Mothers. Leaders. Companions. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes introduces us to two very different, yet very similar female characters on opposite sides of the ape-human war. Ellie, a former CDC worker among the human survivors of the Simian Flu pandemic, and Cornelia, Caesar’s partner and the matriarch of Ape society. From their opposing sides, these heroines work to not only understand each other, but to build a bridge between two species at war.

THE MATRIARCHS

From the very beginning of the film, Cornelia casts a long shadow. She gives the film its first momentous occasion, the birth of her and Caesar’s second son, which Ape society celebrates. But Caesar soon notices she’s unwell, and the specter of her illness exacerbates Caesar’s aggression and mistrust of the newly arrived humans.

Meanwhile, Ellie accompanies a group on a last-ditch effort to repair a nearby hydroelectric dam, but they need Caesar’s permission to do so. While Ellie is not the queen of humans any more than her husband Malcolm is king, Ellie does represent the best in what humans can be: intelligent, even-tempered, and empathetic, making her a clear counterpart to Cornelia.

TWO WOMEN, BOTH ALIKE

While many characters in Dawn explicitly discuss the differences between Ape and human, Cornelia and Ellie showcase a host of similarities: they’re both parents. They both have partners who are trying—and ultimately failing—to protect their kind. Most significantly, they’ve both survived terrible experiences, finding camaraderie and love on the other side of suffering.

Cornelia, like the unforgiving Koba, lived a life of abuse in captivity, and could’ve easily justified a hatred of humans. But one night, she comforts Caesar on his mistrust of the humans, not only showing how in tune she is with the feelings of others, but also implying that this worry isn’t one she shares. Despite her past, she’s willing to trust these humans.

WORLDS COLLIDE

While Cornelia and Ellie serve as counterparts to each other individually, their meeting is also the linchpin that finally forges trust between Ape and human. After Caesar discovers a human has brought a gun into Ape territory, he insists the humans leave before they finish restoring the dam. Even Malcolm can’t convince him to change his mind.

Similarly, Ellie lost a daughter to the Simian Flu, yet she offers to treat Cornelia’s illness, and later operates on Caesar as well. As characters like Koba, Malcolm, and Caesar himself let their past injuries guide their actions towards others, Ellie doesn’t cast blame unfairly or inflict her pain on others as vengeance.

But when Ellie sees Cornelia ill, she puts the Ape’s health first and offers to treat her, risking her life simply by confronting Caesar. Desperate, Caesar allows her to help. If it weren’t for Ellie’s presence, the already unstable truce between Ape and human would’ve collapsed even sooner, Cornelia would’ve likely died, and Caesar wouldn’t be the ally they needed in the events to come. Together, Cornelia and Ellie are the glimmer of hope that Ape and human can coexist.

3CORNELIA AND ELLIE AND THE QUESTION OF STRENGTH#

It’s significant that Cornelia and Ellie are the only two characters whose interaction strengthens the bond between the Ape and human societies as a whole. Cornelia and Ellie show strength through healing, trust, and compassion, which are traits often foregone or forgotten in favor of threats and violence—more traditional displays of power.

Their actions stand as examples for what the relationship between the Ape and human societies could’ve become: if the other Apes and humans had looked to them, to their kindness to and forgiveness of one another, perhaps violence could’ve been avoided.

Perhaps the War could’ve been prevented entirely.