so it is paramount that he allows himself to be humiliated and tortured so his people can have someone to rely on, something to hope for. If Caesar were to be killed, his people likely would have lost hope and given up. Not to mention, fighting your captors when you have no chance of succeeding only demonstrates your foolishness as you put yourself in more pain than is necessary.


Redemption

Perhaps Caesar’s defining moment in this film is when Nova leaves the protection of Maurice on her own volition to retrieve food and water for Caesar so he can survive the night. Caesar is sitting in his private cell, curled up in the fetal position suffering from starvation and dehydration. Nova brings the bucket of water up to his mouth and smooths her fingers through his hair to comfort him.

When she brings him some grain from the other apes, all of the apes from the other cell stand up holding their hands together, signifying the phrase “Apes, Together, Strong”. Nova turns back to Caesar and makes the same gesture. It’s an incredibly powerful and emotional scene that shows the strength of Caesar’s leadership and shows him how much his followers love him. It shows that Caesar doesn’t have to go through the death of his family alone, as his followers aren’t just along for the ride. It also shows that by being vulnerable and allowing himself to be tortured and humiliated all to guarantee the safety of his kind, he is the strongest leader anyone could ever ask or hope for.

To further represent this point, to allow Nova to escape back into Maurice’s arms, Rocket makes a racket and shows himself out in the open. He is then promptly beaten half to death, and thrown into the cell with the other apes. When he stands up, he looks at Caesar, smiles, and asks him if he’s feeling better, followed by notions of escape. Rocket, who was once the leader of the small tribe from the animal sanctuary, has come to put his life on the line and blow his cover, all for the protection of Nova and Caesar. After he is beaten severely and disgraced in front of everyone he loves, his only priorities are to make sure his leader is okay.


Conclusion


This film in particular out of the three that I have discussed took me through a wild ride. It still stands to be one of my favorite films, as it is the biggest climax of a series to end all climaxes. It wraps up Caesar’s character arc so perfectly that I feel like we never deserved this amazing of a film. As for Caesar himself, his character evolves so amazingly throughout his journey. Even in War, you can still faintly see the birthmark that made him into who he was from the beginning. To transfer Dawn to War, the team decided to use Koba’s philosophy as a great reflection of Caesar’s wrongdoings and allows the audience to use it as an anchor to ponder of the abstract ideas presented in Caesar’s character flaws. To wrap up, I would go as far as to say that these three films should be films everyone should watch before they die. These films hold a very special place in my heart and taught me things I never expected them to.

Author

Noah Veremis

Planet of the Apes: Lesson in Character Development – Dawn

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the second installment in the Planet of the Apes trilogy. Picking up in the future after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we see the aftermath of the simian flu. The same drug that increased ape intelligence was incredibly lethal for humans. The few survivors that are immune to the disease live in small settlements in a world controlled by apes.


Dawn

In this film, Caesar’s character arc is further developed. One of the apes that follows him, Koba, cannot forgive what humans have done to him. Once Koba finds out that humans are not extinct and still alive he constantly persists to Caesar that they wipe them out.

Of course this would put apes in needless danger and start a war that wasn’t needed. However, Caesar’s flaw in this film is that he subconsciously believes that apes are better than humans. Due to this flaw in Caesar’s logic, he refuses to believe that Koba could ever break his trust and become a traitor because he is an ape. This fault in logic even almost leads Caesar to his death. In this film, Caesar’s grudge against the human race becomes his downfall, and eventually learns to treat humans with just as much respect and dignity as he would an ape.


Caesar vs Koba


In this film, the character Koba from Rise is further explored and is an important role in the film. Caesar was born in an environment that facilitated all of his needs as an individual. He had a father, a mother, and even a grandfather. Born in a place full of love, that’s all he came to knew. When that was taken away from him he wanted to be back in Will’s arms again and be taken care of. However, this request was never fulfilled and Caesar was placed in an environment that forced him to take action and take initiative. This series of events lead us to the disciplined and hardened Caesar we all know and love.

Unfortunately for Koba, he did not receive the same treatment. Koba was a frequent guinea pig for experimentation and was treated very poorly. Naturally, when someone is living in such neglectful living conditions for so long, this becomes all they are capable of expecting in other individuals. Humans taught Koba nothing but hate. Ontop of this, Koba was never released from this neglect until Caesar arrived to save him.

