19/05/2016

King Kong - Who Killed The Beast?

Thoughts On: King Kong (1933)

An expedition to a remote island in the Indian Ocean goes terribly wrong, or right (depending on how you want to look at things), when the infamous Kong shows up.


A question you might have is: why the old version? I imagine you say that as a dumb blonde, gum in mouth, twirling your hair, hand on hip. I chose the old version because I prefer it. I've seen Jackson's remake and... I just can't remember it all that well. It was probably really good with all the action scenes, fights and so on, but... yeah, I can't remember it. I love the original because it knows what it is, it's a monster movie. The remake was an action/adventure/romance/visual effects playground. All elements of this are present in the original, but they don't try to take centre stage. The original is about finding a beast and keeping the girl - that's it really. The run time and pacing makes this clear. The picture is 95 mins. It's non-stop too. As soon as men pass the huge gates there's attack after attack after attack and then they're back to New York where things go wrong, but are quickly subsidised. As opposed to this, there's the 2005 version which is about 201 mins. Lots of stuff obviously happens, but it's all empty. This has nothing to do with run time, excess, or too much story. Just look at Lord Of The Rings. Lots of stuff happens over lots of minutes and I can recall almost all of them - mostly because I've seen the films too many times, but also because it (almost) all needs to be there. I'm not going to pretend like the original is a flawless film here though. The acting's fine and the visual effects are great for the time (lacking detail and life though) but the direction, cinematography and sound design are, at times, awful - the sound design especially. The whole opening is eerily quiet, and we're often in the streets of New York. Scary, no? This doesn't help the acting, atmosphere or frame in any way, at all. The writing is not brilliant either. There is the clear idea of 'the beauty killed the beast' and it's repeated an awful lot (which isn't great) but there's a visual execution of this idea that is done very well. And so, that's what we're going to talk about. Before we start, I know there are interpretations of this film as being racist with Kong being a black guy and society looking down on those evil dark folk, but, no. If you want to see that, you will. I personally don't buy into this though. Firstly, it's reaching and secondly, it's not that interesting. People screaming racism, sexism, ageism, discrimination, such and so on rarely is. Anyway, whilst there are aspects of this film that are a bit racist (with Charlie and all) and a bit sexist (the whole part of Anne) we're going to be looking at an implied - how do I put this - more abusive and oppressive subtext.

The film this is most like is Forbidden Planet (I'll link again in the end) which should imply the route we're about to go down, but, to start let's look at the opening proverb the film gives us:

And the prophet said:

"And lo, the beast looked
upon the face of beauty. And
it stayed its hand from killing.
And from that day, it was as
one dead"

What does this mean? It means stay true to your nature. If you're a killer, kill, otherwise, be killed. This implies that the world we exist in is dictated by how we act, and by behaving certain ways we build a system around us that'll keep us that way or destroy us. This idea is clear with Kong, but let's look at Anne's character. She starts off a poor girl in rags. By behaving (if I could call it that) this way she submits to the hostile world around her. Outside looking in, she's a defenseless damsel, unable to flail her arms in distress. This means she's, in part, responsible for the sympathy she attracts from Denham. By responsible, I mean in an intangible, unintentional way. As a result she seems aptly exploitable, and so, the film happens. She's ultimately fatally objectified, just as Kong is. She's reduced to Beauty and he the Beast. Here then are our three main characters in the film: Exploitation, Beauty and Beast. Denham is Exploitation, Anne Beauty, but the Beast is a dichotomous character. The Beast is John with Kong being a metaphor for his - how do I say this - sexually aggressive side. This is made clear on the boat trip with John not being around too many women very often - and to the point of apparently hating them. But, Kong isn't the only metaphor here, there's a lot of them. The most significant, after Kong, is Skull Mountain (the island). This symbolises John's mind, or at least that of an aggressive male. How do we infer this? Firstly, the shape and name are nice allusions, secondly, this is where Kong and a lot of nonsensical things live. This leads onto the 'dinosaurs'. There's the Stegosaur, Sauropod (Brachiosaurus-Loch-Ness-Monster-thing), Theropod (T-Rex-ish-thing), Pliosaur and Pterosaur. And what these creatures symbolises is best understood by the fact that I didn't have to Google 'dinosaur stuff' to give you those names. I'm pretty sure all boys go through a dinosaur phase where you collect your favourites, want to be an archaeologist (even though you mean paleontologist) and think Jurassic Park is not just possible but actually a really good idea. This explains why the twisted versions of these creatures appear in the film. We're looking into a boy's imagination who thinks sauropods hung out under water, waiting to attack passerbys and that absolutely everything wants to attack and eat people - no matter its diet. Moreover, we're looking into a mind that thinks some dinosaurs survived the world altering comet impact, even though their species went extinct nearly a hundred million years before it even happened - Stegosaurs dying out about 150 millions years ago, the impact happening 65 million ago. Again, all of that's coming off the top of my head. Either way, the point is that Skull Mountain is a metaphorical man's mind.

