Five Apes in a Cage

Watched The Contender on DVD again last week. Each time I watch the movie, I have another reason to appreciate the artistry behind the film. (Pay attention to the frequent use of a “oner” – the long, tracking shots from one handheld camera. Often into and out of buildings, up and down multiple floors, etc. It’s a wonderful technique – even if you don’t consciously realize it’s happening, it’s a subtle way of reinforcing the grandeur of D.C.)

In any event, the deleted scenes were telling. While many were removed for good reason (they often created entirely new plot threads that would have simply distracted from the main theme), one scene was wonderful. Jeff Bridges as President. He walks into the Oval Office, where two senior aides (played by Saul Rubinek and Sam Elliott) are seated. The scene was improvised – the director, Rod Lurie, explains that Bridges had finished shooting that day (it was his last day of filming) and didn’t want to leave.

Bridges tells a story, one that I’ve already used twice in meetings (editing out the salty language, of course). I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea:

“Put five apes in a cage. In the middle of a cage is a set of steps, and at the top of the steps is a banana hanging from the top of the cage. When the first ape starts up the steps, blast all five apes with ice cold water from a firehose for five minutes. When the next ape starts up the steps, do it again. Then put the firehose away.

“The third time an ape starts up the steps, wait. The other apes will beat the shit out of the ape. Now take one of the apes out, put in a new ape. He’ll start up the steps – and the other apes will promptly beat the shit out of him. Replace another ape – and the other four – including the ape who never got hit with the water – will beat him to a pulp. Repeat the process, one by one, until you have five ‘new’ apes in the cage.

“They’ll never let one of the apes up the steps. And if you were to ask why, the answer would be simple:

“Because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

At that, Bridges pats one of the aides on the back and walks out. The scene works on several levels – it’s consistent with the theme of the film, it reveals more about Bridges’s President, and it’s fun to watch Rubinek and Elliott listen to the story without a clue about where it’s going.

Don’t be an ape.

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