I love the Planet of the Apes movies, especially the recent ones with Andy Serkis playing Caesar, the first of the “smart” (or chemically modified) apes.
We root for the apes against the humans, don’t we, not because they are different, or inferior, or stupider. We root for them because the humans treat them unfairly, for whatever reason (“they are only apes”). I think this is true for every movie where the “star” is non-human (Bambi, Flipper, King Kong, ET); and humans always treat them as expendable, worthless. But we in the audience relate to them as though they are human, as though they are victims, and as though they are heroic and worthy of our respect, and our love.
Because that is what these movies are intended to say, that we humans are no better than our animal brothers and sisters. Honest to God! Not as “lower” species, but the same as us.
But I wonder if everyone sees these movies this way. I wonder if a fundamentalist Christian who believes that humans have souls and animals do not, who does not believe (as Darwinian Evolution suggests) that we (humans and all other life) are all connected, I wonder if he can identify with these animal heroes. I wonder if he can watch these movies and see them as I do, that animals have worth, in the same way as other humans do. To some extent, we all believe that, as who does not love his pet more than his neighbors? But still, I wonder if a devout fundamentalist Christian can see Planet of the Apes’ Caesar as a hero whom he can identify with.
Do I think that animals should have rights? Well, in some ways, yes. Maybe not the same rights as we Americans live by with our Bill of Rights. But some rights.
- Pets, who are nearly always members of our families, ought to have significant rights. In many states, they already do. The other guy’s pets, too, not just our own.
- How about wild animals? I believe that mammals who have not surrendered their freedom to feed at the humans’ trough, especially those whose numbers are threatened with extinction, ought to be free from a big game hunter’s twisted sense of superiority.
- Mammals in the wild whose numbers are not threatened with extinction ought to have their species protected from extinction.
- Domestic animals who make up our protein ought to be treated better than they are treated, in life and in death.
- Insects? If I were a Jain, I would believe that all living things ought to have the same right to life as we do. But I am not a Jain, so I still swat them if I can. But I don’t necessarily believe that I am right to do so.
If we humans must act as though all non-human species have no inherent right to exist, there is no possibility that they will survive. And once they are gone, we will have nobody but each other to slaughter. And that will be the end of us. And good riddance. If this is our path, then we should off ourselves right now. And let innocent creatures live.
I must say this in clarification: I do not believe that humans ought to commit species suicide; but if it is our unstoppable destiny to kill off all other wild creatures, then, yes, we ought to commit species suicide right now, as least those of us who cannot keep from murdering "lesser" species. I have granted in another place that God gave man “dominion” over all living things. But dominion did not mean the right to kill and eradicate species, it meant the obligation to care for all of life, as God had other gardens to attend to.
I have one more thing to say: Andy Serkis, who has played Sméagol / Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Caesar (Planet of the Apes), and King Kong, should already have been nominated several times for Academy Awards for Best Actor (not Best Supporting Actor and not Best Actor Playing an Ape).