Please feel free to send your own letters to the Oscar committee and mention LanceandEskimo.com somewhere within them so you can be sure all the return hate mail will simply be filtered back to us.
Board of Governors
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211-1972
Dear members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,
I write to you with an observation, and a suggestion.
Yours is a difficult task. To determine the structure of the Academy Awards’s ballot, it becomes necessary to take into account particulars that are (in fact) far more daunting than the final voting itself.
One is prompted to falter, to second-guess oneself, to feel guilt... all toward the task of finalizing a set of candidates in any given field of the election process, whether it be “best picture” or “best overall choreography for a given Kabuki sequence.”
But, and this is inevitable, our minds are at work on their own as well, filtering out candidates all the while. And yet sometimes, we must admit, this is an unfair process. That is why I write to you today. With a proposition that is at once astounding and yet justified. I write to make a case for something I fear will go overlooked if I do not speak; and whether or not you choose to listen, I can at least say that I’ve done what should be done and made my plea for the nomination of Pericles the chimpanzee as “best supporting actor” for his role in Planet of the Apes.
Yes, he is a chimpanzee. He is not a human. Pericles is what he is. But, above all, he is a brilliant actor.
Take, for instance, the introductory scene of Pericles piloting his shuttle (at first, in a simulated environment) that is intended to gradually slip us into the movie. The movie could have begun in no other way. The expression of any other actor would have merely tainted the simplicity and purity of the moment. Yet Pericles remains a calm presence, so believably focused on the task at hand. But then, once the shuttle goes off course, the audience begins to feel his frustration. For the most part, without words, Pericles is able to successfully emote with mere body language and simple vocalizations. Despite the calmness he had displayed just moments before, the audience is suddenly allowed a glimpse at the underlying tension that Pericles had been able to hide from them until this point of imminent disaster. Then, with simple gesture and the slightest of sound alone, the audience is let in on the severity of the situation as tension begins to mount, until it explodes briefly to jar us all for a moment. The frustration Pericles embodies shoulders a certain amount of primal fear. Pericles has set himself up as the mirror of human emotions that continues to drive the film by comparison, as human stands in relation to ape, monkey, chimpanzee, etc... throughout the entirety of the film.
This is just one of the numerous themes that Pericles chooses to capitalize upon throughout the movie: the tension between calm and simple exterior, and suppressed frustration. Take for instance the scene moments after, right before he reenters his cage, in which Pericles is being teased about receiving a treat. He finally receives the treat, but the placid yet pained expression of Pericles reveals something important to the viewer as it quietly serves to set up yet another thematic presence. A realization of the power structure; a theme that will dominate so much of the movie’s remainder.
Without a word spoken, just the quickest of glimpses into the face of Pericles will serve to reveal his underlying hesitation and anxiety and uncertainty about finally being sent off in an actual shuttle for the first time. Yet the exterior remains, revealing an overwhelming sense of loyalty and duty.
To jump ahead a bit (for the sake of brevity), when Pericles lands in his tiny shuttle at the end, it signifies a defining point of the movie. When the mask lifts to reveal his face, he dons an expression of such simplicity, yet awareness, that one is prompted to wonder about the nature of being. The role of Pericles is so powerful, in fact, that he carries the whole weight of the movie’s moral and cultural dilemma upon his very shoulders; for it is at this very pivotal point that all primates assembled come to a moment of epiphany. Such a completely unexpected behavioral turn of understanding is at once foolish and astounding, for the progression of the movie simply doesn’t allow for it; the scene had simply not been set for such sudden and complete reversal. Only the brilliance of Pericles allows for him to shine through the impossibility with unparalleled luminosity at this very moment, to restore the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. And just as the role of Pericles had been elevated to the status of deity, he just as suddenly (with minimal segue) reverts to his previously ascribed role of dry wit and raw emotion as he bounds off into the ruins of the space station and sets the elaborate stage for the final sequence of dramatic events.
All the while, from his role as astro-chimp to deity, he somehow manages to demonstrate the aura of each particular state of being, while yet conveying such emotion and remaining so stable in the very essence of his character that the audience is able to feel the reality of the movie remain intact despite the obvious openings left in the plot itself for clearly flawed moments and punctured continuity.
And now, I realize that I must concede upon one fact again: that Pericles himself is a chimpanzee. As we are all quite aware, no such decision as yours is ever made that does not come over intense scrutiny. And Planet of the Apes is (for the most part) what would be considered a movie with less classically recognizable artistic qualities. A movie, in your minds, designed to make money one summer, as people file into the theaters hoping to escape from the heat for just a moment.
Be that as it may, Pericles as an actor clearly embodies something more. Also, such “commercially popular” movies have in fact been deemed meritorous by the Academy in years gone by. In fact, certain actors with many of the qualities and features relating to chimps have even been awarded your coveted trophies. And I am asking you to do something different.
What I am asking you to do is, for a moment, pause to put aside your natural biases and manner of rationale. And, rather than vote with your rules, to vote with your heart.
As Pericles was so brutally dashed into a wall at the movie’s climax, the crowd went hush all around me. As the heroic chimp slowly crawled toward his destination, people held their breath. His stoicism was unyielding. And as he turned to reenter his cage once again, I too turned, to see that no face was free of tears, and no one sought to hide them. Pericles had touched something in all of us at this single moment that resonated as more deeply human than anything that white guy had done throughout the entire movie. Something that was at once so deeply moving and so haunting.
Pericles had returned home, not only physically, but spiritually. In my mind, that was the true finale of the movie. If only we could all be so triumphant. I just hope he got his well deserved treat. For he earned it in our hearts.
Please consider this argument for the nomination of Pericles.