Investigating Rupert Wyatt film “Rise of the planet of the apes” (2011) using Sigmund Freud’s ideas of the

uncanny and how it impacts to the audience. Shayne Foskett CG Arts and Animation Year 1 21/03/2012 Phil Gomm

Content Introduction Main Body Conclusion List of Illustrations Bibliography 3 4 7 8 9


Introduction In this essay Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny will be used to explore Rupert Wyatt’s film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011). The impact that highly realistic computer generated characters such as “Caesar” have on the human mind in reference to Freud’s theory of the uncanny. Freud’s ideas and theories will be used to analyse “Caesar’s” realistic movements and emotions in comparison to the human actors/audience. The impact the film has on the audience also known as the “uncanny valley” which is a theory that examines the response humans have when robotics or 3D animation come eerily close to being indistinguishable from reality. A number of sources will be used to explain the uncanny feel that you get when watching “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. Some of the sources that will be used are “Braveheart” (1995) as there is a particular scene that holds relevance to this essay. Schneider’s (2004) Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freud’s worst nightmare. Also Jason Cangialosi (2011), 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' in the Uncanny Valley article and Freud’s (1919) “The Uncanny” essay.


Main Body “Rise of the planet of the apes” is a 2011 production directed by Rupert Wyatt. It’s a 20th century Fox reboot of “The Planet of The Apes” series that acts as an origin story for future films. The film starts off with Will Rodman one of the main characters doing research into a cure for Alzheimer’s that his father is suffering from. The research is carried out on apes that are injected with a drug, a modified virus, mutates the chimpanzees, giving them a human level of intelligence. A female chimp “Bright eyes” who believes her baby is being threatened goes on a rampage and is shot by security guards. Franklin cannot bring himself to kill the baby chimp and instead gives him to Will, who takes him home to raise as his own. The chimp is named Caesar and as he grows it becomes clear that he has inherited his mother’s enhanced intelligence. Throughout the film there is evidence of the exceptional CGI that has been used to create the chimps. Motion capture and performance capture is the technology that has been used. The motion capture is a term that’s used to describe the recording of an actor’s movement which is then used to animate digital characters. This is what creates the realistic movements of Caesar which causes the audience to view him being more realistic and “alive” rather than a computer animation. However we are still able to distinguish between the computer generated images to the “real”, and this is what gives us that uncanny feel, the computer generated apes are amazing but we are still aware that it’s not real. As said by (Cangialosi, 2011) “until we can't tell the difference between real filmed footage and computer animation, the attempted realism creeps us out.”

Figure1 Film still “Battle Stance- Charge/halt”

Figure 2 Film still “Battle Stance- Charge/halt

Figure 1 is a film still from Rise of the planet of the apes that shows a very human like gesture, which is also an action that we associate with war, like in Figure 2 which is a film still from the film Braveheart. Figure 2 depicts a scene in the movie where William and his army are about to charge into battle. The iconic gesture is something that is seen in most war films where generals and leaders use this action to control their troops. When this iconic gesture is then performed by a chimp with enhanced intelligence it becomes slightly unsettling. This may be due to the fact that not only is the gesture very human and seeing it performed by a chimp is a scary thought, but also however plausible the animation audiences are not actually seeing a true representation of a chimp’s brow, or eyes when they look at Caesar, we are seeing a more human representation, with human emotion depicted on a chimps face. (Waal, 2011) “There is plenty of digital fine-tuning to humanize the apes, making them a bit more like us and a bit less like them.” The emotion on Caesar’s face in Figure 1 is an incredible representation of human emotion, which is recorded through performance capture. Performance capture is when the face, fingers and other subtle expressions are recorded. Since the emotion that is captured is the emotion of a human actor, it gives the chimp human expression, which is unsettling. Our minds recognise the expression as human which allows us to relate more to the character but we see this expression on an animal which is eerie and gives us that uncanny feel.

Figure 3 Film Still “emotion”


The whole film centres on Caesar’s emotional struggle to find his place in the world. Figure 3 is a film still from the film, an emotional scene where he is trying to understand where he comes from and why he is the way he is. It’s a part of the film which you could say has the most human emotion, and where it’s the easiest to distinguish between what’s “real” and CGI. The raw human emotion that Caesar expresses during this scene is far too human to be real on a chimp’s face, which makes you have one part of the brain that’s telling you it so unsettling and eerie and on the other, you connect emotionally with chimp and sympathise with him, which sets you up to later root for the apes when they attack the humans. Yet this “creeped” out feeling that we get isn’t overwhelming, it more uncanny and as explained by (Cangialosi, 2011) who’s theory is that “the uncanny valley actually helps the story by visually supporting a duality in its premise. As a moviegoer, we are sympathizers to Caesar's plight and subsequent primate revolution; thus we root for the apes. On the other side of the brain, as humans we are freaked out by the possibility that apes could overthrow the simian order.”

Figure 4 Film Still “emotion” Figure 4 depicts another emotional scene in the film where Caesar shows human emotion. According to Freud something that is familiar and being alienated in our mind by different effects it creates the uncanny. Which is what a chimp expressing human emotion does in our minds, Schneider quoted Freud saying “The uncanny, is that class of frightening things that occasion anxiety because they relate to repressed affect: “something which is familiar and old- established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (Freud, cited in Schneider, 2004:56)


Conclusion The CGI in most films although realistic falls into the category of the uncanny valley. The attempt at the realism creates the effect of the uncanny. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” almost breaks away from the uncanny valley effect, due to how much realistic emotion and movement is put into the chimps. What keeps the film in this category could possibly be the human expression and emotion that is displayed by the chimp Caesar. His human emotion on a chimps face looks real yet our minds know that it’s not, that it’s impossible for a chimp to display that type of emotion and have that expression. This is the key factor that makes this film a great explanation for the uncanny.


List of illustrations Fig. 1 Film Still (2011) Rise of the Planet of the Apes At: Fig. 2 Film Still (1995) Braveheart At: Fig. 3 Film still (2011) Rise of the Planet of the Apes Fig. 4 Film Still (2011) Rise of the Planet of the Apes At:


Bibliography Cangialosi, J (2011), 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' in the Uncanny Valley. In: 18.08.11 [online] At: Waal, D (2011), Animated or Real, Both Are Believable. In: 28.08.11 [online] At: Cangialosi, J (2011), 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' in the Uncanny Valley. In: 18.08.11 [online] At: Schneider, S (2004), Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freud’s worst nightmare. USA: Cambridge University press