Koba never had the ability or the wish to take initiative like Caesar accomplished. He never had the capability or the determination to escape from such hateful living conditions so he was conditioned to be passive and submissive. When Caesar helped him escape, he allowed for an environment to let Koba exercise his right to independence and that was like gold to him.

Up until Koba found out that humans were proven to be still alive, he was content with life because his oppressors were assumed dead. It was inevitable for Koba’s violent intent to arise again because that was all he knew. When he found out that humans were still alive, the notion of revenge was therapeutic for him. This is because all of the abuse he received allowed for his anger to build up slowly over time. It is not uncommon for someone to act out violently after suffering abuse earlier in life, because the last thing they want to feel is submissive. It would be natural for a victim of abuse to feel the need to give out beatings, because they want to feel dominant to cope with their feelings of fear and anger out of their mind.

Once the apes finally reunite with the humans, both Caesar and Koba have pretty unhealthy reactions. After Rocket’s new son, Ash was shot by one of these humans, Caesar crosses the Golden Gate Bride to human territory to send a message. Caesar says to them that apes don’t wish for war, but will fight if the situation arises. After telling the humans to stay in their territory, Caesar and his apes take their leave back to their den.

Caesar wishes to segregate humans and apes because he thinks that apes are a much more peaceful species. Of course, this is incredibly terrible logic because there’s always going to be bad eggs, apes and humans the like. When the humans need assistance from the apes, Caesar’s only condition is to have them give up all weapons. All things considered, this is a pretty reasonable request. However, when Caesar finds that a particularly hateful and violent human named Carver, has hidden a shotgun in his toolbox, he associates that transgression with the human race as a whole instead of with one toxic individual.

This is Caesar’s downfall. He believes that all humans are automatically inherited violent and hateful tendencies as soon as they are born. On the opposite side of the spectrum, he believes that all apes are going to be peaceful. If Life of Pi has taught us anything, its that it is naive to think that everyone is going to think like you, and that everyone is going to be peaceful and reciprocate your kindness with more love.

This ultimately leads to Caesar providing the circumstances for Koba to go rogue and stab Caesar in the back, becoming a traitor and leading a war against the humans that shouldn’t have ever happened in the first place.

Caesar only made things worse by making Koba submit whenever his notions got out of hand. In one instance, he stood up and physically made his presence more dominant to force Koba to submit. In another instance when Koba almost harms a human child and insults Caesar, Caesar assaults him and even almost kills him. He ends up stopping himself and says “ape not kill ape”. All of this only incubates Koba’s rage because now he’s forced into submission again, bringing out unhealthy and frustrating memories.

However, because Koba isn’t contained and prevented from acting out his thirst for dominance, he takes action and shoots Caesar in the chest and framing his “death” on the humans, presenting a “human gun” to his fellow apes to start a war.


Apes vs Humans

Now that Caesar is wounded and very close to death, he ultimately has to rely on outside sources to save himself and his fellow apes from the slaughter of the war that Koba started.

There are a few strategies one could employ to fight stereotyping and discrimination, or even just hateful tendencies from multiple individuals in general. One of them is arguably the most effective. All it requires is that the individuals in question work together on a common goal. It really can be anything, like pushing a truck that’s stuck in the mud, or forcing them to work together on a lengthy project.

In this film’s case, our group of human protagonists see Caesar gravely wounded and take him into their truck to tend to his wounds. After being healed by these humans, these same people help Caesar and some of his apes sneak into the battlefield to stop Koba and his army. Caesar and the humans worked together toward a common goal and stop a common enemy. This shoved away Caesar’s ideologies of humans and replaced them with rational ones. Caesar was shown the positive side of humans and learned that it would be naive to think that all humans are hateful because that is just not the case.

Caesar even said out loud that humans and apes might have more in common than he initially thought. It would be wrong to view all humans as horrible living things that only know violence because that’s just not true. It would also be just as naive to believe that everyone in your race would present the same amount of love and peacefulness into the world as you do. There will always be bad eggs, so it would be dangerous to put your trust and faith into everyone you come across.


Conclusion

I think that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the weakest in the series. However, that’s not saying much because its still a phenomenal film. Koba is arguably the most compelling character in the film, because his actions are facilitated by Caesar’s personality. The only reason why Koba succeeded in starting a war was because of Caesar’s naivety. The film also does a terrific job of building Caesar’s character arc to take a next step into the next film. Its the fault of Koba’s actions that War of the Planet of the Apes even exists, allowing for some reflection from this film to take place.

