This last weekend I went to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and I’ll be honest and tell you that I thought it was one of the best movies I have seen in years.
Really? A sequel to a reboot of a remake from a movie based off of a book about talking apes is really that great of cinema? Absolutely! Not only is Dawn a visually spectacular popcorn flick, it is one of the most thought provoking and intelligent blockbusters in recent memory.
That said, I am not writing this to review the film (though if I were, I would be giving the film five out of five stars and calling for Andy Serkis to finally get an Oscar). I am writing to share something that I learned from watching this movie that I believe everyone needs to understand.
We as a people tend to look at other individuals and put them into one of two groups. People are either “us” or they are “them”. They are either Christian or Secular. Democrat or Republican. Pro-Choice or Pro-Life. Good or bad. I think back over my life and I can see how I started doing this at a young age. Growing up, there were two rival high schools in my home town (Tulare Union and Tulare Western). My dad attended Union and so did my sisters and, eventually, I did as well. In this rivalry, it was very clear where my immediate family stood. I remember when I was really young hearing about the two schools and I came to the conclusion that since my family was on the Union side that those who attended or cheered for Western were somehow “bad”, or at least, “not as good” as those of us who were for Union. I do not know if I would have worded it that way but it is how, as a young child, I thought about people who were on the other side — how I thought about “them”. Whether it was something as simple as a school rivalry or as complex as politics, those who were “them” were just somehow misguided, bad, or lesser than “us”.
I might begin to think that this was just because I was a child and I saw the world as black and white, but the reality is that I still continue to see these kind of trends as I have grown older. Regardless of whether it is politics, religion, race, or nationality we like to make things simple and assume that the entirety of other people are all the same and not as good as the side that we are on.
I am pretty sure I am right on this. How often do those of us who hold to the Christian faith label things as “secular” simply because they are not inherently Christian? When I was a teenager, I would only listen to “Christian music” (which honestly meant nothing more than whether or not it was sold in Christian bookstores) because I had some crazy idea that all “secular” music must be bad. I know I was not the only one to think like that.
And it is not just with religion — it’s with everything! In political debates, the entirety of the other side are simply labeled as “bigots”, “narrow-minded” or “uneducated”. It is always the other side that is ignorant — it is always “them” and never “us”.
So what does all of this have to do with talking monkeys (Apes)? Everything!
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, two worlds collide when a band of humans in a post-apocalyptic world run in to a group of genetically advanced, talking apes. The two sides quickly find themselves on the brink of war. There are those on each side that want peace and those on each side that want war. There are those on each side who are good and those on each side that are bad. Yet, both groups tend to look out for their own and find themselves superior to the other species.
What I learned from this film is that when we create an “Us” vs. “Them” mentality, we see everything that is in “them” as bad simply because it is different — and that difference scares us. So we react, at time rashly, against other groups that are different. We create these false lines that separate “good people” from “bad people” because these lines make things simple and easy. The problem is that there is no “Us” or “Them” — there are just people who are flawed and broken. We see the flaws in the other side and define them by those flaws when, ultimately, the same flaw that we see in “them” tends to also be in ourselves.
There is this powerful scene in the film where Caesar (the Ape leader) admits that there is not much of a difference between humankind and apes — they are really the same. There are those who are good that seek peace and there are those who are evil that seek war. He admits that he had always seen apes as better than humans and this caused him to trust those whom he should not have trusted and distrust those whom he should have.
Ultimately, it is the “Us” vs. “Them” mentality that leads to some major problems for both apes and humans. Their lack of ability to see their own flaws and the quickness to see the flaws in others lead to their downfall.
Those are some pretty powerful ideas that you will not find in your typical summer blockbuster.
But I think I see these same ideas in scripture. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that “there is no one righteous, not even one;” and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all in need of grace, we are all flawed. There is no one group that has everything all together. When you think about it, that is the whole purpose of Jesus — the one who can save and redeem all of us — yes, even “them”.
Perhaps it is time that we stop drawing lines in the sand and labeling the faults in other people and start to realize that we are ultimately all the same. Whenever we start assuming that other people are lesser simply because we do not understand them or they are different, we tend to all start acting like a bunch of stupid apes.