Film Article: Ape-Pocalypse Now!

Written by Jeremiah Greville July 26, 2017

4 horsemen
*SPOILER WARNING FOR WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES*

I have a wild fan theory about the newest ape movie, War for the Planet of the Apes. It’s not required for enjoying the film, but adds some interesting overtones to the experience. It goes like this: the movie is a biblical allegory for the beginning of civilization (from the apes’ perspective), and a biblical allegory for the apocalypse (from the human’s perspective). While the first part of this is something that’s been widely recognized, I want to delve further into the second. Basically, I think that writer Mark Bomback and writer/director Matt Reeves have filmed their interpretation of the Book of Revelation, and I think there are a few juicy tidbits to support this theory.

But before we begin, some warnings. I’m agnostic, and haven’t been to bible camp in years, so my bible knowledge is minimal at best. This is about movies, not religion (though we here at We Eat Films often confuse the two!). My apologies if any bible talk crosses the line. No monkey business here! ‘Cause, y’know, they’re apes…

dr evil - right

Anyhoo…

There’s biblical imagery and references all over War for the Planet of the Apes. From the Colonel saying that his was a ‘holy war’, to the signs all over the Alpha-Omega camp referring to hell and the ‘ape-pocalypse’. There’s even the fact that the unit is called Alpha-Omega, a reference to the apes and humans, and God himself. The main character, Caesar, is at one point tied to a cross like Jesus to suffer for his people, and later leads his tribe to a promised land before dying in sight of it, like Moses. Already, Caesar embodies two of the biggest figures in the Old and New Testament.

And none of this is subtle at all — the religious symbolism is heavy-handed and completely intentional. The director, Matt Reeves, has even gone on record to say that Caesar’s story is meant to inspire myths and religions for future apes. This movie is laced with the DNA of a bible epic, and for the apes, it’s a story about their ascension. Their first story. Their alpha story. But what about for the humans? The omega? Well, they friggin’ die. We’re all doomed, and those apes are the harbingers of our deaths.

war for the planet of the apes

Now, if you’ve seen the film or followed the new Apes series, then you know that it’s unclear if there are other apes or human settlements in the world outside of the regions immediately surrounding Caesar’s tribe. It’s heavily implied (and sometimes outright stated) that the Simian Flu has spread across the globe, but we’ve no indication of how many humans are left. Since the evolved form of the Simian Flu eventually robs us of ‘what makes us human’, according to the Colonel, and since it’s explicitly stated that he’s alone in combating it, it stands to reason that the fall of the Colonel and his unit, Alpha-Omega, is the fall of humanity. Though he’s the villain of the movie, and an antagonist to the apes, the Colonel is the last hope for humanity to survive. Our saviour is a villainous perpetually head-shaving Woody Harrelson. That’s where we start.

And those coming to kill him? Four apes on horseback. They’re a literal Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

bill&ted - whoa

Those four apes are Caesar the chimpanzee, Maurice the orangutan, Luca the gorilla, and Rocket the scarred chimpanzee. They’re later joined by Nova, a human girl, and Bad Ape, an excitable escaped zoo chimp. Luca, the gorilla, is killed before they ever reach the Alpha-Omega camp, and Maurice, the loveable softy, takes on the role of surrogate father to Nova. Going further, I think the roles become clear:

  • Caesar is Death. His actions drive the end of humanity, and he kills several times throughout.
  • Rocket is War. He joins Caesar to help him fight, and provides a distraction by fighting the humans — twice! He’s all about conflict, and even bullied Caesar in the first film.
  • Bad Ape is Famine. He’s lonely, representing a famine of spirit. He’s associated with food, which he gives to the other apes, and most importantly he’s the only other ape to speak regularly. Famously, the rider on the black horse (Famine) in Revelation is the only one of the horsemen to speak at all.
  • Nova is Pestilence (or Conquest). This is the tricky one, depending on your interpretation, but it also might be the key. Nova spreads the actual disease to the Colonel and his camp through her doll. She explicitly identifies as an ape, and even ask Maurice if she is one. Pestilence rides a white horse, and Nova is a white girl with a white doll. In some interpretations, Pestilence is actually Jesus or the Anti-Christ — both fitting interpretations for a human girl that represents hope and betrayal. Sometimes this horseman is referred to as Conquest, not Pestilence. But what does this disease do, if not conquer?

lebowski - opinion

Heck, let’s go deeper. In Chapter 6 of Revelation, where the four horsemen appear, a few other things happen. Humanity hides themselves in caves and mountains (the base of Alpha-Omega), the souls of those slain for the ‘Word of God’ are revealed (the corpses of those slain by the Colonel), and then there’s these lil’ bits from Revelation 6:12-16: “and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth (the sky in the final war between the humans), “and the stars of the sky fell to the earth” (the rockets and bombs), “as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale” (the apes in the snowy trees, after the avalanche), “calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne” (the avalanche that kills the humans).

Epic, right? It’s all there! Every moment. And that’s all in one single chapter! Trust me, the rest of the book gets pretty metal the further you go.

anakin - opinion

From the human perspective, it all lines up. War for the Planet of the Apes is a biblical allegory for the 6th chapter of Book of Revelation, as well as a darn good flick. It’s a metaphor for slavery, and a narrative for slave-revolt and freedom. It’s a war film that stands with the best of them, and a thoughtful summer action experience. You don’t need any religious knowledge to enjoy it, but armed with some biblical trivia, your experience can be enhanced. This is the fun of movies as a shared art form. We take what we can from them, and share it with others.

If you want to learn more about the film, check out Matt’s review right here on We Eat Films. And be sure to check back for great movie and TV reviews in the future!

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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