Everything is just sewn together so beautifully that makes for a gem of a trilogy that is sure to stand the test of time.

Author

Noah Veremis

Planet of the Apes: Lesson in Character Development – Rise

The Planet of the Apes trilogy started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 and ended with War for the Planet of the Apes in 2017. It starts with the human race testing a drug on apes that can supposedly cure Alzheimer’s disease, going horribly wrong when humans start to kill over and apes becoming smarter by the minute. When trying to create character development, for most movies its relatively simple: Introduce a character flaw, have that flaw be exploited by the villain or something else, and have that character come past that character flaw by the end.

That is unless you plan on having any sequels. In that case, you have to plan some things out as it can become difficult. To show an example of how this can be done, I will be taking a look at the Planet of the Apes trilogy and Caesar’s journey through the three films.


Rise


At the beginning of the trilogy, the rise of ape intelligence is explained through the testing of a drug that can cure Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, as much as this effort means well, it ends up going terribly wrong. Testing on this drug is done on apes, come to find out that it actually increases their intelligence immensely. After Caesar’s mother is killed when she tries to escape her pen, a scientist named Will who actually created the drug takes Caesar in as his pet.

Later in the film, Will starts to fully realize Caesar’s potential as he inherited the drug’s effects from his mother’s DNA. Represented with a peculiar birthmark, Caesar starts to question who he is and what this unusual mental prowess has in store for him as opposed to other apes.


Caesar’s Birthmark

Caesar starts to question his identity when he is with Will in the woods when they meet another family walking their dog. Of course, the dog reacts aggressively, but the focus is that of his collar. Caesar too is wearing a collar and being treated no differently than a dog. Caesar, a unique animal with such sophisticated intelligence and wit is being treated no differently than a house-pet.

Although Will means well, he is insulting Caesar’s intelligence by treating him like a dog. Naturally, when Caesar finds out about his origins and the death of his mother he feels insulted and views his existence as an abomination. All Caesar wanted was to be an ape. He just wanted a simple life as a chimpanzee and that was taken away from him. This life epiphany kick starts Caesar’s character arc as it displays his slow acceptance of his uniqueness and starting a revolution.

This drug that Caesar inherited was also given to Will’s father, Charles to treat his Alzheimer’s. At first, this drug worked like a miracle. Charles’ symptoms were completely gone and Caesar was flourishing. However, as time progressed, Will comes to find that Charles’ body was producing antibodies to counteract the drug, effectively worsening his condition. Charles has been given a failed drug that made his disease even worse, and Caesar was given a life he wasn’t meant to live, neither did he want to.

This parallel represents toxic parenthood and the dangers of over-protection. There comes a point in the film when in one of Charles’ episodes, he attempts to drive his neighbor’s car that he thought was his own. When the neighbor comes out and starts bullying him, Caesar violently comes to the rescue and is promptly captured by animal control.

When animal control takes Caesar in, they corral him towards the entrance gate using a control pole. When Will naturally acts protective of Caesar, he isn’t doing himself any favors. Will essentially did the same thing by comparing Caesar’s value to that of a dog. Will claims he can give Caesar what he deserves but he physically can’t. In order to give Caesar a life he deserves he has to send him out into the wild to respect Caesar’s independence. Yet, Caesar has become unhealthily attached to Will due to factors of Will’s unfit parenting abilities and the fact that a chimp is not meant to be housed as a pet.

So, when animal control houses Caesar in an ape sanctuary where he can interact with his own kind, Caesar starts to show symptoms of separation anxiety because he’s scared of the notion that he would be living life on his own. The reason why Caesar started a revolution in the first place was that he was denied freedom. When children are victims of over-protective parenting, the death grip from the parents can actually cause more dangerous behaviors to arise in said children to get out of the house and do something “exciting”.

Even when Will bribes the owner of the sanctuary to let Caesar free, Caesar has already found this appreciated new freedom. By putting Caesar in a cage and treated poorly, he starts finding means of escape and earns his leadership over the apes. Caesar sees the collar and leash in Will’s hand and chooses to stay in his pen because he is starting to realize how vast his potential is and starting to accept the abnormal nature of his existence.

