The moment that finally caught my attention in Hollywood’s latest attempt at getting contemporary audiences to care about the story of Tarzan came just after Samuel L. Jackson (no need to worry about his character’s name, because Samuel L. Jackson always plays Samuel L. Jackson) is told by Tarzan (played by Alexander Skarsgård) that to appease the huge, muscle-hard ape that’s threatening to kill him, he must get down on the ground and bow to it. The bowing doesn’t have an immediate effect on the beast, which continues to roar and show its sharp teeth. Terrified and desperate, Jackson, whose life is hanging by a thread, asks Tarzan, who is a few meters away and has just been bitten on the back: “Should I lick its balls?”
What makes this question interesting is the manner and appearance of this ape, which also happens to be a member of the ape family that adopted Tarzan. (For those who don’t know the old and dumb story, Tarzan is a 19th-century Englishman who, after his parents were killed, was raised by apes in an African jungle.)
Before describing this ape, I need to point out that there are in my mind two vivid Tarzan movies. One was made in 1984, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and stars a lean Christopher Lambert. The other, Tarzan, was made in 1999 and is a Disney animation. In the first film, the apes, which are puppets, clearly look like chimpanzees, and not very healthy ones. Indeed, their fur is kind of messy and they have the kind of eyes you often find in humans who can’t last even an hour without a hit from a crack pipe. Nevertheless, we can identify these apes as members of the chimpanzee family.
The apes in the animated Tarzan are without a doubt gorillas. They move, eat, and act just like Hominidae. The animators clearly did their homework. They closely studied mountain gorillas and their habits. This research paid off: The most realistic thing about the Disney animation is the gorillas. The humans, on the other hand, look unreal and cartoonish.
In the new The Legend of Tarzan, the computer-generated apes look like gorillas but they live and act like chimpanzees. Gorillas usually move through the jungle as a family of one huge father, two or three mothers, and their children. Chimpanzees live in a community of males and females, and they are very social and hierarchical. The Legend of Tarzan combines the appearance of the former ape with the sociality of the latter.
Now back to the matter of Samuel L. Jackson licking a CGI gorilla’s balls.
It is well-known that chimps, like humans, have big balls. Gorillas, on the other hand, have very small ones, and also a small penis. (Humans win the penis prize when it comes to the great apes, though a chimp’s erect penis is supported by a hard bone, something many humans would not mind having.) But here is the thing: The reason chimps have big balls is because they live in a sexual community—meaning, females and males are sexually shared. For this reason, competition for reproductive success is at the level of the sperm. There is sperm competition with this ape. That’s the reason for the big balls. For males, it’s not about getting a mate (that’s easy) but about filling her with as much sperm as possible, so that if she fucks another chap, his sperm will have a hard time at it.
Male gorillas don’t worry about sperm. They worry about other males. There is no sharing of females with this type of ape. You’re either the father or you are dead or displaced. That is why the males are so physically huge but lacking in ball and penis business.
And so, if the gorillas in The Legend of Tarzan behave like sexually social chimpanzees, does this also mean they have big balls? Judging from Samuel L. Jackson’s tone (“Should I lick his balls?”), they do.
It’s an interesting prospect to consider. That is more than I can say about any other element of this generally boring movie. Do not bother watching it.