Saturday, December 17, 2005
~:S U R V I V A L * V S * L O V E:~
We saw Peter Jackson's KING KONG Thursday night. I still can't stop thinking about it. For me, the moral center of the film was about love versus survival. Which is more important? Kong is the last of his kind on Skull Island. He becomes enchanted with Ann (sadly she doesn't have an "e" at the end of her name) simply because she decides to stop acting like a victim about to be eaten. Kinda neat when you think of how empowering that is for us. Once she runs from him, confronts him, performs for him (she at one point juggles and dances and falls and really makes him laugh) he respects her. She's different. After a while, she gets tired of performing and gives him a firm "NO" when she doesn't want to play the game anymore. Kong goes into a rage and has a tantrum right in front of her. The he's off to pout and leaves her on her own. Her flight to safety in the perilous jungle, away from Kong's captive clutch becomes way less appealing once she runs into giant raptors and t-rexes. Oooftah. When she screams out, Kong's there to defend her and the love story begins. I get it. These 2 creatures take care of each other for the rest of the film, against all odds and better judgement. "I will take care of you even if it means I die". That kind of higher-brain thinking, feeling and logic doesn't quite make sense in our dog-eat-dog world. Emotions to me always get in the way of logic and I frequently question the usefulness of their purpose UNTIL I saw the documentary (recently rented from Netflix) called Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry. This 2-hour film explored the emotions of animals, which happen to be just like ours. Truly amazing. I had had another epiphany. At the core of our brain is the oldest, most primitive and communally aware part of our brains. Our reptilian brain. The part that says, "Oh shit, I better run faster from this lion unless I want to be eaten." We share this with most other creatures on this planet. It's what ties us to each other.
So, if emotions like fear help save my life, well then I'd say they're pretty useful. What about love? Well that's where the tie between mother and child comes in. Without love, we wouldn't get so much pleasure out of taking care of our babies, would we? Let alone each other. Or ourselves. So if babies aren't loved, they aren't taken care of, nurtured, and then they eventually die. We all die. It would then be up to some other species to adapt and do a better job of thriving than we did. We are still here because our emotions DRIVE us forward TO survival. Having watched this documentary, the meaning of Kong fell right into place for me. I walked out of that theatre feeling pretty OK about my wild emotions, their purpose and my purpose. We are here together for a reason: to be together. And why would I want to be with you if it didn't make me feel good? I guess love's selfish that way.
Back to the movie. There are quite a few other things I enjoyed about Kong besides its moral center:
1.The obvious parallel evolution of the two main cultures: ours and that of the inhabitants of Skull Island. Both are in peril. We're in the midst of the Great Depression and things are a mess, everyone just trying to survive, to eat, etc.. The natives on the island are doing the same. It's such a hostile place to live - nature's against you in every way possible. Yet they survive, killing each other all the while (that's where the human sacrifices to Kong fall into play). The oversized creatures are fighting a similar battle - more against each other than the environment itself. It's eat or be eaten. Just like our us. Interesting.
2. The depth of character of all creatures.
Jackson and his crew did a lot of animal behavior research and it really shows. The manner in which Kong and the other creatures of Skull Island interact puts even the creatures of Jurassic Park to shame. Previous depictions of Kong look more like a man in a gorilla suit (sometimes that was the real case) than a true gorilla. The t-rexes behavior looked like that of wolves. The ritual dance Kong did before he ate his prey felt very authentic. At times when the animals are fighting, there were funny moments. When Ann catches a t-rex off guard in the middle of his lunch, he gives her an almost innocent "hey, what's up?" look until he realizes she'd be a tasty dessert. At one point, 2 t-rexes, Kong and Ann are all trapped swinging from giant vines. Ann is swinging back and forth and can't seem to stop herself. A t-rex realizes if he just hangs still, he can open his mouth and she'll swing right into it. It just struck me as funny. There is also a sweet scene where Kong and Ann are skating on a lake of ice in NYC. They're slipping, sliding, gliding - playing and laughing with each other. It was beautiful.