An easier way to explain this would be to take a look at a goldfish. In many cases, fish like goldfish are housed in small bowls with no filter to remove waste from the water. This fish is swimming in its own filth and is living in improper living conditions. That fish is far from happy, but the reason why he is being mistreated is that he makes his owner happy. Will wants to keep Caesar at his house and protect him, but that will only limit Caesar’s potential.


Escape

During Caesar’s stay at the sanctuary, he begins to miss his home and often gets bullied by the other apes for not being “normal”. This is displayed by Caesar wearing human clothing. He even uses chalk to draw a painting of the window of his room back at the house to remind him of his home.

After one of Will’s visits, he explains to Caesar that he won’t be coming home with him. Caesar then promptly goes into a rage and erases this painting out of anger that he has been treated so poorly. Caesar could have wallowed in his depression, hating his existence but instead, he accepted his birthmark and embraced it, now becoming a leader and finding means of escape.


Maurice

During his stay, he meets an orangutan who actually worked at a circus before he arrived at this sanctuary. This orangutan named Maurice is the calmest and and most peaceful of Caesar’s crew in the series, and serves as a representation of Caesar’s humanity. Caesar could have followed in Koba’s footsteps, another ape who later sought revenge for what humans did to him, but instead, he practiced forgiveness.

Maurice is a circus orangutan so he is fully aware of the brutal tendencies of humans. Instead of seeking vengeance against humans Maurice forgives them for they know not what they do. If Maurice would have reacted aggressively against his handlers he would likely have been killed and have accomplished nothing.

This trilogy, especially in the last film in the series uses anti-violence in some way in their message. When Caesar finds out that further testing of a new prototype of the drug is under-way, he steals a pocketknife from one of the humans to use as a screwdriver and escape his cage. Since he knew Will would try and use the drug on Charles he knew he could find some at his house. Now inside Will’s room, he could have easily strangled him in his sleep but he chose not to.

Instead of seeking revenge for what humanity has done to him, he seeks to prove humans wrong and start a revolution. He steals the gas canisters from Will’s fridge and “enlightens” all of the caged apes back at the sanctuary.

Caesar knows that not all humans are inhumane because he grew up sheltered with love and affection. Caesar chooses not to seek vengeance onto humans because if he were to do that he would be ignoring all of the love that he grew up with and stereotyping his loving father into the same group of people that were hurting him.

Like Maurice, if Caesar would have resorted to violence he would only have enabled what humans were doing to his species by feeding into the stereotype that apes are primal and dangerous and wouldn’t have accomplished anything.


Buck

Buck is a gorilla that lives inside the sanctuary with the other apes. Unfortunately for him, however, he is inside his own private cage 24/7, meaning he is unable to interact with any of the other apes at any given time.

Buck only ever leaves this cage when Caesar physically breaks him out. After Caesar first arrives at this sanctuary and meets the other apes he meets the leader of the tribe, another ape named Rocket. This naturally leads to Rocket testing him and bullying him for wearing human clothes. So when Caesar finally decides to make his escape he knows he’s going to have to remove him from the throne.

Caesar honestly could have done this pretty easily just by absolutely decimating him in a fistfight, but he chose not to. Instead, he breaks out Buck from his cage and uses him as a bodyguard of sorts to enforce his new leadership. Buck is an absolute brute made out of nothing but muscle. Having him caged up like he was represented Caesar’s caged up potential. By wanting to be with Will, Caesar is choosing security over his well-being.

This particular scene of Caesar using the natural intimidation emitted from Buck’s presence to dethrone Rocket showed the rise of Caesar’s leadership skills. Caesar could have chosen the path of violence to take the throne, but that would only enable humans perceptions of apes and wouldn’t change anything. Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr decided to take a gun and murder someone who was oppressing his fellow man. Would that solve anything? Definitely not, as it would only prove what racists thought of him and African Americans.

There is actually an example of this anti-violence philosophy when Caesar is leading the apes over the bridge to the freedom of the forest away from humankind when Buck is stopped by a police officer and attempts to kill him. When Caesar intervenes and screams for him to stop, Buck simply pushes the man down, roars into his visor and moves on.

