Plot Holes: Planet of the Apes

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Oct. 19 2001 7:57 PM

Plot Holes: Planet of the Apes

Why Tim Burton's ending makes sense.

 

Warning: Plot Holes is a column about narrative lapses in the movies. Today's entry gives away the twist at the end of Planet of the Apes.

A scene from Planet of the Apes
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While Plot Holes usually delights in ridiculing movies that don't make sense, today it feels obliged to defend Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake. The movie's surprise ending has left some critics scratching their heads: The New York Times' Elvis Mitchell called the finale a "puzzler"; Slate's David Edelstein said it doesn't "make a lick of sense" and asked, "Has Burton lost his wits?"

He hasn't—or at least, his Apes ending doesn't prove that he has. Yes, the shocker is wildly implausible, but it does hang together with a loopy sort of logic.

Here's the bit that's causing confusion (seriously, if you don't want to know the ending, please stop reading now). After a climactic battle on the apes' planet, astronaut Leo Davidson takes off in a spaceship and flies into an electromagnetic storm, with hopes of returning to Earth in the 21st century. While he's in the storm we see his chronometer spinning backward, and he does eventually crash-land on Earth—in Washington, D.C.'s Reflecting Pool, as a matter of fact. Only now, the Earth is ruled by apes too! In place of the Lincoln Memorial, there's a monument dedicated to Davidson's ape nemesis, Gen. Thade, for "saving the Earth for all apekind" or some such.

But Davidson has just traveled across the universe and time-warped centuries into the past. … So, how can Thade have already conquered Earth for the apes when he hasn't even been born on the ape planet yet?

Answer: Before Davidson leaves the ape planet, there's a quick shot of Limbo, the orangutan slave trader, rummaging through his spaceship and slyly pocketing something. Evidently whatever he pockets contains the secret to space travel. (Maybe it's a manual: "Space Travel So Easy, a Chimp Could Do It.") Thade, who's pointedly left alive at the end of the climactic battle, must have built a ship, flown into the time-warping electromagnetic storm, and landed on Earth at some point before Davidson returned. Then he led Earth's apes in a rebellion against humans, took over the Earth, and had the monument built for him.

Of course, back on their home planet, the apes don't even have simple motors yet. So, whatever Limbo takes from the spaceship allows them to, in Thade's lifetime, master physics, build computers, design spacesuits, test spacecraft, and send the general into space while he's still young enough to conquer the Earth. Remember, we didn't say it was plausible

Bonus Culturebox- Explainer Crossover

Why is Davidson's chimp named Pericles?

Sci-fi symbolism. As this Encarta article explains, Pericles was a 5th-century B.C. political leader who expanded Athenian democracy by allowing all citizens to participate in government. In the movie, Pericles is a spaceship-flying chimp who expands ape-human democracy by persuading gorillas to treat humans as equals.

Josh Daniel is Slate's West Coast editor.

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