If your weekend consisted of checking out Matt Reeves’ wonderful Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and then wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and reminding yourself that Little Caesar is a-okay (for now, and also, that is the baby ape’s name, right?) and just gently rocking for the remainder of Saturday and Sunday, we understand. But perhaps it’s time you emerge from your emotional fog and remember some of the less wrenching parts of the film. Like that time that Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) made friends with Maurice (played by Karin Konoval) by sharing the magic of books, graphic novels, and storytelling. That was nice, right? And also, what was that book? Perhaps there is some subtext buried here.
In Reeves’ film, young Alexander forges a tenuous connection with the big-hearted ape Maurice, who exhibits a love for reading and knowledge early in the film, through a book (Maurice, it seems, is teaching the little ones about both the rules that govern their society and how to express them via hand signal and the written word). Despite enduring tremendous hardships in his young life (like the death of his mother, Simian Flu in general, and the dismantling of society as we know it), Alexander is still a regular teen at heart – and that’s reflected in his choice of reading material: Charles Burns’ “Black Hole.” But what is “Black Hole”? And, wait, is there already a movie about the seminal graphic novel? Sort of.
Burns’ graphic novel was first released as a 12-book limited comic book series starting in 1995, and a complete hardcover edition (like Alexander’s) was released in 2005. The content of the book is interesting enough – it centers on a group of teens who live in seventies-era Seattle during the outbreak of a disfiguring disease (parallels!) known as “the Bug.” Whereas the Simian Flu was created in a lab and appears to wipe out whole swathes of the population without much rhyme or reason (although the film indicates that the only people who survive the Flu are people who are genetically immune to it, it’s unclear how those genes are passed on – for example, Alexander and his father live, while Gary Oldman’s entire family perishes and Keri Russell loses her daughter, so it’s unclear how the immunity trickles down through families), “the Bug” is passed around via sexual contact. It’s a vicious little STD that turns its victims into mutated freaks and forces them to live away from society in a wooded encampment just on the fringes of society.
The book’s themes, from illness to isolation, are interesting insertions into the DOTPOTA mythos, and it’s possible that Alexander’s interest in them is indicative of his stance on the Simian Flu. While others from his colony – namely the nefarious Carver – blame the apes for the Flu, Alexander doesn’t appear to. Perhaps “Black Hole” (or just plain common sense) helped him to arrive at this point. Or maybe he’s just a kid who likes cool graphics.
Nevertheless, the book’s inclusion in the film is an obvious one – Reeves wants us to see which book Alexander is reading and to, presumably, check it out. “Black Hole” has been in various stages of cinematic development over the years, including the off and on attachment of such names as Alexandre Aja, Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary and David Fincher, though everyone except Fincher has subsequently left the project.
There was, however, one director who wanted to direct the feature so badly that he crafted his own short version of it as part of his pitch – Rupert Sanders of Snow White and the Huntsman fame (and infamy). Sanders made an 11-minute live-action take on the material back in 2010, during a strange period when Fincher had left the project (to make The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and had yet to return (Fincher got back in the mix in October of last year).
Want to fall into a “Black Hole”? Take a look at what Sanders made:
Kinda cool, right? As if you weren’t already feeling sympathetic enough to people who have been destroyed by various diseases and the inevitable fallout from massive infections. Sniff sniff.