During the climax of this escape, Buck saves the apes from an attacking helicopter by jumping into it and killing the pilot, sacrificing himself in the process from taking some bullet wounds. Now that Buck is dead, Caesar can’t use him as a crutch or an enforcer. Caesar wouldn’t really be a true leader, but more of a dictator if he just decided to intimidate anyone who disobeyed him instead of taking problems on himself and taking the charismatic approach. Now, Caesar is truly on his own in terms of leadership and must use his clever wit and initiative to lead his species into salvation.


Freedom


The entire escape scene took place on the Golden-gate Bridge that separated humans from apes by connecting two different land masses. By crossing this bridge with Will in the beginning phases of the film he was questioning who he was and who he wanted to be. Back then, he had a collar around his neck and a shirt and pants. Now, he’s his own soul, as this scene crossing this bridge celebrates Caesar’s independence and the success of the ape rebellion.

Caesar is actually tested once more once he leads his apes across this bridge. Will follows him and approaches him, saying he can protect him back home. In response to this, Caesar simply says “Caesar is home”. Caesar is a leader now and has responsibilities. This birthmark of his is a picture frame that contains a beautiful painting that displays the leader he was destined to be.


Conclusion


Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable and lovable film that did a great job of capturing Caesar’s first steps into his new shoes as a leader. The film thoroughly kept me entertained and actively involved in the story. Now looking back, Caesar might just be one of my favorite leaders in film simply because of the charisma he has behind his presence. To add the cherry on-top, it only gets better from here. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes we truly see Caesar’s magnetic presence unfold.

This was a fantastic introduction to a series and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Author

Noah Veremis

Life of Pi: The Gift of Nothingness

Life of Pi is a 2012 movie about a young Indian boy stranded in a boat at sea with none only than a Bengal Tiger as his companion on his journey. The film tackles several different philosophical ideas, but they are all interwoven to the film’s one core message: How to love yourself just as much as you love all living things.

The film teaches Pi and the audience about the gifts and burdens of being a parent, and the roles that fatherhood and motherhood both carry as a duty to the relationship of the family, as well as what role religion has for Pi in loving himself and others.

Disclaimer

Before I continue, I want to issue a disclaimer. This analysis comes from the eyes of a Christian. I do not wish any ill will on any Atheist, nor am I a carbon copy of what the character of Pi believes and represents. I simply just love a phenomenal film and want to share my love of movies with the world. The religious aspects of this film are represented in Pi’s mind, and don’t necessarily reflect my own.

I would also like to clarify that the various representations of parenthood that I talk about don’t necessarily apply to everyone. Not everyone is going to be a traditional mother or father. None of the philosophies shown in this film are right or wrong. Everyone has different beliefs on life.

If you are an Atheist, I encourage you to leave food for discussion in a comment. That being said, Let’s move on.


Who is Richard Parker?


Life of Pi’s main character is Pi of course, but in my opinion, it is the much more handsome Richard Parker who steals the show. Once he is introduced in the film especially when they become isolated in their boat, everything the film’s been telling you starts to make sense. This is done this way (in a brilliant fashion I might add) because the audience learns just what Pi’s father was trying to teach him parallel to Pi’s own pace. So to explain what Richard Parker represents and what he means to Pi, I have to back up a bit and explain why his father was so hellbent on protecting him from Richard Parker in the first place.


Learning to Reason

Pi’s father didn’t want to keep his son an Atheist, he wanted him to start with logic and reason. Pi kept leaping from one religion to the next blindly because it was something new and foreign to him. In my own experience, I have found myself to leap to a different lifestyle or different belief in various parts of life because I was scared of being nothing. Not having a label on my face that said to the world “I am __” or “I believe in ___” was terrifying to me.

Pi practiced multiple religions because he was afraid of not believing anything at all. Pi does not know how to better himself so he turns to Religion to solve his problems for him.

Reflected Emotions

Pi’s first encounter with real danger was with Richard Parker. Pi and his family own the zoo, so Pi took his brother Ravi to go see the infamous Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker. Pi wanted to show his brother that he could feed the animal without being attacked. So, he grabbed a slab of meat and stuck his hand into the cage demonstrating the power of his faith. Pi believed that the power of his faith could protect him from such danger.

When Pi’s father found his son he stopped him before the inevitable would happen. His father reprimanded him saying that a carnivorous beast like a tiger is an animal and not a friend. He also said that animals do not have souls, that all you will see when looking into their eyes is your own emotions reflected staring back at you.

