I remember the moment like it was yesterday. My freshman year of high school, my family was visiting my grandparents on my mom’s side in southern Indiana, the greatest state in the world, and we had just finished doing some yard work for them, raking the leaves and trimming the bushes and whatnot. The evening transitioned into the kitchen, my parents and grandparents beginning some sort of uninteresting adult talk. I stole away to where I was most at home in those years, the solace of an awkward, lanky preteen, the television. I sat down on the couch, flipped past the HGTV channels my grandparents were so fond of, and stumbled upon a movie I had never seen before.
It was exciting. It was sci-fi. It was super old. And it somehow felt altogether new.
It was the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes”, starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall.
And it presented a paradigm for viewing films to me that I had never grasped before. It was the moment I fell in love with movies. And here’s why.
In my youth, growing up, movies never produced any emotion in me more than just a pretty average feeling of, “oh! that was cool!” Movies were exciting; they were interesting, but I never had seen any movie in any deeper way. I had never seen a movie as either something that produces an uncommon emotion or as something that speaks a message larger than the literal. Explosions were cool. Dramas were boring. Sci-fi was exciting. And that was about the depth of my middle-school nuance.
But this movie did something different. While I sat there escaping the boredom, I was sucked into the story of a man fighting a power that was oppressing him because he was different, with a system in place that encouraged ignorance of the populace so that the fake intellectuals could stay in power. Of course, this was Charlton Heston as a crashed astronaut on a vibrant, unknown planet run by oppressive orangutans, and his inside scoop on the system was provided by the friendly chimpanzee Roddy McDowall. And here’s where it wrecked me. I saw that this story of a man on another planet run by animals was a commentary on America in 1960’s, a system in place to oppress minorities and uphold the pseudo-religious status quo built into the subversive aristocracy.
WHAT!! The movie meant something, felt something, said something!! It was there for more than the apes!! More than the literal!! It felt like my eyes were opened– for the first time I realized a movie could have a message, a film could say something other than what was on the screen. From the method the story was told and the sequences or framing of the images shown, you could talk about things that otherwise would be nearly impossible to talk about.
Not only did this moment make the Planet of the Apes franchise one of my favorites (with phenomenal entries even through to this year with the new War for the Planet of the Apes), it changed the way I watched films. I went back and re-watched films I thought I knew and saw that even they (the good ones at least) were speaking about things more than just the plot. Of course, some of the films and literature I had been exposed to from an early age had these deep commentaries all along, but Planet of the Apes arrived at a time in my life where I was old enough to understand and be amazed at this glimpse of emotional depth, and it is forever etched into my mind as the film that showed me this dimension, and so it holds a dear place in my heart.
This stroke of inspiration went on to influence other parts of my life, leaving me forever discontent to do anything that doesn’t accomplish something greater than itself, speaking to a cause above itself or inspiring emotions more than a simple “that was cool.” This is true in my stand-up comedy, my friendships, and, of course, my work with Wonderkind, striving to inspire with every script or proposal, every cut in an edit, and every image we produce.