Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Primates at the pictures

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 31 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5486
  1. Desmond O’Neill, consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine, Dublin
  1. doneill{at}

A blockbuster film incorporates the themes of Alzheimer’s disease and biomedical ethics, says Desmond O’Neill

Summer blockbuster films usually have large visual impact, a quick surge of gratification, but little by way of lasting fulfilment. Occasionally, however, they provide a bit more. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the latest iteration and prequel to the Planet of the Apes saga, is definitely in the latter category. Hugely entertaining and well constructed, it is also layered with contemporary themes that add piquancy for medical viewers. These include Alzheimer’s disease, primate research, pandemics, research ethics, and the distortions created by the medical-industrial complex. Interestingly, this medical flavour parallels the original 1968 film, which starred a very skilled ape surgeon called Galen and in which lobotomy featured as an instrument of both control and punishment.

The plot centres on a cognitive enhancer with untoward side effects. These unravel when the flawed hero, a research neuroscientist, breaks several ethical barriers. He treats …

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