PLANET OF THE APES — Pictured is the final scene of “Planet of the Apes.” (Photo submitted)

A tarnished hunk of twisted metal

Published Sep 3, 2017 at 9:00am

The long process of applying to host an AFS student for a school year was finally over. 

Having been in the United States for a week, long enough to ward off the jet lag, I took the boy out for his first honest to gosh authentic American burger. They have Burger King in Switzerland, but he was not convinced they were ‘real’ and was dying to have one. 

We went to see War For the Planet of the Apes, which he had never seen one of the many versions of either, and then to Uno Pizzeria & Grill. We were led to that first table as you enter the bar area. He actually put his phone down for a few minutes and stared wide-eyed at the buzzing activity around us while we waited for the meal.

“The people here are much more friendlier than in Swiss,” he said in a heavy, German-staccato accent.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He held his palms up like blinders to block off peripheral vision. “Folks over there are much more… focused on their own private doings. They don’t - how do you say - interact so friendly as they do here.”

We watched as an attractive couple approached the bar. A man seated in front of a draft beer extended his arm and hugged the woman in greeting, shook her companion’s hand as they sat down next to him.

“Dude,” I said. “It’s 5 o’clock on a Friday. This is what’s known as happy hour. Over a chilled glass of chardonnay and shared plate of nachos Hillary would even hug Donald. Just wait until they get in their cars to go home, they’ll be fussing at each other.”

A huge bacon & cheddar burger with a mountain of fries was set before him. Before I could cut my wedge salad into bite-sized pieces his plate was empty. Not one speck of food remained.

“Wow, you inhaled that! For a skinny kid you sure can pack it away. Did you like the movie?” I asked.

“Ya, it vas good. It vas kind of stupid because the apes could have escaped many times during the movie.”

“Yes, but civilization prevailed even if it was passed on to the apes. And it could have been shortened by at least half an hour, like most movies.” I said. “We will have to find the original Planet of the Apes on In Demand. It was filmed 50 years ago, when I was a senior at RFA, just like you will be in only two weeks. But even with the clumsy ape costumes and lack of CGI, it’s a great movie.” 

We found it and watched it a few nights later (one would think that for the rates Spectrum charges, an ancient movie like that would be free but nooooooo). For a corny movie its message has stood the test of time. Born only four years after Hiroshima, raised during the Cuban missile crisis, cowering under desks in mock atomic bomb drills, the tense and ponderous cold war – I sat at the table still remembering its ending after all these years. 

Dr. Zaius, the lead ‘civilized’ orangutan ape, in a natty pressed orange uniform (with leather inlays), describes his fear of man to the ‘savage’ astronaut Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, clad only in a ratty loin cloth, by quoting from his revered ‘greatest ape of all, our ancient lawgiver:’

“Beware the beast man, for he is the devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates he kills for sport, or lust, or greed. Let him not breed in great numbers for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, for he is the harbinger of death.”

In the final scene the camera pans down from cliffs as Taylor and his mute female companion ride off (along a supposedly alien world’s shoreline) seeking their ‘destiny’. A tarnished hunk of twisted metal comes into view. 

“Vat is that?” asked Matteo. “A microwave tower or some-ting like that?” Then long tapered spikes came into view. “I know vat it is!” he exclaimed. Heston dismounts from his horse, stares up at the ruined, half-buried Statue of Liberty, pounds his fist into the sandy surf and curses, “I’m home, I’ve been home all along. You finally did it, you murderers, you blew it all up – aaaah damn you all to hell!”

Somehow, we’ve managed since that movie was made 50 years ago not to blow it all up. In the end level heads have prevailed. After all, that’s how war, killing starts, just a thought appearing in someone’s mind. An emotionally fueled idea.

But what astonished me, from watching these two sci-fi movies about the fate of mankind made so many decades apart, was the fact that a 16-year-old kid, raised in a 400-year-old chalet, in a small village tucked in the middle of the Alps, could recognize the Statue (her message of Liberté suddenly under some scrutiny) – from a two second camera shot looking down through three tarnished 50 foot spikes, to a man on a horse below. Huh.