The Art of War Observed in Motion Picture, the Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Who would ever think animals capable of military tactics found in the book, The Art of War? The Art of War written by Sun Tzu around 500 B.C provide war maneuvers, strategies, and ideologies for combat. How it is written, the use of metaphors and symbolism, provides these strategies an artistic style that is found throughout Chinese customs and culture. Although written before modern weapons and technology, this centuries old text remains a significant foundation for war and combat that can be observed today. Military forces worldwide recognize the relevance of this text. The advice and strategies used throughout the book can also be observed in film and forms of media. One such example can be found in the motion picture, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This film tells the story of apes and their battle with humans for freedom and independence. Although this film demonstrates a battle between man and animal, the apes were observed utilized military tactics found in the text, The Art of War.

The main character in the movie, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is an animal- an ape by the name of Caesar. Caesar received gene therapy from the local research company that provided him with supreme intelligence, consciousness, and thought. This intelligence provided him with the tools needed to help combat and eventually defeat the California Highway Patrol and San Francisco Police Department. The agencies were attempting to control, detain, and kill the apes as the apes fought on their quest for freedom. The relationships Caesar developed with humans, his familiarity of human activity including human psychology and sociology gave him  the ability to strategically rage war against his aggressors. The knowledge and intelligence gained enabled his victory as recognized by Sun Tzu, “if you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win numerous battles without jeopardy” (Tzu 3:18).

Stripped away from the home of his owner and living in a shelter with other apes, Caesar gained the respect of his counterparts. He was able to do this without violence and using his intelligence to his advantage. Once Caesar figured out how to unlock his cage as well as the others, he demanded his authority and leadership from his counter parts. “The host thus forming a single united body, it is impossible either for the brave to advance alone or for the cowardly to retreat alone” (Tzu 7:25). To further encourage a united front, Caesar gave the apes the concoction that would give them knowledge, understanding, and intelligence. With a new and open mind, Caesar was a strong leader as he aligned his troops and prepared for battle. He discouraged the apes from killing humans. He cultivated strength and morality, and treated the others fairly and equally. As a result, “moral law cause[d] the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they may follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger” (Tzu 1: 5-6). The troop adhered to his commands. When anger overtook an ape and attempted to kill a human, Caesar gave a grunt and the ape stopped his aggressive advance immediately. In addition, to further gain trust and respect, he provided the apes with cookies to show his respect for the others and his ability to provide and protect the troops both in and out of battle.

The Sun Tzu states that, “what the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease” (Tzu 4:11). This goes against what is projected by the film and the action of the apes in the quest for freedom.  Caesar, the leader and commander in charge was intelligent and mentally prepared and equipped for battle. Yet the Tzu suggest that he was not a clever fighter because his battle was not won swiftly and easily. The apes faced loss as several died and were overcome by the humans. Others were left severely hurt while another sacrificed himself for the life of the leader. Despite their smart, wit, and intelligence the inability to win the battle with ease and grace takes away the intelligence of the apes, suggesting that they did not battle the best of their ability. It also suggests that they did not fighting utilizing their knowledge gained by human research. This example denies the apes cleverness, making this battle a simple one and not a battle that excelled and exceeds all others.

There were various incidents throughout the film that demonstrated excellent war tactics in order to defeat their advisories. The leader and his troops were able to utilize thought and strategy including sneak attacks and keeping aggressors on defense. All the while, the apes were able to minimize human harm and the loss of life. This is a fundamental source of combat for the Chinese in the art of war.

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to

attack, we must seem unable; when using force, we must appear

enactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe

we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are

near (Tzu 1:19).


Incidentally, the apes in combat utilized deception to achieve victory throughout the battle between human and apes. This was observed in various incidents throughout the film. Once such example was observed when the apes battled the humans on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. While attempting to cross the bridge to reach the forest, the police department attempted to ambush the apes. They drove the apes forward across the bridge, while on the other end of the bridge a group of police officers lie in wait with guns. One officer claimed this strategy would be like, “shooting fish in a barrel” (Wyatt).

The use of deception can be observed specifically when the Caesar, the ape’s leader, observed the activity of the police behind them and the silence that awaited in front of them, behind a cloud of fog. “Fighting with a large army under your command is no wise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals” (Tzu 5:2). Caesar, sensing the impending danger, first grunted to grab the attention of his troops which caused them to cease moving forward. Once the troop of apes stopped, Caesar then, in one gesture of his arm, motioned to the group on his right to climb the cable suspensions of the bridge above them to progress forward. He then instructed the troop on his left, with another grand sweep of his arms, to utilize the lower support beams of the bridge to progress forward. Thus, utilizing swift symbols and gestures, Caesar was able to take command of his troops. As iterated by Sun Tzu, the methods of combat were regulated by the infinite variety of the circumstance provided to the troop of apes as they arose, (Tzu 6:28).

Sun Tzu’s art of war recommends that military forces should, “attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected”. Ironically, the troop of apes was able to do just that. With the apes pushing forward across the bridge above, below, and on level ground, they were able to implement a surprise attack on the humans. When the troops was in a close proximity to the police force who wait in ambush behind a bus, Caesar used hand signals again to communicate to his troop of apes. To divert the attention of the humans, Caesar commands a group to push the bus forward, toward the awaiting ambush. This caused the police force to shoot the bus. “The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for the possibility of defeating the enemy” (Tzu 4:1). While the police were distracted by the force of the bus, a troop suspended on the cables from above, fell onto the enemy while a troop below the bridge took over the enemy, and the troop on the road pushed forward. This caused the awaiting ambush of police to be overtaken. Some police were pushed off the bridge while the rest fled in fear. This swift victory however caused the apes to celebrate early. This victory and celebration however, superseded them allowing, a police helicopter, to implement an attack. However, by participating in this false victory, they went against the basic art of war.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an excellent example of how this centuries old text can be utilized today. Military forces worldwide utilize these strategies of war to gain victories and battles. Despite the lay out of the text, nations may amend or change these tactics to meet their own needs, adapting to the era and technologies available today. In battle for freedom and independence and the wit of their leader, the apes were able to, “impose his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him”, (Sun Tzu). Changing tactics as the apes crossed the bridge changed according to the situations as they arose. This allowed the apes to achieve victory and continue on to their destination without further challenges. Utilizing film and media such as observed in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, teaches others to view war in a different manner. War can be seen as a form of art, in the same way film and cinema is a form of art. Consequently, the Art of War has significance yesterday as it does today, and will continue to be of great importance in future battles.  



Works Cited

Sutton, Bob. “Art of War.” Marxist Internet Archive. N.p., April 2, 2009. Web. 20 Jul 2012. <;.

 Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. 7. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1963. eBook. <

 Wyatt, Rupert, dir. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 20th Century Fox, 2011. Film. 20 Jul 2012. 


About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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