Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jan 14, 2006

King Kong

I was not certain what to expect from this movie before I saw it. On the one hand, it was directed by Peter Jackson, who of all movie directors captures my sense of life most perfectly. On the other hand, though, it is a remake of an old movie I still haven't seen, and I've learned that you can't expect consistently good movies from any source. I hung back, waiting to hear from people I knew whether it was worth seeing or not.

Then I read the discussion on about the movie and I was still more hesitant. No one really gave a distinctly positive review.

Jackson proved them wrong.

I'm sorry to say that the discussors missed the theme of this movie by about a mile. Maybe even more. What is the theme of King Kong? Masculinity.

There is only one female character in the movie, Ann Darrow, and the plot revolves around her completely, but her only purpose is to provide a contrast so that you can understand the workings of masculinity in its proper context. Without anything to compare it against, namely, femininity, the idea of masculinity is meaningless. Femininity is not explored, but simply presented as a generalization in the person of Naomi Watts' character.

Each of the different male characters embodies some aspect of masculinity; all failed or succeeded to the extent that they approached the ideal. Jack Black's character Carl Denham was the perfect archetype of drive and ambition, but his confused priorities and misunderstanding of what was really important were the ruin of everything he tried to accomplish.

Adrien Brody's Jack Driskell was the true and proper hero except for one failing: his inability to demonstrate his worth. Some quality kept him too reserved and withdrawn from the object of his desire (Ann), so she turned away from him and accepted an imperfect substitute that was more straightforward.

Captain Engleham (Thomas Kretschmann) represented a certain bloody-minded narrowly- focused competence that is generally encountered in professional career men. In his area of expertise, he was the best. The outside world took no notice of him nor him of it; he was almost a self-contained universe and thus a marginal character for all his ability.

Preston (Colin Hanks) was simply the symbol of a kind of confused innocence and honesty, but his unworldliness made him unable to even blunt the worst excesses of other characters. Jimmy (Jamie Bell) was the exemplar of reckless youth, with Evan Parke's character Hayes providing a fatherly foil.

Kyle Chandler as Bruce Banner demonstrated one of the worst and ugliest aspects of masculinity I've ever seen: narcissism. All the worse, in my opinion, because in his enchantment with himself he'd managed to convince many people that there was something under that pretty exterior. Faced with a real difficulty, however, he was forced to rely on others. And yet they continued to give him credit.

All the events of the story tie back into the idea of masculinity. I was especially pleased at how the crew of Engleham's ship moved instantly to rescue Miss Darrow when she was captured by the Skull Island savages. They didn't even question the necessity or ponder leaving her behind.

So what, exactly, did King Kong represent? He was an aspect of masculinity that goes by the simple name of The Brute, an appropriate term I picked up reading Ann Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy. It is something about men that I have come to appreciate, if not fully understand; the deep and unstoppable passion that good men have that makes them capable of terrible and wonderful things. It is savage and can be frightening, but in general I think it's a good thing. Without that "fire in the gut", it is all too easy to lay down and die or let what is precious slip away.

All of his behavior emphasized this, from playing with Ann a bit cruelly, as though she were a toy instead of a human being (something I've seen most men do with women, so I was especially struck by it), to his pride and offended dignity after being hit in the head with a rock. Kong was so human and genuinely cute that the ending was very hard to watch indeed.

So why did Kong die? What factor conquered the magnificent brute so in love with life and with the beauty he had found? Ignorance. In his dumb incomprehension of the new and terrifying world that confronted him, he was not capable of directing his actions constructively. He could not accomplish his ends. He could only destroy them. Such was his magnificence, love, and dignity that he chose to be destroyed himself rather than allow that to happen.

I definitely recommend the movie. And, gentlemen, when you go see it, ask yourself when you return to the outside world: what sort of man am I?


Myrhaf said...

You're the first reviewer to identify a theme. Andrew Sullivan loved the movie, but I don't think he found an abstract meaning. A lot of people thought it needed to be cut.

Jennifer Snow said...

Well, esthetically you can't know whether it was a good movie or not unless you know the theme.

Some of the action scenes were excessively long, but not ridiculously so. As far as I'm concerned it's just fine the way it is.

zama202 said...

I don't know if you have seen this discussion of 'Kong' over at 4AynRandFans. Its a good discussion:

Jennifer Snow said...

I don't visit THE FORUM very often.

zama202 said...

Yes, but I thought you would find the way they framed the theme in that thread interesting. Free Capitalist and Daniel Scwartz described it as revolving around companionship and not specifically as masculinity but no doubt masculinity is involved.

softwareNerd said...

Check out this gal's article. She uses the term "Red Blooded Male", where you used "brute".

Here is a quote:
"This year I plan to conduct my own Academy Awards. And in my newly created category of "Best Red-Blooded Male," I regret to say that I can offer up only one nominee: King Kong.

Where have all the tough guys gone? Really, it's enough to make you cry--that is, if all our leading men weren't already doing it for me.

Jennifer Snow said...

Huh. You know, the thing that strikes me as odd about this movie is that most of the ladies I know that saw it LOVED it, and the gentlemen thought it was dull.

Only Peter Jackson could make an action movie that's ALSO a chick flick.

Richard said...

You wrote,
"Kyle Chandler as Bruce Banner demonstrated one of the worst and ugliest aspects of masculinity I've ever seen: narcissism. All the worse, in my opinion, because in his enchantment with himself he'd managed to convince many people that there was something under that pretty exterior."

Angelina Jolie is the female equivalent. Apparently full of life, intelligence and competence, she hooks up with 'pretty boy' Brad, does crap movies like Wanted while arguing that she should be Dagny in Atlas Shrugged. Maybe she can act, but aside from that she can't or won't adequately think. Remember, she HAS read "Atlas Shrugged"!

I have not seen King Kong, because I saw the earlier version with Jessica Lange (gorgeous body and face, but...?).

Now I will have to rent the Peter Jackson re-make.

In spite of your positive remarks, I expect not to be too pleased at the man as brute notion.

When some element threatens to destroy his values the actions of a Man fighting may appear to be those of a brute, but in the hands of a Real Man, they are anything but. Think Francisco D'Anconia calmly defending Rearden Steel with a rifle. Raining destruction where deserved, fully and absolutely aware of the full context of his actions, the risks, and the values preserved against the vice destroyed.

Like passionate sex, the actions of genuine male adoration, worship and finely-tuned apparent-dominance-without-force, are viewed by a child appear violent, aggressive and damaging to the female. Yet, like Francisco, the true Man is attuned to fine movements within millimeters, fine pressures of less than a gram, while manipulating some 80 Kilograms of his physique on a wonder-to-him that is half that.

If King Kong is the male brute, then there is only slight artistic value in presenting that brute as a struggle for values. A brute struggling for values may be laudable, but it when that struggle is a brute struggle the artistic value is minimal.