Technology: Progressive or Regressive? Kubrick’s 2001 and Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes

“Man is a social animal, distinguished by ‘culture’: by the ability to make tools and communicate ideas. Employment of tools appears to be his chief biological characteristic” (Oakley).

Directors Stanley Kubrick and Franklin J. Schaffner maintain Oakley’s assertion as they insinuate a growing dependence of human nature to technology. Both films, Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, indicate that technology promotes inter and intra-species separation that are exacerbated by the strong dependence. According to Planet of the Apes, apes are the dominant species who has the most advanced technology and killing mechanisms. Kubrick’s places humanity – the evolutionary product of the apes of “The Dawn of Man” – as the dominate species counterpart. These two films thus explore the contradictory and superior relationships that humans and apes hold towards machines; 2001 and Planet of the Apes both suggest that species dependent of technology as a means for advancement places themselves in the dominant societal role.

The opening scene of Planet of the Apes depicts the level of dependence that humankind has always had on technology. The spacecraft, equipped with leather furniture and hibernation spaces, is the hub of life for the four astronauts on the mission. The fact that humans possess the capability to create a spaceship, transportation sustainable even under the conditions of space, speaks to the level of advancement they had reached. At the same time, this advancement means more dependence. The crew members left the direction of the ship in the hands of the computer for nearly 1300 years in Earth time (about a year in ship time) during their hibernation period, which was also maintained by the power of the computer. There are no clear indicators of how or what the astronauts ate or completed other necessities for sustainable life, but, evidently, the technology of the ship provided the means for such actions. Though the audience later finds that the communication was sent to a dead end, the ship allows Taylor to inform the “different breed,” who he perceives as the evolved species of Earth, of his life in space. Upon landing, the crew continues to maintain their communications methods by informing Earth’s inhabitants of their landing on a planet in a different solar system. The advanced nature of the spaceship confirms mankind’s capabilities as well as our dependence of technology. This dependence revolves that exact nature of men that promotes him as the dominant counterpart.

This dependence is applicable but on a lower level to the apes of Planet of the Apes. Though the apes are not advanced enough to have space exploration, they do exert a certain level of technological advancement as well as a dependence on said technology. The mis-en-scene of the ape civilization in Planet of the Apes indicate a rising but stifled technology endorsement; they are advanced enough to be the dominants, but they aren’t yet killing each other. Most of their furniture is crafted out of wood, indicating that they are craftsmen. Therefore, we might assume that they aren’t welders, but the weapons that the ape militia use against the humans says otherwise. Without the weapons, there is less of a chance that they would have been able to capture so many humans who were not equipped with tools or weaponry to fight back. In the lab, Zira doesn’t use any sanitizing methods as confirmed by the lab assistant who complains about contracting a disease from the human bodies. To transplant blood from Taylor to Nova, Zira places the subjects on wooden slabs and uses tools like scissors.

During the Jupiter mission, Kubrick emphasizes how much man came to depend upon technology. From the tossing of the bone cut to “bone-white spacecraft” (Poole 176), the most progressive simians have gotten by with the aid of technology. Human’s cannot survive in space without technology; therefore, for totality of 2001 humans depend of technology to live. The aircraft, controlled by the 9000 computer series, provides the fundamental assets for sustainable life in space: oxygen, food, water, and communication. Essentially, the audience gets the sense that the Discovery One (controlled by HAL 9000) houses a community that eats, sleeps, and lives together. The aircraft pops out trays of liquefied foods for the astronauts on request and provides hibernation chambers that monitor their internal functions. Without the machine, the humans would not be able to survive in space. Even in “Dawn of The Man,” the audience sees the ape become dependent on tools as a means of obtaining food and maintaining property. Before Moon-Watcher had his epiphany, the apes seemed to be malnourished and threatened. One night when the apes sat inside of their cave to avoid predators, they fought over some food that one ape had. The vegetation of the land may not have been enough for both the apes and the tapirs. The villainous leopard unapologetically killed off the apes. The other tribe of apes had also run them away from their only source for water. With the bone, however, they expanded their nutrition options by becoming carnivorous. The bone also provided protection for the apes to secure their water source, and presumably to fight off any predators that make provoke them.

