Comparative Analysis Of Station Eleven And War For The Planet Of The Apes

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The history of humanity has been riddled with new diseases and mass pandemics that have threatened the collapse of society. In today’s media, artists like to imagine a world where this disastrous event does happen, when medicine fails and the world is thrust into a situation where it’s people must survive. One such artist is Emily St. John Mandel with her award winning novel, “Station 11”. This book begins with the actor Aurthur Leander suffering a heart attack in the middle of the production of the play, King Lear. Shortly after, the deadly Georgia Flu breaks out and causes a global pandemic. The book then proceeds to jump back in forth to times before and after the collapse of society. We learn what the young Aurthur Lear was like and how the formation of a traveling theater troupe is helping others cope with the new post-apocalyptic world. On their way, they encounter disappearing members, a cult, and many abandoned ruins with clues of the past. Another portail of a post-apocalyptic world can be found in the movie “War for the Planet of the Apes”. In this movie, scientists try to create a cure to Alziemhers and experiment on chimpanzees. However, the drug had the effect of making the chimps extraordinarily smart, but became deadly to humans causing a disease known as the “Simian Flu”. The movie begins 12 years after the Simian Flu wiped out most of humanity and the apes have formed a thriving society. A dangerous conflict with a military faction known as the Alpha-Omega causes Caesar, the leader of the ape society, to relocate his species, and have to decide between a personal vendetta or the safety of his apes. Although War for the Planet of the Apes tells an “ape vs. human” tale, Station Eleven’s plot shares views about humanity and survival.

Station 11 shows humans in a light that we don’t see often in the post-apocalyptic genre as they focus on preserving the arts rather than just survival itself. The importance of art is established from the very beginning of the book. The story starts with a performance of King Lear, one of William Shakespear’s most notable works. Next, we are shown the Traveling Symphony after the collapse of society rehearsing the same play (Ginsberg). The play served as the constant throughout the tragic change making the message very clear; art is much stronger and more durable than most other worldly things. Man’s tallest skyscrapers, fastest cars, and best medicine can be gone within the snap of a finger, but art on the other hand, can survive centuries, through wars, plagues, and disasters. All it needs is a single person with a little passion and a little dedication. This can be seen in our world today. We’re constantly retelling the stories of civilizations who are long gone, like the ancient Greeks. We still admire the paintings of artists who have since passed, like Michelangelo. We still perform the songs of musicians who have since expired, and it is in this way that we are keeping their art alive many centuries later.

Although the survival of art is a big theme in Station 11, so is that of humanity. We are shown the duality of man throughout the book. As the book shows us the early life of Arthur, we begin to sympathize and root for him to make it in the acting business. Once he finds his first wife, Miranda, we again want them to succeed. However, we begin to see the corruption of his character and his flaws once we find out about his affair with Elizabeth (Mandel 99), and are further disappointed after the Dear V letters (Mandel 153-158). This transition in the eyes of the audience shows us how humans can be the lovable underdogs, the ones that everyone wants to see on top, but all it takes is a small flaw to have that tragic fall from grace. We are shown a different kind of duality again through Kirsten. When we first see her, she’s just a frightened child who had just witnessed someone die of a heart attack (Mandel 7). Then, we see her as a member of the Traveling Symphony (Mandel 35). This makes the reader carry the image of a frightened child and assume that someone dedicated to the noble cause of keeping the arts alive in a time of tragedy must be morally just, and in a way she is. Shortly after, however, it is revealed how she had an affair with a member of the Symphony, she breaks into buildings and steals (Mandel 39), and that she has two knife tattoos that represent how many times she’s had to take a life (Mandel 132). Again Mandel shows us the two sides of man, one being the frightened, timid, and innocent side and the other being the lustful, careless, and corrupt one.

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It’s this duality that the movie War for the Planet of the Apes focuses on when depicting its message on humanity. Interestingly, War for the Planet of the Apes flips the role and portrays humans as being ruthless and savages and apes as the more moral and humane species. We are shown this in the very beginning after a short but brutal battle between the humans and the apes. We can see on the helmets of the human soldiers things such as “monkey killer” and “bedtime for bonzo” are engraved. We also hear them refer to their helper apes as “donkeys”(“War for the Planet of the Apes” 02:05-08:20). This establishes the humans as the ruthless and unforgiving. After they lose the battle, however, Caesar lets the remaining human soldiers leave with their lives and with a message for their Colonel begging for a peaceful end to the fighting (“War for the Planet of the Apes” 12:00-12:50). In this opening scene, we can see how Man can become savages when their way of life is disrupted. Later on, the movie shows how the Colonel disregards this request and further ignites the remorse when he personally murders Caesar’s family in the middle of the night while they were sleeping (“War for the Planet of the Apes” 21:55-22:55). Here is where we are seen once again the duality of man, ironically, in an ape. We see Caesar make the decision to move his apes to a safer location far away. However he is conflicted whether to assure that they make it, or to pursue his selfish desire for revenge against the Colonel. This conflict shows how not even the most courageous leader is immune to immorality. We see how he selfishly chooses to chase his vendetta and how it ultimately leads to himself, along with his apes, to be imprisoned.

From the time of the imprisonment, we begin to see War for the Planet of the Ape’s portrayal of survival. This portrayal, however, is a lot more extreme than Station 11. In this movie, survival of the human race is the ultimate goal. A goal that must be accomplished at all costs. We see the price the humans are willing to pay for this goal when the Colonel reveals how his son died. Having mutated, the Simian Flu virus would cause those infected to become primitive. The Colonel then says how if it spread, it would wipe out the human race for good. Therefore, he took it upon himself to shoot his own son so the human race could live. He then ordered for the rest of the infected, whether they be men, women, or children, to be killed as well as with anyone who opposed his orders (“War for the Planet of the Apes” 1:19:20-1:22:26). As he goes on to explain the event, he depicts it as a necessary sacrifice for the survival of humanity. Whether it costs one life or hundreds, it’ll be a necessary cost to buy humanity more time. This scene is essential because it is here where the audience is left to ponder what would be the moral choice. It may be easy to choose to get rid of the few, but when push comes to shove, who would really be able to pull the trigger to save the human race?

Although Station 11 and War for the Planet of the Apes may just be works of science fiction, we can still use them to reflect on our priorities and what lengths we’re willing to go as a species with the threat of the new Coronavirus. Although the collapse of society might seem a bit of a stretch, we must still use this as an opportunity to discuss the very nature of humanity and survival, so that in the case that the world were to be thrust into chaos, we can at least have an idea of what to do from there. 

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