Dawn of the Rise of the Queen of the Planet of the Apes
(WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.)
WELL, in the midst of trying to start a new game design project, taking inventory of my collection, and barely avoiding an apocalyptic-level flood that Michigan hasn’t seen in 86 years, it’s only by the grace of Caesar that I’ve managed to go to the movies lately. Since the film’s release, I’ve now seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes twice. The first time was purely out of excitement and zeal for a continuation of the story, and the second time… Okay, I admit the second was mostly to relive the first, but also to double-check for a detail I was convinced I had missed.
As it turns out, I didn’t miss anything; it just simply wasn’t there.
THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON WHY I SHOULD’VE HAD TO CHECK WIKIPEDIA…
…TO FIND OUT THIS APE’S NAME.
(It’s Cornelia, by the way.)
A basic rule of writing is the necessity to identify characters to your audience. You don’t necessarily have to identify every character, but you do need to label every important character. There are a multitude of ways to do this, and none of them are particularly difficult. In most cases, it’s as simple as characters addressing one another by name, but it can also be done via text (such as a name tag or catching a glance at an important document). It’s important to give the audience an identifier because it A) indicates which characters matter enough to pay attention to, and B) allows them to talk about said characters after the fact.
Cornelia, aka Caesar’s wife, may not have had a particularly active role in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but she is definitely an important character. In addition to having a direct familial relation to Caesar and Blue Eyes (which alone ought to have been enough to identify her beyond “your mother”), her ailing health becomes a plot point. Not long after the audience sees her for the first time, the movie drops clues that she’s suffering from pneumonia — a fact that weighs very heavily on Caesar’s mind throughout the beginning of the story. When Cornelia’s condition becomes dire, Caesar changes his mind on a major decision in exchange for the humans’ offer to heal her.
Later on, Cornelia continues to be relevant despite the fact that she spends most of the second half off-screen. After Caesar is shot and rushed to the safety of his childhood home, he urgently asks anyone and everyone about the status of his family. Not knowing if she and his newborn son* are okay terrifies him, and once he eventually learns that they’re only safe “for now,” Caesar gains extra motivation to defeat Koba.
There is no excuse whatsoever for the film to have failed in identifying Cornelia to the audience. None. There were multiple opportunities to do it, and the fact that it never happened is sheer laziness at best (and blatant sexism at worse). The easiest way to note her name would’ve been during the times the caretaker apes summoned Caesar to his home. There were no subtitles during any of these calls; it could’ve been as simple as a line like, “Cornelia needs you.” If that’s not sufficient, Caesar also could’ve just, well, said her name while speaking to her. Or while speaking to others about her. Hell, it could’ve even been demonstrated to us by Malcolm and Ellie, the humans that helped her recover (although that still would’ve been too late in the movie for this information to come up for the first time). Somehow, not one person in the entire story says or notes who she is.
To the film’s shame, the only time Cornelia’s name is ever mentioned on-screen in this franchise isn’t even in this movie. It’s in Dawn‘s predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes — and even then, it’s only one time. After almost an hour. While she’s unconscious. And obscured behind a fence and a prop.
What’s even more outrageous is that Cornelia is supposed to play an important (but still passive) role in Rise, as well as directly share screen time with Caesar — but for whatever reason, it was cut.
As Caesar leads the revolt in the ape sanctuary, he notes that Cornelia’s cage is empty and there’s a GenSys tag on her door. This is what gives him the impetus to even lead the apes to the lab at all, but for many people this moment is misleading. Due to the fact that the GenSys tag is the focus of the foreground, the rocking horse (a major clue that it’s Cornelia’s pen, if you even noticed it before) is blurred out in the background. Additionally, half of Cornelia’s name is obscured by the open cage door. This makes the scene look more like Caesar is going to the lab simply because he knows that apes are used there, rather than because he knows one specific ape is there.
Since we’re barely given a look at Cornelia before this scene, it’s easy to miss the fact that it’s her cage — and to make matters worse, we’re never given the payoff of this set-up once Caesar actually goes looking for her. At some point during the lab raid, Caesar was meant to find Cornelia, show visible relief that she’s unharmed, and then press his forehead to hers (which we know to be a sign of affection).
Note: This flash of a scene was taken from an early movie trailer. There are several deleted scenes on the Blu-ray release, but only two are available on the DVD, and I haven’t been able to find the others online. If a longer cut of this scene exists on Blu-ray, please let me know.
Had this little blip of a scene been left in tact in Rise, it would’ve strengthened both movies. Caesar’s quest at GenSys would’ve been less generic, Cornelia’s identity would’ve been reinforced (as I’m sure her name could’ve been visible somewhere on or around her unit), and it would’ve properly set up the relationship between Caesar and Cornelia in Dawn for audiences that had seen the first film. This doesn’t excuse Dawn from failing to mention her identity, but it still would’ve provided a foundation for the family that would be seen a decade later.
If Dawn director Matt Reeves is expecting his audience to be able to recognize Cornelia based on a single shot of her slumped over behind a prop, and recall a name that was only stated once with absolutely no weight or significance put behind it, from a film that came out three years prior, then shame on him. Even if Cornelia had been as involved in Rise as Maurice and Rocket, there still wouldn’t be any excuse to never say her name even ONCE in Dawn. Regardless of whether or not a movie is part of a series, each one needs to be able to operate as a singular, independent piece. It can’t be assumed that everyone in the audience is completely up to speed. While each film doesn’t have to state everything that came before it, there is a responsibility to ensure that enough information is given to allow newbies to keep up with the present action. Providing a name for a character as significant as Cornelia is not a large task.
On a more personal note, what really gets to me about the whole thing is the fact that there are so few women in the films to begin with. While there are plenty of women in the background or playing small, secondary roles in any given scene, the only ones that are really relevant to the story are Cornelia, Caroline (from Rise), and Ellie (from Dawn). Of the three, Cornelia is easily the most important character, but is also the most passive and has the most minimal screen time. The movie even goes out of its way to identify Ellie’s dead daughter, who has no bearing whatsoever on the plot and isn’t even shown to the audience in a flashback, but it can’t be assed to tell us the name of the freaking QUEEN OF THE APES.
Any nerdy girl knows what it’s like to be minimized and overlooked by their own interests, and to some degree, you get used to it. It’s no secret that progress is slow and that a lot of the people in charge either don’t realize what they’re perpetuating or simply don’t care. What happened to Cornelia may not be overt, but it is still important. I went into Dawn not knowing her beforehand because she was so overlooked in Rise, and I left the theater only able to identify her via the men in her life, aka “Caesar’s wife” or “Blue Eyes’ mother.” Cornelia, and other female characters like her, deserve better than this. She deserves recognition.
She deserves her own name.
*As a side note, it’s also worth pointing out that the film never identifies the infant that Cornelia gives birth to at the beginning of the film, either. While this also bothers me, I find it a bit more reasonable, as there are a lot of parents that don’t name their children right away. However, I think it would’ve been more responsible if the film had specifically pointed out that this was the case. For example, when Caesar and Maurice talk just after the birth, Maurice specifically asks about the baby. It would’ve been wise if Caesar had mentioned in passing that they hadn’t decided on a name yet, if just to solidify to the audience that no name currently exists.
Obligatory Legal Crap
I do not own Planet of the Apes, Cornelia, Caesar, or any other noted character, nor do I have any affiliation with Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, or 20th Century Fox. If I did, you can bet your ass Cornelia would’ve been mentioned more coherently and this article wouldn’t even exist.
Posted on August 13, 2014, in Analysis, Journalism, Movies and tagged Caesar, Cornelia, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.