Approaching the Apocalypse as an essential self deprecating act of survival in ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ and ‘Planet of the Apes.’
Curiosity killed the cat. But what about Schrodinger’s feline? In Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All The Gifts, the kitty facing extinction is a young girl stumbling into an inherited wasteland where she must answer the classical thought experiment forced upon her by scientists desperate to cling on to the last dregs of humanity. Like that cat in the box, the film also attempts to exist in two states of being. It is certainly a traditional zombie film ripe with brain chomping ghouls, but The Girl With All The Girts also reaches for the moral high ground of The Twilight Zone with a climax that proudly extends a middle finger to its audience. It joins the ranks of the original Planet of the Apes as a cinematic experience birthed from a pessimistic political landscape fraught with self-loathing and downright disgust for the populace. Do we deserve this planet we hang our hat on? Absolutely not.
The less you know about either film, the better. However, I’m guessing that if you’ve clicked on this article then you’ve lived on this rock long enough to have had The Simpsons spoil the best bits of Planet of the Apes, and if you’ve seen the trailer for The Girl With All The Gifts then the big plot elements have already been paraded before you. That being said, what I need to discuss below will spoil large chunks of both movies. You’ve been warned.
“YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! DAMN YOU!” Having survived capture and trial on the Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston’s Commander George Taylor plops his mute girlfriend he acquired from the zoo on the back of his horse, and the two march towards a future filled with fornication, rugrats, and inevitable resentment. Then they see her. Around the next bend, Heston encounters the ruined Statue of Liberty and the revelation that he’s been back home on Earth this whole time. A rage ripples through Heston, and thrusts him into a beach smashing tirade against those supposedly smart scientists that rocketed him off into space, and allowed Earth to succumb to nuclear fallout centuries ago.
In the most fitting of Rod Serling’s testimonies against his people, the screenwriter has the chimpanzee Cornelius preach the final condemnation, “Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed…he will make a desert of his home and yours.” Not the subtlest of sci-fi warnings, but the best coup de graces are the ones committed with a big damn rock, and if you’re going to get on your high horse to teach a lesson to an audience filled with historically ignorant dolts then delicacy can not be your weapon. Planet of the Apes is a savagely angry film, and demands its viewers to wake up to the horror show they’ve been born into.
“It’s not over. It’s just not yours anymore.” The revelation that hammers the final nail in the coffin of The Girl With All The Gifts is not as violently furious as the one found in Planet of the Apes, but it is as equally depressing…or at least it is if you’re one of the sadsacks still hoping to hold on to the past, the same as it ever was. The creature at the center of our story is not dead or alive. She’s both. The oddity of her origin makes her fodder for scientists trying to cure the zombie plague threatening to consume the world. Glenn Close’s Dr. Caroline Caldwell wants to scoop out her brain and juice a vaccine from its contents, but as an evolutionary jump forward, The Girl elects her kind as the next dominant population for the Earth.
Actress Sennia Nanua brings so much joy to the role of Melanie. She beams with warmth and good cheer as she greets her captors each day with a chipper, “Good morning, Sergeant Parks!” She has known nothing beyond the classroom and the chair she is strapped down to each morning before her lessons. But she has been listening to Miss Justineau’s stories, and she has been defining herself against the role models found within the Greek myths. Behind that good cheer is a lust for life, and a calculation for an existence beyond the walls of her prison, her box. She has been preparing for her rightful takeover of the planet from the very first whispers of the film, counting down how long she can hold her breath, and looking for that particular formula to play out in her favor.
Science Fiction is a genre for dreamers. Often I find myself looking for hope in its bright depictions of flying cars, transporters, replicators, and the big shrug of its shoulders to the concept of capitalism. All for one, and one for all. Nightmares, however, are of equal importance. Change does not seem occur until we’ve hit the bottom of hopelessness. So when I’m crawling on the floor in utter despair of our species’ survival on this landfill, I start rooting for the apes to take it all away. We’ve lost the right.
The appeal of the Apocalypse film is in allowing ourselves to wallow in our failures for a couple of hours. Planet of the Apes and The Girl With All The Gifts hold the mirror up and say we can do better. They say we have to do better, or some one else will. Out with the old, in with the new. Depicting the apocalypse is unequivocally essential to our survival, unfortunately we have to replicate it every few years cuz our memory is garbage.