3. Excellent craftsmanship. The scene where part of the crew is being attacked by giant insects. This was the scariest part of the film for me. The worst of these creatures looked like giant uncircumcised penises. They are called Carnictus, a 7-13 foot long "Vile Meat Weasel". A slow-moving slug with no face or features, other than a hole with layers of teeth surrounded by a phallic carnivorous muscle. I had the pleasure of witnessing this creature and its kind slowly swallow a seaman's arm, the other arm, and lastly his head, all the while listening to him moan and scream, until his head was slowly swallowed and his scream muffled under layers of the creature's smothering muscles. It was awful. Horrible. Wonderful.
At the official Kong website, you can read in more detail the variety, purpose and manner of survival of the many inhabitants of Skull Island. Fun to read all that stuff and even more wonderful that the creators of the film went into such depth to create this fantastic environment. Each creature created had its own evolution and purpose. Technically, they were all programmed with a range of movement that dictated how each would interact in every situation. I am amazed the layers of thoughtfulness and depth.
Peter Jackson did the same thing for Lord of The Rings. Layers and layers of research, character and creature development.
There is a reason for everything you see on screen. So its animation is solid and believable. George Lucas should have his technology taken from him. He has no idea why the first three Star Wars films were vastly superior than the most recent three. Technology doesn't stand a chance without meaning. It should be icing on meaningful conceptual layers of cake, otherwise it's all foam and no beer. A charade of fluff and money, not an expression of a real idea.
4. Kong's humanity.
He's so damn human, it's scary. Odd that he looked more like a gorilla than all past depictions of Kong. Yet we believe him more this time. I get that he's noble, lonely and capable of love and empathy. He's lost. His life ends in defense of Ann. One could argue that he's simply defending what he believes to be HIS, which is pretty selfish. And if that's true, then take a good look in the mirror to understand why it's so. The physical presence of Kong was quite powerful. His grunts, moans and breathing were so real and emotive. Darth Vadar unplugged, I'd say. Beautiful.
5. Adrien Brody and Thomas Kretschmann team up again in this film.
Kretschmann as the ship's captain Englehorn and Brody as writer Jack Driscoll. The first time I saw them together was in Roman Polanski's film, The Pianist. I was moved. Kretschmann played the Nazi soldier who secretly fed the starving polish hideaway Wladylaw Szpilman, played by Brody, saving his life while risking his own.
If you haven't, read the book about the real polish pianist, Wladylaw Szpilman and his story of survival. At the end of the book, you can read diary entries of the Nazi soldier, Captain Wilm Hosenfeld, who secretly assisted many survivor's of the Holocaust. And the film itself - oh my god is it good. If you like historical, tragic movies, stuff-of-life themes, the human will to survive and Chopin, you're in for a heavy treat. It was masterfully performed and directed.
There were a couple of things I did not like about the film. The beginning of the film was set in NYC. I get it that we're witnessing what the depression did to make us hungry and needy human beings... and that this is the force that ultimately drives the director and crew out to Skull Island in the first place. Greed and hunger. OK. Curiosity, too. The music felt very heavy-handed and forced to me. Instead of emotionally motivating me, it annoyed me. I felt like I was being pushed to feel and manipulated. I felt a little of this in LOTR, but was and am generally willing to overlook this klunkiness. I get the big picture.
The second thing I did not like about the film was the jump from the island back to our turf. When we're first on the gritty ship set to sea, I'm anticipating the trip back with that giant gorilla below. HOW are they going to do this? And won't it be cool!!?!?? Well they skip over that part. Not only did I miss out on the fun here, but the literal jump from one place to the next felt really abrupt. My guess is that it was supposed to feel refreshing. Ah well. I'm sure once the DVD is out, the special features might touch on what's missing.
I'd like to say two words to all the critics who said that the film was too long. FUCK YOU. A movie is only too long when it's boring. There wasn't one boring moment in this 3-hour film. And who wants a good movie to end? It could have been 5 hours long and I still wouldn't have wanted it to end.
Bravo to Peter Jackson for doing something well done. With heart, discipline and vision.