Upon their arrival to Earth, the three crewman Taylor, Dodge, and Landon proved that they could survive with a lesser dependence on technology while simultaneously becoming inferior to the apes. Like HAL, the aircraft computer died as the ship sank in the middle of the ocean. With an inflatable boat, 72 hours-worth of food and water, pistol, 20 rounds ammunition, a camera, a medical kit, a soil testing kit and other miscellaneous tools, the group set out to find life. Instead of hibernating while the computer did the steering, they had to take flight on their own feet. On this journey towards the unknown, the crewmen seem out of place with their all-white suits in such a dusty and dry terrain. Without the protection and isolation of the aircraft, they deal with the possibilities of nature on their own. A tumbling boulder threatens their life as well as a thundering and lightning that produces a stark and windy environment instead of water, and all they could do was run. However, once stripped completely of their tools, the crewmen are defenseless –the apes kill Dodge, lobotomize Landon, and capture Taylor. While the group enjoys the waterfall that they’ve found, the primitive humans steal their modernist clothing along with all the gadgets they carried in their backpacks (including their weaponry). The crewmen then are forced to quickly assimilate to the primitive human culture. They adapt rags as clothes, eat fresh corn and coconut, and run away from the apes as they appear like the other humans. The apes shot and killed Dodge as he attempted to escape from an entrapment net; they captured both Landon and Taylor. The audience is invited to follow Taylor’s experience, but we don’t find out about Landon and his lobotomization until about halfway through the film. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that the absence of tools to protect or arm them rendered them the inferior counterpart of the species.

Through the development of simian culture as presented by apes in ancient Africa, 2001 frames tool usage as an exacerbation of competitive human tendencies. In “The Dawn of Man” episode of 2001, the Moon-Watcher (as the lead ape is referred to in the manuscript; Daniel Richter) discovers the advantages of tool wielding as both a means for obtaining food and a weapon. Moon-Watcher violently destroys skeletal remains of a tapir using a bone as a hammer; the scene often cuts to a fallen tapir rolling around on the ground, which suggests the internal thoughts of the ape. At this point in the episode, the simian nature has transformed from herbivorous to carnivorous. The tapirs and apes then will not be able to coexist peacefully, as a scene before the Moon-Watcher’s discover exposed. Rather, this upright-standing ape- man now produces a sentiment like the leopard who viciously attacks a then defenseless animal. According to 2001, tools place a strain on the interspecies relationship by holding the tool-wielding creature as more viable and the others more disposable. 2001 insinuates that the tool-wielding apes are more superior that their fellow specie, implying a human-animal boundary. The ape-men of “Dawn of Man” utilize their new weaponry to murder the leader of the other ape group that challenged them. The Moon-Watcher commences the killing when his tribesmen follow suit. By disposing of another ape as easily as they do, the apes place a boundary between their tribe and the other and assert a level of dominance. This scene uses the apes as “a mode of revealing that produces technological humans from nature” (Wheat). However, it is evident from their first interactions that the two groups could not live in harmony even though they are of the same species. The other ape group initiated this hostile environment towards the beginning of “The Dawn of Man,” as they viciously take over the waterhole. And they did so, successfully, without weaponry or physical violence. Presumably, the groups had fought over the water source repeatedly, but Moon-Watcher’s group put the skirmish to rest by asserting their dominance. The level of inequity makes this claim to superiority possible. Without the bone, the groups would be equals again and, the other age group could have just as easily displaced Moon-Watcher’s group.

Immediately upon their first appearance, the apes of Planet of the Apes imply the dominant role in society as the species with the most advanced technology. They introduce to themselves to the audience with a slew of killing. The apes kill and capture humans without hesitation, chasing them through the cornfields. And they do so delightfully. The very first dialogue from an ape was “Smile” from the ape with the camera taking a photo of several enthusiastic apes as they stood over a pile of human bodies. Zaius defends his civilizations ideology: “Why, man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better.” Zaius refers to the killing of humans as “a question of simian survival,” similar to how Moon-Watcher and his crew ran the other tribe of apes off in order to maintain their waterhole. These tool-wielding superiors impose their dominance violently and without hesitation.

