In the gorgeous and stupidly fun Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar, a chimpanzee, has an oh-so-poignant identity crisis during a walk in the Muir Woods near San Francisco. Thanks to an experimental gene therapy for Alzheimer’s that a biotech firm tested on Caesar’s mother, the CGI-created chimp has inherited a brain with extraordinary wiring. He lives with the drug’s developer, Will Rodman (James Franco), who occasionally takes Caesar on strolls through the giant redwoods and unleashes him, letting him express his inner ape. This day, they startle a woman walking a German shepherd on a leash. Caesar looks at his own collar and, in American Sign Language, plaintively asks Rodman, “Am I a pet?” Leaving aside the spectacularly implausible scientific scenario that made Caesar a few marbles short of a human, Rise of the Planet of the Apes flirts with an idea that has beguiled researchers for more than a century. What if we could speak with one of our ape cousins? What would they tell us about their views of the world, their disappointments and dreams, their spirituality and existential angst?
more from Jon Cohen at Slate here.