Sauna in Cinema: Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Tinygogo is proud to introduce a new column: Sauna in Cinema

Steambaths and saunas have been popping up a lot in the films I've seen recently. As a bathing enthusiast I notice these scenes where others might not think twice about them. There's a rich mine of material here that will be a fun topic to explore. I hope that over time the column will create a compendium of sauna scenes in film. (Got any sauna scenes to share? Let me know.)

Obviously setting a sauna in a movie serves a purpose. Maybe it's to create atmosphere, advance the plot or send a message. Also we can deconstruct the cultural codes of what is being said about the sauna itself. We'll learn something about how Hollywood/America and other film makers view bathing in a larger social context? And what about symbolism? Whoa baby, look out!

Sweating in a gorilla suit

For the first in this series we have a steambath in (yes, it's true!) Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Forgive me for going here. It's not like I'm a big fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise. The movies are however an inescapable part of my childhood psyche. I saw Beneath on TV when I was probably nine or ten. I never saw the entire movie so the plot confused me, especially the ending. Just a while ago I ran across the DVD in the local library and I figured it would be worth viewing as light entertainment. Also it could help bring closure to some of my childhood bewilderment. 

The first shot opens with a servant ape pouring water on the rocks where General Ursus and Doctor Zaius are taking a steambath. The steam hisses and rolls into the room. General Ursus ushers the servant ape out of the room. Both the General and the Doctor are wearing sheets which are suggestive of togas. They are evocative of a Roman thermae--ape senators meeting on neutral ground to hash out differences. In this instance the towels are also a lame prop to cover up the poorly-conceived costumes and hypothetical ape private parts. Watching this scene, my first irrational thought was: Wow, that guy is in an gorilla suit and he's in a sauna. That must be torture.

It's odd how ridiculous the loose-fitting ape suits look. They don't do credit to the original good, if incredibly odd, make-up work on the ape faces. I imagined cheap gorilla suits from some comedy skit you might see on the Benny Hill Show. Give that ape a banana and comedy will ensue.

General Ursus and Doctor Zaius are having a meeting of minds. They discuss invasion of the Forbidden Zone, an area inhabited by humans with psychic powers. Ursus and Zaius have different views. Doctor Zaius has misgivings about undertaking a military campaign. He prefers preserving the status quo. General Ursus is a human-hating xenophobe but also lays down the line that if they don't expand their people will starve. Even though these are two strong personalities with differing views, the shared bathing time creates a space where the two can agree on the plan and work collectively. Here the steambath is a space for ape male bonding time.


"What is more dangerous than famine, Doctor?"

"The unknown."

Heavy, Doctor Zaius, heavy.