What he was trying to teach Pi was that it is dangerous to be that naive. It is foolish to love all forms of life and expect that love to be reciprocated by anything with a heartbeat. Expecting love to come from a place filled with darkness will only get you killed.


Learning to Love

When Pi first met his sweetheart Amandi, he was filling in for a drummer to offer background music for a dancing class. In the class, Amandi did something the other’s didn’t. She made gestures in her movements that basically spelled out to “Lotus flower hiding in the forest. Something like a Lotus Flower hiding in the forest doesn’t make sense because a flower so beautiful should be showing off in the open for people to appreciate its beauty.

Amandi introduced Pi to love. Pi had the will to fall in love but not the will to love. He wanted purely the feeling of happiness and bliss when falling in love with a female, or the security and sense of purpose of practice of Religion. This simply goes back to Pi’s habit of looking for external sources to feel whole.

However, Amandi is different. She knows that she shouldn’t give out her love and trust like a flyer because that has to be earned. It would be dangerous and naive to expect that everyone is going to be worthy of your time and reciprocate the affection you give them. Why else would she hide a lotus flower in the forest?

Women, especially mothers are incubators and will give back to their partner what they receive twice-fold. Fathers are the rocks of the family, holding all of the family’s pain and suffering on his back so he can take care of them and keep them secure. However, the role of a woman in this relationship with her family is to love. The reason why we didn’t see much of Pi’s mother in the film is that women are the providers of love in the universe.

In fact for the majority of her screen time in the film, she supports most of Pi’s endeavors. This information is important because we see a polar opposite in the way his father behaves. In the majority of his father’s screen time, he is not speaking down to his son but teaching him lessons. His father loved his son just as much as his mother but couldn’t show it because he needed to be strong for the family.


Pi, The Mother, The Cook, and The Sailor

Now that we got that out of the way, I can finally talk about my favorite character in all of fiction. There comes a point in the story when Pi’s family is running out of funds and they have to leave India to Canada and sell their animals. On their way to Canada, their ship encounters a severe storm and ends up sinking. Of course, many of the animals on board escape their cages and four animals come aboard Pi’s lifeboat. Them being a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and of course Richard Parker.

This is when Pi starts to become confronted with the importance of his father’s lessons. Animals are not sentient and live for food and water. Of course, many animals have the ability to show affection even to humans but it is important to recognize that they act out of instinct and necessity. They lack the ability to love at the complex level of humans.

There comes a point in the film when the hyena attacks the zebra and sadly kills it. The orangutan gawks and scolds the hyena for having the audacity to kill something so beautiful. However, just like what Pi’s father taught him, the hyena killed the zebra out of basic necessity and reason. For if it kept the zebra alive out of pity for its life the hyena would have died with it.

The orangutan represents Pi’s mother. She wants to keep his father in check and make sure he’s not being too hard on his son. When the hyena becomes especially rambunctious she slaps him to the ground. Pi screams and hollers, praising her for fighting back, therefore, exposing his nativity. She just looks back at him, knowing that as much as she doesn’t want his father to be so hard on him, the lessons that Pi learns from him are going to be the ones that might save his life one day.

The hyena attacks and kills the orangutan. Of course, Pi’s father never was physically or even verbally abusive, but his mother often had to back down and let his father reprimand his son. There’s a reason why you always hear mothers after children do something wrong say “wait until your father gets home” because the role of a father is to challenge you, teach you, and show you the horrors of the world. The orangutan lets herself be killed because she knows that if Pi keeps going along the same path and giving out his love blindly to anyone, he’s going to be killed.

Of course, Pi yells and taunts the orangutan, pulling out a knife. Pi loved his father but he was still too stubborn to fully understand and accept his teachings.


The Tiger


During this scuffle in the boat, the tiger jumps out and kills the hyena immediately without any effort. Richard Parker represents Atheism. It offers no love, nothing to teach, and nothing to give. It is only there to scare you and challenge your existence. This is why he is scarier than the hyena because although the hyena kills out of necessity, the tiger killed to rid of a nuisance. Richard Parker even threw the hyena off the boat and ate the zebra instead. Atheism doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t hate you and it doesn’t love you either, it just wants to chip away at your soul until the time of your death when your soul leaves existence for all eternity.