Before moving on, you're probably double taking 'Skull Mountain' thinking it should be Skull Island. A better name, I must admit, but not the one used in the original. I don't know, maybe that just means that the new King Kong (Skull Island) doesn't care much for the 1933 version. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Comment, tell me what you think it'll be like. Anyway, the last key metaphors are the people: the crew and native islanders. The crew represent civilisation and the natives the opposite. Here, we can bring back in our three main characters, Beast, Beauty and Exploitation. The implied plot line with these characters can be seen with the absurd predicament of one woman being trapped on a tiny floating chunk of metal in the middle of the Indian Ocean with 20 burly men. I think you know where this is going. In short, Denham has set up a really shady deal (giving reason for all his secrecy) to watch it all go awry, filming everything. This means that the crew were obliged to abandon civility and sacrifice the girl to the alpha male - John. But, there's a conflict of moral interest here. The men want to sustain civility, and John doesn't want to destroy the girl. This translates the 'dinosaurs' into Kong/John's personal demons. Kong doesn't live by his instinct, he doesn't annihilate the tiny creature just about the size of his... horrible image I know. But, he doesn't do it. John betrays his alpha male role, appealing to civility, hence, the 'bride of Kong' becomes the 'bride of John'. Catchy, huh? What this means is that Denham isn't really a character who exploits in a mentally insane and pornographic way, but a 'sex sells' kind of way like he's pioneering the first reality T.V, extreme situation series. This is made clear in the beginning, he only needs a female lead so his pictures can make more money. So, let's jump to the end quickly. The night before Anne officially becomes the 'bride of John', Kong comes back, wanting his girl and all because he feels she is in trouble. The flashes of the camera here are metaphorical. The represent media, the news, the exploitation of her image. And so, Kong lashes out at civilisation before being taken down by civilised means of incivility - kill him with the planes! This metaphorical look at the end of the film also fixes a major plot hole with the whole transportation and sedation dilemma. But, why? Why this all happens is a great question, and the answer comes back to Denham and what the film is ultimately about.

King Kong is about the unnecessary domestication of a man. (This is where things get slightly sexist again). John isn't allowed to just use the pretty woman. He's forced, by societal standard, to marry her. This film is then also about immaturity - which is made clear with the dinosaurs. The most interesting question the film asks though is of modern time's effect on men as the hunters to the female gatherers, on humanity as a whole as a group of hairless apes in cars. Is the media (as represented by Denham) exploiting our base impulses to neuter us? This is a strange paradox, but very interesting. Look at how the world has evolved with the movement into the digital age. I'm typing this on a computer. With a few clicks I could easily be on a porn website. But, if the wrong person reads this post I could be labelled misogynistic, sad, lonely for doing so and telling you about it. I'm not saying I want to climb a building in protest, but we all started as groups of people that would roll about in the field, no shame, any time we felt like it. Where did this go? Why has it all been suppressed? And how has this coincided with revolutions in technology that made people rolling about ready available, all the time, any time? I think the answer to this comes in the phrase 'beauty killed the beast'. If men rule the world, well, we're sort of slaves to ourselves, and so, that kind of means... women. Women rule the world? And that's all ideas of sexism out the window - in the film and on this post. The lasting and most profound implication of this comes back to the proverb given at the beginning:

And the prophet said:

"And lo, the beast looked
upon the face of beauty. And
it stayed its hand from killing.
And from that day, it was as
one dead"

If this means that change isn't really a good thing, does it mean that we are doomed? If beauty, this idea of the suppression of base instinct (as implied by the film), kills essence, is society hollowing itself out? One day in some distant future, are men going to all sign a petition and decide we don't need porn any more because... girlfriend? If that's the way we're headed, then yeah, I can see us eventually being shot down off a tall building. And I guess that's what King Kong ultimately means.






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