In 2001, Dave reasserts the dominance of humanity when he shuts HAL down “as nonchalantly as one might remove the battery of a malfunctioning smoke alarm” (Leonard). HAL’s reckless killings insinuates that he had created a boundary between himself and the human species. He saw his species as more efficient and the humans as lesser. Throughout the film, the audience is made to understand the intellectual power that HAL and other computers of his nature possess. Apparently, they had not made any errors; in fact, HAL admitted if it ever seemed like there was an error it was at the fault of humans. However, the crew members, especially Dave and Frank, see HAL as lesser. They, as well as humanity doesn’t shy away from using technology—and that’s all we do is use. We see technology as disposable and reactionary, comparable to Zaius and Zira’s initial assumption about Taylor when he’s attempting to speak. Though in reality his healing throat rendered him temporarily mute, the apes assumed that he was only “acting like an ape” and referred to his attempt as a “trick.” Likewise, Dave and Frank underestimated HAL’s intellectual and emotional capability when they conspired to shut off the machine due to potential misinformation. HAL the machine, radiating a sphere of technological subjectivity, sees humans as disposable just as Dave sees HAL –it’s about which species can kill the other first. The underdeveloped humans, executing the role of the inferior and less-advanced counterpart, prove the damnation of mankind without technology in Planet of the Apes.

While Taylor and his crew are at least at an advantage with their intellectual and oratory capabilities, the primitive humans exhibit minimal intellectual capacity, which may be the reason for their lack of discovering tools. Somewhat recalling the role of the invading apes of “The Dawn of Man” who also lacked the capabilities to discover technology, the “dungarees” (as the screenplay refers to them) have become the prey on more than one occasion or perhaps for the totality of their existence. When they hear the distant wail, they immediately know to run. Before Taylor realizes the nature of his situation, he even threatens to treat the other humans as inferior. While watching the humans in their natural habitat, Taylor admits that “if that’s the best there is around here, in six months we’ll be running this planet.” From all vantage points, the species with not as much of an access to technology, especially weaponry, are prey. The difference in how technology affects superiority in the films is evident through intra-species violence; Planet of the Apes does not promote he competitive tendencies exhibited by the apes of “The Dawn of Man.” In Planet of the Apes, there is no explicit indication that the apes ever attempted to kill one another as the humans that lived in The Forbidden Zone. Though there is a level of dominance exerts by the blonde, conservative apes, the apes pose no extraordinarily violent threat to one another. Per Shatnoff, “the only reason they don’t indulge in a real shoot-em-up is because their weapons are small.” With their technological advancement, the presence of this ape/ape boundary will presumably increase – exactly like the humans who they refer to as “the harbinger of death.” However, the lack of technological advancement does not stop the apes in “The Dawn of Man” from killing one another.

However, the films ultimately assert the species who depend on technology do so as a means of survival and competition, placing themselves as dominants and the others as inferior. The apes of “The Dawn of Man” use their bone as a source for food as well as protection of their property and their lives while asserting themselves as superior. Likewise, the astronauts aboard the Discovery One, depend on the ship and the ship for survival. Simultaneously, Dave proclaims his superiority by killing HAL without hesitation. In “Planet of the Apes,” the crewmen represent the inferior species as their technological advances begin disappearing under them. The weapon-bearing apes take delight in slaughtering the technologically underdeveloped humans as well as the now technology-stripped crewmen. It seems that technology makes whoever has it think he is superior to anything or anyone who is not tool wielding.

Works Cited

Planet of the Apes. Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner. Perf. Charleston Heston and Roddy McDowall. APJAC Productions and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 1968. DVD. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Stanley Kubrick Productions, 1968. DVD. Poole, Robert. “2001: A Space Odyssey and ‘The Dawn of Man.” Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives (2015): 176-97. Print. Wheat, Leonard F. Kubrick’s 2001: A Triple Allegory (2001). Print. Oakley, Kenneth P. Man The Toolmaker, fourth edition (1958): 1-3, 78-88. Print. Leonard, Garry. “Technically Human: Kubrick’s Monolith and Heidegger’s Propriative Event.” Film Criticism 36.1 (2011): 22-67, 100.

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