The hyena was too weak to get to Pi and couldn’t actually get to him because there was a rise in elevation in the boat because of all the supplies. Of course, Pi’s father was an Atheist himself but he was scared that Pi would lose hope on that boat and lose faith, letting his doubt and depression take control of him and be his demise. Unfortunately, he was too late and the tiger got to him first.

Without Religion, Pi had no other interests that kept him busy and gave his life purpose. Pi even admitted that eventually, things like math and science became boredom and patterns without end. So, without Religion in Pi’s eyes, he would be a nobody, and that is exactly what his father was so afraid of. However, Atheism does not care what you think of yourself and it does not care if you are a nobody. It just wants to take your life.


Finding Purpose

Richard Parker gives Pi’s life purpose because if he hadn’t regularly taken care of him he would get too hungry and Pi would be his last meal. Reflectively, Pi’s fear of Atheism brought him to find purpose in his life. By feeding that tiger and keeping him alive Richard Parker ultimately saved his life because if it weren’t for him, Pi would have died in that boat wishing for someone to save him. The fear of there not being a God in the sky to watch over you, was too great for him to just ignore. By putting his faith in God Pi felt secure, and that’s the exact reason why he was drawn to Religion in the first place. When that security is removed then he has no purpose and no other interests or drives in life.

This is reflected when at the beginning of Pi’s journey with Richard Parker, Pi looks to God and says “I surrender myself to you”. Pi hasn’t quite yet fully understood the value of his father’s lessons of prioritizing reason and being self-sufficient, so he turns to God before he turns to himself. It is okay to believe in any Religion and worship the God(s) of that said Religion, but first, you need to know why you are practicing worship in the first place. In Pi’s case, it would be selfish and foolish to believe in a higher power for the sole purpose of taking care of a part of yourself that you are neglecting out of fear or laziness.

In fact, Pi really starts to take after his father when he has the opportunity to kill Richard Parker when he jumps off the boat. When Pi had an ax to his head he decided not to pull the trigger because ultimately he needed Richard Parker to survive, for if he had killed him he would not have the motivation to keep moving and would have killed himself. Not to mention he even brought himself to feed Richard Parker his first fish after sobbing over killing a living creature for survival.

Pi really starts to learn the value of Richard Parker in a scene where Pi sees him looking into the ocean and asks him what he sees. From his dad’s own words, if you look into a tiger’s eyes all you will see is your own emotions reflected back at you. However, whatever you aim at a mirror you see right back. When Richard Parker looked into the ocean we see hallucinations of sorts. Some we could assume are actual living creatures deep in the ocean like a giant squid, a shark, and even an angler fish. However, that’s exactly my point. By looking through the eyes of Richard Parker he’s able to appreciate how beautiful life really is.

By looking through the mirror of Atheism Pi learned that its okay to be scared because that’s what’s life all about. Life is about vulnerability and not everything has to be explained to you and that’s okay. The beauty of life is that there’s so much to explore and find in this world and there’s no reason to waste precious time to be afraid of something you ultimately have no real idea lies ahead of you. No one can really know for sure if there is a higher power, but that’s the beauty of faith. It gives us the motivation to move through our darkest hour because often times it feels like its all we have left.


The Wrath of God


Just when Pi thinks he had learned his ultimate lesson his faith is again tested. When he encounters a storm we something that even Richard Parker is afraid of. God. God does not hate us, He loves us. He puts us through terrible things and takes everything from us to test us and prove our will to Him.

Atheism can’t physically take anything away from him. In a sense, its only purpose is to live in your mind. It’s just a looming presence that challenges your existence and slowly drains you. God, however, will do anything in His power to tear us apart if He wants to if He wants us to learn a lesson. No matter how hard the beating is we have to surrender ourselves to him because we have to accept that God is perfect and He knows what is wrong from right.

To truly love God and prove your loyalty to Him, you sometimes have to do things that are terrifying, like embracing the hole of darkness that is Atheism with open arms. After the storm subsides and Pi and Richard Parker are well near death, Pi and Richard Parker embrace when he rests his head on Pi’s lap. To truly love God, you have to truly be vulnerable. That means fully accepting that even though you don’t have physical proof of God’s existence you must fully give yourself to Him, and that’s possibly one of the most terrifying things to accomplish especially when you have devoted all of your strength to prioritizing reason and thinking rationally.

Pi accepts this unknown future and the spontaneous nature of his fate, surrendering and accepting his death. He says “God, thank you for giving me life, I am ready now”. When Pi felt he was beyond the probability of being saved, God gave him rest. Pi arrived on an island for Pi to lick his wounds. However, this island was not exactly a paradise but another test given by God.


The Carnivorous Island

When Pi arrives on this island, he is immediately embraced by it. Much of the plant-life is edible and the only animals other than Richard Parker to keep him company are none other than Meerkats. The island also has freshwater springs built into it. However by night, a chemical turned the water into acid, and the plants, trees, the very ground itself was carnivorous akin to a Venus flytrap.

Pi ended up picking a fruit from a tree and found a human tooth inside of it. It was then that he had come to the realization that there was a poor soul who came upon this island thinking he could stay there forever, and when he died the island had digested him.

This island represents that of a mother. Often times, mothers will find themselves holding onto their children and inadvertently keep them from becoming more. Mothers are important gears in the confusing clockwork of life, but God built every living thing to be flawed to teach us an infinite amount of lessons. Life itself serves as a representation of a mother. It offers us so much beauty to explore in this world and cradles us with love offering us so many ways to live life to the fullest.

God personifies a father. Without a father figure in your life, there is no one to provide guidance. Mothers, of course, can be well suited as well, especially when they have had a wonderful father to teach them. However, there’s no denying that God built fathers to be better equipped to do this as well.

Mothers are nurturers. Their role is to provide their child with love and affection with all their heart. There’s a reason why its so difficult for men to show affection. Take a banana tree for example. It would be foolish to expect a banana tree to grow apples because that’s not its purpose.

God created this island for Pi to teach him of the importance of his father and the horrors of never leaving your mother’s arms. Fathers are important because they are always watching, getting involved with their children and disciplining them to become strong and confident individuals. You need to confront the challenge to leave the nest. As scary as that is, it is mandatory for living a fulfilling life. God as a father is there to build us into successful people. He was always watching over Pi. When He seemed to be indifferent to Pi’s suffering, He was still watching. When Pi felt he was beyond hope of saving He gave him rest.

There’s a reason why moms always say to their children after they make a grave mistake: “wait ’till your father hears about this”. This is because the role of the father is to give you a challenge, build you into a work of art, and show you the horrors of the world, but they are always watching. Fathers are always there for you and love you with all their hearts even when it seems they are punishing you.

In fact, we see this when Pi’s family departs from India. Pi says to himself that he realized that leaving India was harder on his father than it was for him. Although it may seem that his father is being too harsh in reality that is quite the opposite.


Freedom


When Pi finally reached civilization at the Mexican shore, Pi had learned so much from Richard Parker from his father. However, Pi had been taking care of him for so long it was time for him to leave the nest so to speak. God had taught Pi the gift of fatherhood from his dad’s teachings and taught him about becoming a father himself.

Pi had learned how to find purpose in his life by using Atheism as a mirror to appreciate the grand scheme of what life is really all about, teaching him to love. However, when a child learns how to ride a bike he must learn to ride it without training wheels eventually. Now that Richard Parker is out of his life he cannot use him as a crutch anymore and must now apply his teachings to his own life.

Pi learned on the carnivorous island about leaving the nest and the dangers of staying in the comfort of your mother’s arms, never taking the opportunity to confront the challenge. So although it will be heartbreaking to see Richard Parker leave without the moment to say goodbye, it is what’s best for him for he is a wild animal and not a domestic housecat.


Conclusion


Overall, this film is phenomenal. I have honestly never loved a character as much as I have with Richard Parker. At the beginning of the film, he seems to be nothing more than a black hole of fear and nothingness, and the beautiful part is that never changes.

I feel the reason why I love his character so much is that Pi uses Richard Parker as a mirror, and the only reason why we see him become tamer is that Pi perceives him to be something he can learn from. Richard Parker only became tame when Pi saw the truth and saw how beautiful the world was. So, for Pi and the audience, Richard Parker is only a reflection of what you perceive him to be.

So if you want to see if you can apply this to the real world, just think. Something is only as scary or threatening only if you perceive it to be. After all, Atheists do not fear their belief of no afterlife and no one watching over them because they have already come to accept that. Just remember, mirrors always reflect what is in front of them. So if your fear obstructs that mirror, that is the only thing you will see staring back at you.

Author

Noah Veremis